Friday, March 13, 2009

More "Adult" than "Young"

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins

Several weeks ago I had dinner with a writer of adult mystery novels. During the course of the evening, she raved to me about a young adult novel she'd read called The Hunger Games. While I don't read a lot of YA fiction, I would say that I'm more open to it than many a childless adult. And her recommendation must have stuck in my head, because when I saw it offered through Amazon's Vine program, I jumped at the chance to read the book. Yesterday I wrote her a thank you note because I loved The Hunger Games as much as she had, and I doubt I'd have given it a second glance if not for her raves.

The novel is set in a dystopian country called Panem--a place that was once North America. There have been wars and uprisings in Panem's past, and now the 12 districts that make up the land are ruled over with severity by the government in the Capitol. There are many ways that the populace is kept in its place, but perhaps the harshest is the annual Hunger Games. By edict, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 is randomly drawn from each district to compete in a fight to the death. The last one of these 24 left standing will win lifetime fame and fortune, and the entire nation is forced to watch these children kill each other live on television.

The first-person narrator of this gripping and fast-paced thriller is 16-year-old Katniss. When her 12-year-old sister is selected, Katniss knows the little girl will never survive, and volunteers to take her place. Katniss has been providing for her family for years, and has learned to show a tough face to the world. Still, nothing could possibly prepare her for what she's about to face. Visiting the Capitol for the first time, she experiences luxury and excess beyond her wildest imagination. On the field of battle, she experiences the best and worst of humanity.

The premise of this novel may seem a bit worn to you. I know that other writers have trod this territory before. And yet... it makes a good story, these human struggles. And Suzanne Collins has crafted a compelling and moving tale. I can tell you that I read 384 pages in a day because I COULD NOT PUT THE BOOK DOWN! I will also admit to sobbing unabashedly at one point in the novel. There's so much more to the story than just the fight to the death. There is a fascinating and disturbing culture explored, complicated relationships, and complex ethical dilemmas. You may think you know how the novel has to end, but don't be so sure. The novelist is clever. This narrative does come to a definitive conclusion, but there is room for more to be told in this story. One aspect is left unresolved. I have absolutely no idea where this is going to go (Isn't that wonderful!), but I can't wait for the sequel!

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