September 7, 2010

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

My summer goals were very simple: sleep as much as possible, start running again, and read as much as possible. I am delighted to report that I accomplished all three. (Well, at least until my stress fracture last month...but that's a different story...). I read close to 15 books this summer, and hands down the absolute best were the three books in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games Trilogy: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and most recently Mockingjay. Since reading these three books, I have become something resembling a newly-converted religious fanatic, telling everyone I know that they just HAVE to read The Hunger Games. When I told my mom that I haven't been this emotionally invested in a book series since Harry Potter, she finally understood just how amazing the books are and just how deep is my attachment to the characters.

Collins's writing transports the reader hundreds if not thousands of years into the future to the country of Panem, the nation that has risen up from the ashes of what was once the United States. Panem is divided into 12 districts by industry, all ruled by The Capitol, a ruthless government whose primary goal is to keep its districts in submission and to prevent any possibility of democratization on behalf of its citizens. In order to remind citizens that they are permanently under the Capitol's control, the Hunger Games are held each year. 2 "tributes" between ages 12 and 18 are selected from each district to fight to the death in a televised, gladiator-like pursuit in which only one victor will be crowned. As if it's not horrifying enough to have children seized from their homes to compete in this blood bath, their families are forced to watch their children either die helplessly at the hands of other merciless tributes, or, quite possibly worse, be transformed into heartless killers and manipulated by the games themselves.

Not only are all three books incredibly gripping action stories with twists and turns around every corner, but the intense plot is also intertwined with an equally as gripping love story that grows more and more complex in each book. Collins achieves that near impossible author task of getting her readers to fall completely in love with her characters, to a point that not only did I cry when they suffered or died, but I genuinely missed them when one of the books ended. What I think might be even more impressive than that, tough, is that Collins also manages to create a character as complex as Katniss for her protagonist. Too often young adult fiction falls flat with shallow character, or characters that are too perfect. As much as I love Harry Potter, at times Harry is just a little too much of a super hero for me. I think deep down every reader, especially the YA reader, wants to see a bit of themselves in characters. Katniss is truly a human heroine. She makes selfish choices at times (although she also risks her life to save her beloved sister), she can be unforgiving and holds grudges when deeply hurt, and she struggles with making decisions just as most teens do. Who couldn't identify with the broken shell of Katniss in Mockingjay who, after losing those things closest to her in the world, lies on the couch without so much as changing clothes (much less showering)? Collins captures genuine emotions in the 3 books with a rawness that we all can relate to.

By far the best books I've read all summer, the Hunger Games books will certainly be added to my favorite books of all time. While a bit violent for my fifth graders (although the language is tame and the relationship details conveyed tastefully), I would recommend these books to grades 7-12 (and of course adults too!!). Hands down 5 stars.

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