Monday, March 26, 2012

Suzanne Collins, "The Hunger Games" is a BLAST!

Dexter with Suzanne Collins

I remember when I had to compete for food!

     I first saw a display of The Hunger Games at Joseph-Beth in the summer of 2009 and I thought the book flap copy sounded intriguing, but as there was already an announced sequel, I thought it was going be a second-rate contender in the Harry Potter/Twilight Young Adult Blockbuster derby.  In the winter of 2011, I asked participants in our high school program a question about the trilogy and twelve hands shot up immediately.  Except for a question about Martin Luther King Jr., no other question in
that quick recall knowledge bowl had that strong a response.  A colleague of mine recommended the trilogy to me while deciding she would teach the first installment so I had to read it.  I’ve never had a cashier say, “Oh, I want to read that book” (this was Target, not a bookstore and I haven’t had such a response at one of those either).

     My colleague was right.  I read the first half of the book in one sitting and, after a couple of false starts late one night, the rest of it in one afternoon.  It’s like a theme park ride with a serious socio-political subtext.  The premise is twenty-four teenagers have to fight to the death until there’s one winner, but it follows the archetype of “The Most Dangerous Game” and Lord of the Flies.  Suzanne Collins ups the ante by focusing on Katniss, a female protagonist from the poorest district in the Panem nation (panem et circenses – bread and circuses – or Pan America), torn between protecting her family and two male teenagers from her district.  One is Peeta, whom she’s battling in The Games, and Gale, a close friend with whom she poaches in the woods.  

     It’s a dystopian fantasy that satirizes our current obsession with ‘reality competition’ television since most citizens watch The Games around the clock and the winner’s presentation is enforced viewing.  It also refers to the theme of the urban haves expecting to amass most of the economy’s benefits and for the have nots to entertain them to the death.  There’s also the American concept of Youth Culture and how one of its negative by-products is the destruction of young celebrities. The only downsides of the book are a couple of instances of sloppy copy-editing and the possible cutting of about fifty pages.

     The movie version had a $155 million opening weekend.  I haven’t seen the movie to know if it is a worthy companion to the book.  However, I understand why the books have become such a phenomenon. They deserve to be and I hope that Suzanne Collins makes a fortune.

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