Thursday, May 28, 2009

Go Katniss! The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

"Any book that starts out with 24 children and ends up with 22 of them dead--that's tough to beat."

Lois Lowry

I was really scared to read this one. Despite the MASSIVE love for it out there from everyone from teens to critics to every blogger in the kidlit universe, I was sure it would make me sick. I don't have much stomach for cruelty, and I had heard enough about the plot of this dystopian book to know that it would hit a particularly vulnerable place for me--cruelty to children. I made a bargain with myself--I would start it, but if it got too bad, I'd stop immediately.

I read the damned thing in less than a day. The kind of reading where you don't stop to eat, breathe, or listen to people trying to ask you questions at the reference desk. The reputation this book has is well deserved--it is completely, absolutely gripping. Right until the very last page. And even beyond, because....aaargh!'s the first part of a TRILOGY! Which means a MAJOR LACK OF RESOLUTION even for those who have raced to the end! Now I know why those lucky people who have landed arcs of the sequel are all gloating.

The plot, in case anyone doesn't know it yet: Katniss Everdeen lives in a bleak futuristic society where, every year, each district surrounding the capital must select one boy and one girl for the Hunger Games, a barbaric televised "entertainment" where they must fight to the death until there is only one survivor. This is the capital's way of punishing the poverty-stricken districts for having dared, once, to revolt. When Katniss's younger sister is chosen to be the female Tribute for her district, a horrified Katniss volunteers to take her place, and she is plunged into the brutal world of the Game.

Why do we all get so caught up in this story? M.T. Anderson, one of my literary heroes, put it best:

The reason I think this book deserves the attention it's getting--beyond the pacing, beyond the pleasing dissonance of the unresolved love that in it, a central and real and very troubling question--to what extent is compassion merely a weakness--and kindness merely an evolutionary flaw??--that question is played out quite directly through the action, embodied directly in the plot in scene after scene. We deeply care about Katniss in part because we deeply want some shred of what we think of as humanity to survive. When I read it, I thought it was remarkable that Ms. Collins took this terrifying question and really explored it. She didn't back down or soften the investigation....

The Hunger Games, by the way, was declared winner of this year's inaugural and very entertaining Battle of the (Kid's) Books hosted by School Library Journal. Go take a peek.

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