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: http://www.suzannecollinsbooks.com/

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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Unwind by Neal Shusterman

“Connor had known other kids at school who disappeared over the past couple of years.  One day they just didn’t turn up.  Teachers would say that they were ‘gone’ or ‘no longer enrolled’.  Those were just code words, though.  Everyone knew what they meant.”

The Heartland War is over now, a bitter battle over the sanctity of life.  As per the new agreement, life begins at conception and cannot be tampered with until a child reaches the age of thirteen.  However, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, parents can choose to have their children “unwound”, by sending them to a “harvest camp” and having all of their organs  donated to others.  That way, life doesn’t technically stop; the teen keeps living, albeit in the bodies of many other recipients.  If you are not able to raise your baby until he or she reaches the age of thirteen, you can “stork” it: leave it on someone’s door stop and run away.  Finders, keepers, according to the law.

Unwind is the story of three teens.  Connor has behavior problems, and his parents have signed the unwind orders because they just can’t handle him acting out anymore.  Risa is a ward of the state, a piano player who simply wasn’t talented enough to be allowed to continue living (what with budget cuts and all, there isn’t enough money to invest in anyone but the most skilled).  Lev is a tithe, a child who was born to be a sacrifice under the tithing code, where ten percent of all wealth is given to the government.  They are all slated to be unwound, when Connor initiates a series of events (bus crash, human shield, lots of confusion) that allows all three of them to escape.  The three must then navigate the underground world of escaped unwinds, learning how to survive without drawing attention to themselves.  If they can make it until their eighteenth birthdays, they are home free.  But it certainly won’t be easy…

This futuristic tale is riveting; built around an interesting concept and driven by strong, complex characters.  Shusterman creates an elaborate world of these characters, and each one of them is interesting enough to merit a personal story.  His universe is populated by the Clappers, a dreaded terrorist group, a wizened antiques dealer whose shop is a front for the unwind version of the Underground Railroad, and an eccentric who creates a large-scale shelter for unwinds in the middle of the Arizona desert.  Everyone’s got a back story, and Shusterman lets us all in on it, which I absolutely love.  Even though it is a complicated world, with a lot of unfamiliar political and social situations, it is still very accessible to readers. That’s a tricky balancing act for many writers.  I really enjoyed that the story was not predictable, either.  I was expecting a daring escape, but there is just no way to guess where Shusterman will take readers next.  Awesome!

Unwind won two of the big awards:  it’s an ALA Best Book, as well as a Best Book for Reluctant Readers.  It also won about a billion state awards, including a placement on the Oklahoma Sequoyah Award list (my home state, folks!).  This is a fast-paced, engrossing read that covers heavy topics like the definition of human life, reproductive rights, politics, the ethical concerns of organ donation for profit, and governmental power.  I think you’re going to love it!  And if you do, you’re certainly in luck, because there’s going to be a movie version released, and also, Shusterman has written a ton of other incredible books!  So, while you’re waiting for the movie, you might want to try his crazy-popular Skinjacker series, which includes the books Everlost, Everwild, and Everfound.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.storyman.com

Movie website: http://unwindmovie.com

Shusterman, Neal.  Unwind. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. 335 pp.  Ages 13 and up.