Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Hunger Games Trilogy ~ Review

I just finished reading this trilogy, and I have to say, it was pretty powerful.  Marketed to "Young Adults" I had a fairly low expectation on literary merits.  I also expected a quick moving story with enough action to keep younger minds engaged.  I honestly got so engaged in the story that I never really paused to consider the literary quality of the books!  It's not Tolstoy, so it is very easy to read and thus very much at the level of a Jr. High reader.  The story moves pretty quickly, answering questions as the action flows, so again very level-appropriate.

It's the actual story that makes me feel that these books go far beyond the scope of "Young Adult."  In a very simple summary, we enter a world that is a post-apocalyptic North America run by a severely corrupt central government that keeps most of its citizens in a state of slavery for the benefit of the elite class.  As an annual punishment/reminder of a past rebellion, this government stages a televised event in which a pair of teenagers from each of the 12 districts, one boy and one girl, are drawn from a bowl to enter a fabricated but natural looking arena to fight to the death, named the Hunger Games.

I was appalled at the concept.  I was also fascinated at how the author could possibly pull this off.  The truth of the matter is that the idea is appalling.  That's the point.  And yet, the people of this nation are so beat down that they comply, sending their children off generation after generation.  The rebellion that is referenced was put out so completely, that the citizens are so afraid and their fear continues to keep them in bondage.  Somehow when the heroine of the story, Katniss Everdeen (named after a water plant) steps up to take the place of her sister in the games, her spark of bravery begins to spread courage to others.

Throughout the horrific mainline story, there is this coming-of-age of Katniss that is really fascinating.  She is forced to realize that her actions directly affect others, and how she presents herself is important.  This awareness of the implications of one's self is something that, I think, is universal in young adult years.  Obviously the setting would be different, but balancing who you think you are with what is expected of you is a tension that permeates most teens.  It did with me, at least!  Katniss's consequences are life or death, but I wonder how many in other parts of the world would relate.

Katniss also deals with the usual conflict of discovering feelings of "like!"  I very intentionally avoid the concept of love here, because I truly don't believe a 16-17 year old understands what love is.  She is compelled to show feelings of "being in love" for the games, but as the books unfold, the complexity of what this has started begins to unravel, and she is finally forced to realize the depth of what "love" really is. It goes far deeper than the fluttery feelings of attraction.  What was done as a facade also has consequences that she must face, and it doesn't feel good.  This path of discovery is worth discussing with a younger reader about to enter the world of dating.  Pressures to do what you think you have to, and the consequences that follow, are again universal.

Finally, what really got me about the story is the question of what depths you are willing to go to for survival.  What about the survival of the ones you love?  Is it worth keeping your character if it costs you your life or the lives of others?   These are the issues that plaque the characters in this story, and not everyone chooses the moral high ground.  As the books progress, these issues are the ones that come out as the characters have to decide if they are any better than their enemies, and examining that for which they are fighting.  Who do you want to be at the end?  This is another pivotal question that directs our young heroes.

In the end, I really enjoyed the books.  I am glad I gave in and bought them!  I recommend them for some thought-provoking reading that is entertaining, if not a bit disturbing.  For young adults with concerned parents, I would advise reading it with them and using these issues for some valuable discussions.  There are many issues not touched upon that could be great springboards for real conversations.  I will be excited to see the movie(s)!

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