Saturday, December 22, 2012

loopyker's #CBR4 Review #11: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I had this review ready to publish last week, but after the recent tragic news about the Newtown shootings in the US I took some time to rethink it.  I don't think that event changes my feelings about about my review below.  I feel that despite the violence in the book, The Hunger Games is more relevant to our current-day reality TV and our culture of competition and voyeurism than to school shootings or violence against children specifically.  But the media attention around such events has haunting similarities. 
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I finally got on the bandwagon and had my first experience with The Hunger Games. I listened to Book 1 as an audiobook. Prior to that I had managed to avoid most of the hype. I didn't want to ruin it for myself if I ever did read the book or watch the movie. I hadn't heard of the book until the movie came out, but several friends had, and loved both the books and the movie, so I was curious but the general description of children having to fight to the death just created Lord of the Flies flashbacks, so I wasn't seriously interested. I absolutely hated Lord of the Flies reading it in class in early high school. I reread it once later to see if I had a different opinion as an adult. I didn't. 
I'm very happy to say that The Hunger Games was a completely different experience. I'm not sure if it was because the viewpoint for The Hunger Games was a girl vs the boys in The Lord of the Flies, or maybe it was because there was a much better back story for the characters leading up to the fighting so that you cared about them a lot more. I have no intention of re-reading The Lord of the Flies for a more direct comparison. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, I think that what stuck with me in The Lord of the Flies was the cruelness of the children, whereas in The Hunger Games is it is the compassionate moments that stay with you afterwards. I much prefer the latter. 

The Hunger Games is told from the point of view of a 17 year old girl, Katnis. She has been the head of her family since her father died when she was 11 years old and her mother went into a depression. They live in a poor, post-apocalyptic North American, coal mining community called District 12. Districts 1 thru 12 each specialize in a different industry and are controlled by The Capitol, mainly through keeping them in extreme poverty. 

As punishment for a rebellion by the Districts many years before, each year a boy and a girl from each District are chosen as Tributes to fight each other to the death. The victor earns much needed food and fuel for their own District for the following year. This is all great entertainment for the sadistic Capitol and its inhabitants, but understandably a source of terror each year for many in the Districts. 

The Hunger Games does a good job of contrasting these two viewpoints. I really felt for Katnis as she tries to understand this and navigate through all the Game preparations surrounded by excited Capitol helpers. I liked that they weren't just thrown into the fighting right away. It was much more subtly horrible to see the parallels of our own reality TV turned into this terrible form of entertainment with the superficial fashion shows and interviews actually becoming potentially life-saving events if they encouraged the audience to sponsor a Tribute with aid during the Games. 

Katnis is a very likeable character and I enjoyed learning about her life. She had already lost much of her childhood and continues to grow up more through this terrible experience. She constantly reminds us about how horrible the situation is without being whiny or preachy - she just reacts with her gut much of the time. She is strong and intelligent and admirable. I cried at a couple of points in the book - balling freely at one point. An audiobook makes that much easier, since the story continues even when your eyes are blurry with tears. 

However, this book is about children being forced to kill children, so you do have to be in mindset to be able to handle that. But, I didn't feel like the violence was really gratuitous or glorified. The ending was satisfying, but certainly left me wanting to go right on to the next audiobook in the series...although, I have to now wait for 62 people ahead of me on the online library waiting list to get through it first. 

I wrote the above right after finishing the audiobook.  I am now eleventh on the waiting list, so that is some idea of how long ago I listened to this.  I can't now recall anything about the audiobook quality, so I must have enjoyed the narrator.  In my opinion the best ones are the ones you don't really notice - it just feels natural to be listening to it.

The Hunger Games (Book 1) by Suzanne Collins  
Reading level: Ages 12 and up 

Audiobook : 
Narrator Carolyn McCormick 
Publisher: Scholastic Audio (Mar 01, 2011) 
Duration: 8 hours, 24 minutes 
ISBN: 9781445834207 

Hardcover: 384 pages (also available in paperback and ebook versions) 
Publisher: Scholastic Press (Oct 1, 2008) 
ISBN-10: 0439023483 
ISBN-13: 978-0439023481

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