Monday, February 2, 2009

Kill the kids

Suzanne Collins has balls. After all, it takes balls to write about a bunch of 12- to 18-year-olds kill one another in front of national television. A premise already explored (in somewhat a different form) in books such as the seminal Battle Royale and Stephen King's The Running Man. I haven't seen the film adaptation of Battle Royale, but the comparisons are indeed obvious. (I actually have a bootlegged DVD, but, unfortunately, it doesn't have any subtitles. I did get a mild high seeing twinkie Japanese teenagers shoot each other's brains out. You gotta hand it to the Japanese; in their hands, killing seems so, well, quaint.)

Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games puts a very effective twist on this genre. Imagine a North America devastated by war and divided into 12 districts surrounding the Capitol. Food is scarce, and every one lives in fear of the Capitol. Every year, each district sends two representatives (a boy and a girl) to compete in the hunger games. In district 12, when her 12-year-old sister was chosen, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her place. The objective of the hunger games is simple -- kill or be killed; the winner eventually gets to live a life of luxury and his or her district receives a year's supply of grain.

In Katniss Everdeen, Collins has created one of the most polarizing figures in young adult fiction today. She's not afraid to show brutal force; her hunting skills, which she learned from killing game in the outskirts of her district, are unparalleled; she can charm people; and she can kill. But coming from district 12, she's at a disadvantage. Apparently, in this imagined North America, people from districts 1 to 3 are better fed and prepared for these games. In fact, the last time somebody from district 12 won the hunger games was decades ago. For the locals of district 12, Katniss signed her own death warrant when she volunteered.

I stayed up until 3 am finishing The Hunger Games. True to its being a young adult genre fiction (science fiction/adventure/thriller), each chapter ends in a cliff hanger. There's even a love triangle thrown in. Peeta Mellark, the boy representative from district 12, professes his love to Katniss during the press conference for the games, much to Katniss's dismay knowing that Gale, the boy she left in her own district, would be watching. But what really kept me awake was the killings, and the way these kids kill one another can be quite disturbing. (Imagine: in the hunger games arena, there are no guns.)

If you do get to read just one novel this year, I guess this should be it. Collins writes vivid narratives, making The Hunger Games one of the most compelling reads I've experienced recently. There's a rather predictable moment in the end, but somehow, Collins manages to pull it off. While the author did express her intention of coming up with a trilogy, of which this book is the first, The Hunger Games satisfies on its own.

Read this book if:
  1. You like your meat served rare.
  2. You want to see spears, arrows, and rocks as murder weapons.
  3. You always root for the underdog.


Kaz said...

I just found this post... I didn't realise you'd read this book. Did you get to the others - and did you read my thoughts on the series? There are three posts: Shopping, shopping, shopping...
Refelctions on The Hunger Games
The rest of The Hunger Games

I tackled the books from a different perspective to you - and there was some hefty discussion around my posts in the comments.