The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

“Destroying things is much easier than making them.”

It’s not the United States anymore; it’s Panem, a collection of districts under strict governmental control.  As punishment for a long-past rebellion, two young people from each district must fight for survival in the arena-style arcade battle: The Hunger Games.  The survivor’s district wins food, far more food than normal.

Participants are chosen by lottery; youth between the ages of 12 and 18 are automatically entered, but can trade against their fortunes by entering their name more than once, in exchange for more food rations.  Katniss’ name is in the drawing multiple times, but this is her baby sister’s first year to participate.

Prim is unlucky, and her name is drawn.  Instead of allowing her sister to go and fight, Katniss volunteers in her place.  With Peeta, the young man chosen from District 12, Katniss begins training for the games.  Only one teenager can win; the others will die.  When the games begin, Katniss must fight for her life.

All right, friends, please forgive me for being so slow to review this book.  I know the entire universe is already in love with it, so I’ll be quick with the plot summary.  I just wanted to include this on the blog because I noticed some very interesting things about the story’s message, and I wanted to share them with you.

In the recent past, the literary world was grappling with some very cynical ideas: the collapse of meaning, and a collective anxiety about the future of the world.  Power-the struggle for it and the attempts to retain it-is the primary focus.  These concepts are associated with a literature movement called postmodernism.  I don’t like to get all preachy, but I never loved postmodernism, and here is why I’m telling you about it:

I think The Hunger Games is showing us what lies beyond the other side of postmodernism.  When Katniss steps up and volunteers her life in place of her sisters, she is mirrored by another district’s character, who refuses to take his sibling’s place.  The book shows us both sides, and empowers us to chose one.  Through the course of the novel, we watch Katniss as she negotiates the horrific choices laid before her, and tries to behave ethically in a system designed to reward bloodlust.  This book shows us the possibility of hope’s triumph, and teaches us that sincerity allows us to be both strong and vulnerable.  The story rewards loyalty over force, ethics over calculations, and love over destruction.  These are not necessarily new ideas, but they are concepts that postmodernism hasn’t accounted for.

My biggest pet peeve is when people tell me that young adult books aren’t true literature, and I’m grateful to authors like Suzanne Collins for demonstrating otherwise.  She presents the rift between two literary schools of thought, and allows space for us to contemplate the separate worlds created by each; that’s heavy stuff, and I applaud her for trusting that her audience is capable (and willing) to engage with it.

Besides, it’s a fantastic story.  You are going to go crazy about it, if you haven’t already.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008. 374 pp. Ages 12 and up.

If you liked the philosophical feel to the book, you will love Nothing by Janne Teller (it’s on the Awesome-est List).  And if you liked the post-apocalyptic feel, I think you should try How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff or Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.

I just saw this: one more reason why The Hunger Games is a great book!

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