After a two month drought I’m back with one of the most popular books from last year’s cannonball. I put out a plea to friends, loved ones, and tweeps for quick, easy reads to reinvigorate me after a summer of no luck. (I picked up and put down at least 4 books in the past few months and am fighting with another as we speak.) So, two of my colleagues who adore The Hunger Games set me up with the first book.
I read it in two marathon sessions over the course of a week. Drought broken.
The story by now is familiar to almost everyone, particularly with the movie out last year. In the future North America is now the country of Panem with a ruling Capital district and 12 other districts who, after an uprising that was quelled a generation ago, serve the capital. To be reminded of the sins of their forebears each year a Reaping is held and a girl and boy ages 12-18 are selected to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. One victor will be named and he or she will bring pride to their District and money to their family. Our eyes to this world are Katniss’s. She’s 16 and an outsider. In order to survive following her father’s death in one of District 12’s coal mines Katniss sneaks out to the forest surrounding District 12 to hunt for her family. However, her normal life is thrown to the wind when her sister Prim, just 12, is selected at the Reaping and Katniss volunteers to go in her place.
We spend the second two thirds of the novel with Katniss in the training and actual games. It is at times a bleak read. We are talking about children killing other children. What I found most interesting in the transition to the movie (which I watched within 24 hours of finishing the book, thanks Netflix) is how they both sanitized some of the most horrendous deaths and also took away some of Katniss’ insights and turned them into physical promptings from her mentor, Haymitch. I felt it weakened the character. However, I did enjoy deploying the play by play analysts as our narrators throughout the Games.
But I think why this novel is resonating with non YA audiences is that it dives into some greater themes while leaving plenty of surface action for those who only care for the ‘who wins and how’ story lines. For instance Haymitch, a previous Victor of the Hunger Games who is now in charge of mentoring District 12’s two Tributes each year is depressed and has a serious drinking problem. We are also given a view into the cost of the Games to Katniss and the other combatants, an easy opening for discussions about Post Traumatic Stress. There is also plenty to unpack in the dialogue between a Capital unable to support itself and instead focused on entertainment and diversion, surely a topic relevant to us today.