Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

First published in 2008.

In the ruins of a place once known as North American lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. (book flap blurb)




Uh, wow.

Oh, I'm sorry. Were you looking for a more intelligible review? I just don't know if I can summon one up without gushing about how much I heart Suzanne Collins. Maybe I can muster something.

There are few things I love more than authors who say fuck it and write the story they want to write regardless the potential repercussions that may arise. Regardless of the lack of a happy ending. Regardless of the fact that the story is akin to The Lord of the Flies on a week's worth of crack. Not all happy endings are purely happy. In fact, most are not (must . . . fight . . . glittering . . . commentary . . .). You can win but still lose.

I have to start at the social commentary of reality TV. Considering the absolute shit that's on TV now and what people degrade themselves to do for their nanosecond of "fame," it wouldn't surprise me that this is where our television is heading. As a society we are so desensitized to war and pain and death that something like this would be entertaining and unless it happened to our kids, it probably wouldn't faze us because it's "reality TV."

Then there's the government control aspect. Punishing the districts for daring to revolt by making their children fight to the death as a means of entertainment. That's nine different levels of demented right there. While it makes for a most excellent and unique read, from a societal standpoint, it's been done before, sans TV. Many ancient cultures lived just like this, where battles to the death were staged for everyone to see and it was a means of entertainment. There was little thought given to the families unless you were the families. You just showed up because society dictated it so. As a society currently, we are beyond this kind of barbarism. I don't want to say more evolved as ancient cultures like the Romans were no further back on the evolutionary scale than we are today. There was just a very different regard for life. Not to mention their morals were not necessarily religious-based.

Which leads into the lack of religion in Panem. Christianity is a governing aspect of many people's lives. How you act in life dictates where you end up in death. When you remove Christianity and all of it's strings, you have societal value that's no longer governed by the holy. In Roman and Egyptian times, it didn't matter what were actions were in life. So long as you were loyal to the gods and had someone to prepare you properly for the afterlife, you were fine. Morality was based on societal obligations as opposed to a set of scripture. The lives of the gods were just as bloody and thus dictated the bloody conquests of their human subjects. You remove the seed of Christianity that's been ingrained in our lives for two thousand years, remove it over the generations, and your beliefs and morals change. It's more about power and obedience to power and what will happen if you disobey the power which is not some intangible deity but real, living people with real living methods of pain to inflict on you. Religion is by no means the harbinger of civility. More wars have been waged in the name of a Christian god than any other in history. Christianity just brings with it certain strings, certain viewpoints, even though you may not follow that religion. In Panem it's not about a god or what's right or wrong. It's about survival. If District 12 could turn the tables and inflict the same pain on the Capitol as they've done on them, I'm sure they wouldn't think twice about it. It's not about Karma or letting a god dole out punishment. It's about human emotion and usurping a tangible power that you object to. Beliefs do not come into play. When your sole focus is finding enough food for dinner, there's no room for a belief structure.

I am in absolute awe of this book. I rambled on about religion and it's views of right and wrong for a reason. Different societies in different religious bases would view this book differently, just as certain districts viewed the games differently. If I were a Roman, let's say a high-ranking one, I would probably think that's an excellent way to keep the people in line. Bloodshed is good for the people. But considering I'm indoctrinated into a Christian society, despite the fact I'm not Christian, nor part of any religion, I see the force of pitting children against children purely for entertainment and to teach people a lesson absolutely horrifying. These children are paying for the actions of their ancestors, as a reminder for them to not try anything else. Learn from the past, as they say. To the Capitol who is, in essence, their own gods, it's right and justified as they rule over all. To people in certain districts, it's an honor to be a tribute and they are reared and honed to be the perfect contenders all their lives. In others, it's a sure way to die and an injustice on their lives.

The fact that this is watched for entertainment is sickening. Blood baths like this in ancient societies were normal, usual methods of entertainment. If you happened to be the victor, it just proved your strength and you lived to see another day. If you're not, well, just hope you died fast. Different mentalities but when you're trying to think outside of your own box and inside someone else's, it's very hard to do. But I think that's what Collins is trying to do. Societies have come full circle in this book, haven't they? They've gone from entertaining human slaughters to thinking that such acts to be barbaric to a more "civilized" society and right back around to entertaining slaughter again. Think outside the current Christian bubble and understand that yes, some believe this is an honor while others view it as their time to die. We can't comprehend such things because those acts have, for now, left our society. Some cultures still stick to it in lesser forms, such as animal fighting, but it's not human (not to demean the act, animal cruelty for the sake of entertainment is purely awful). But who's to say it won't come back when Christianity has worn out its welcome and some other belief system has stepped up to take it's place?

You can feel Katniss's pain when you read this book. You get nauseous when she's spinning from all those tracker jacker stings. You get hungry when she's hungry. You're cold when she's cold. You're panicked when she's panicked. A true sign of an amazing writer. The best part, for me, was the dynamic of the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. Especially when they teamed up, I couldn't tell if Katniss was acting or not. And neither could she, which was the point. Gale kept coming up. Gale the friend who only meant something more in the arena. But is it something more? Or is Peeta the right way to go? Or was it simply a love borne of circumstances? I guess the sequel will pick up more on that one. I hope. Especially considering where the story ended. And damn, the girl just can't win, can she?

So amid the notions of what is right and wrong in what societies, government control and social commentary, there is an absolutely amazing story here. Unlike a story like, say, Generation Dead, where it read as if the message was first in the author's mind instead of the story, this book was pure story that just happened to have messages and nigglings of brain pokes strewn throughout. If Collins wrote this book with the intention of getting minds brewing and relaying some kind of message, it doesn't show. The story does. The pain of having to forage for food for an absent mother and a younger sister, the fear of the potential of just one day being taken away from it all to go and die for national entertainment, the suffering of having to crawl through that arena, that's what's on the pages. The story. And finding out whether Katniss lives or dies was what kept me turning the pages. I needed to know. While I wouldn't let a younger kid read this book (maybe around MG age and under, it's just too brutal), I would recommend it to anyone with eyes.


spamwarrior said...

Great review, and I like what you wrote about Christianity. I read that book and I LOVE it. I can't wait for the sequel! It was an engaging read, rather sad but thought provoking.

Donna said...

Thanks! It was an amazing book.

Miss Cindy said...

I want to read this book! I'm so glad you liked it, and now I really can't wait to get it!

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