July 11, 2011This is a best-selling trilogy of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins that were released every year since 2008. They have supposedly broken new ground in that genre and had devoted fans. With the movie version of the first book coming out next year, I was drawn to read all three books to see what the fuss was all about.
THE HUNGER GAMES
The time is in the future, a post-apocalyptic time, it seems. The place is District 12, a township of sorts in the nation of Panem, where mining is the main occupation. We get to know Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl who loves adventurous activities like going into the woods, climbing trees and hunting animals with her bow and arrow. The titular Hunger Games is a yearly activity sponsored by the Capitol where "Tributes" are chosen from teens from each of the twelve districts. These tributes were to fight to the death in an elaborate tournament broadcast to the whole country. There could only be one survivor, the Victor. I found this concept to be very interesting. Of course, you would probably expect the heroine Katniss to be in on the action somehow, but it would be in a way that you would not guess.
There is humor and violence and drama before and during the games themselves. Being a novel with teenager lead characters, there are also moody, angsty and even cheesy moments involving Katniss, her reliable hunting buddy Gale and the charismatic baker's son Peeta (yes, those last two are boys' names). These events were written very screenplay-like. You could imagine the movie scenes unfold as you read about the rich and vivid descriptions of the hair and makeup, the fantastical costumes, the wild action of the fights and big explosions.
The first book of a series is the book where we get to know about the time and setting of the novels and the main characters. This may mean that this could be the most boring book, just establishing the whole scenario. Ironically though after reading all three, I thought "The Hunger Games" is the best book of the three! It takes a little getting used to in the beginning with regards to the story-telling technique, but once you get familiar with how Collins told hers, you will get drawn in. I liked the way she ended her chapters with a totally unexpected event. You will really be interested to read quickly to the finish of this book, and onto the next volume.
In this book, we meet the slimy leader of Panem, President Snow, a snake-eyed man who smelled of blood and roses. He threatens Katniss for defying the Capitol during the last Games. The seeds of a nationwide uprising are already being hinted at. For the Quarter Quell, a special edition played on every anniversary of the Hunger Games, the Capitol calls all districts to send their victors to take part in the Games that year. Katniss get to meet and form alliances with victors from the past from other districts, like Finnick, Joanna, Beetee. These people who would later also figure prominently in the the revolution to come.
For me, this book is an unfair one. It is a book that does not stand on its own. It is incomplete, clearly just a transition volume from the first to the third book. The Quarter Quell Hunger Games with the victors was basically a repeat of the games in the first book, just with more elaborate, (and therefore, harder to visualize) challenges. The climax with Katniss and the force field and the explosives was a blur as written words could not seem to adequately describe the idea in the author's head. You have an idea what she means, but it was not easy to picture that pivotal scene in your head while reading. I am quite curious to see how that scene wold be interpreted in the movie version. The ending also seems disjointed from the fiery conclusion of the games. When you read these books, you have to constantly shift the scenes in your head as if the movie had sudden jerky edits. That is a quality of Collins' writing that keeps the storytelling interesting.
The title of the third book is a fictional hybrid bird which was Katniss' symbol during her stint in the Hunger Games. After the Quarter Quell Games, the revolution in Panem gains steam in District 13 under the leadership of a female rebel named Coin. Upon Coin's invitation, Katniss agrees to BE the personification of the Mockingjay, a symbol of the rebellion against the oppressive the Capitol. Katniss leads her team in a personal plan to assassinate President Snow by herself. Her plan goes haywire as they enter the Capitol and she sees her team depleted along their way. The climax of their Capitol attack was a highly-charged dramatic scene with children serving as the protective shield of the President as bombs fall from the sky. However, more unexpected things continue to happen up to the ending chapters.
Of all the books, this is the one with the most non-stop action and violent death scenes as we follow Katniss and her group from the bowels of District 13 all the way into the sophisticated booby-trapped streets of the Capitol. A lot of the chase and fight scenes in the buildings of the Capitol were difficult to imagine because of the wildly futuristic setting and set-ups. The senseless nature of war will certainly not be lost on the readers. Everyone loses something valuable because of this war even if they survive, not the least of whom was Katniss herself.
Through all the battles and near-death close calls, Katniss still remains to be a teenager at heart. She continues to have those self-conversations where she debates with herself regarding her decisions. She continues to have those angst-ridden moments where she over-interprets statements said by boys about her. Yet, she also shows that she has a mind definitely of her own alone. Neither Snow, or Coin, her family or any of her friends can dictate to her. She makes her own mind up. No wonder this book series is a huge success among teenagers.
As mentioned earlier, the vivid description, editing and progression makes this series a natural candidate for a movie trilogy. As of now, Jennifer Lawrence has been cast as Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence is having an incredible career trajectory as her debut movie role in 2010's "Winter's Bone" already earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She was also featured in big movies like "X-Men First Class" and "The Beaver" (with Mel Gibson). Peeta Mellark will be played by Josh Hutcherson ("The Kids Are Alright"). Gale Hawthorne will be played by Liam Hemsworth (more known as Miley Cyrus' boyfriend and brother of "Thor"'s Chris). The notable adult roles will be taken by Woody Harrelson (Haymitch, the drunkard District 12 ex-victor and Katniss's mentor), Donald Sutherland (Pres. Snow), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman, the emcee of the Hunger Games) and Lenny Kravitz (Katniss's flamboyant stylist). Gary Ross, who wrote "Big," "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit," is set to direct and adapt the screenplay. Tentative release date is March 23, 2012.