Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Hunger Games

"The Hunger Games" may be sold in the Teen Favorites section of Barnes & Noble, but it is definitely adult fare. It is set in a post-apocalyptic, reborn future where two children from each district (think, state) are selected annually to fight to the death in a vicious arena while being televised for national entertainment. The fights to the death are brutal, graphic, and oftentimes, nauseating. Author Suzanne Collins spares no detail as knives slash foreheads, rocks crush skulls, and spears impale 12 year old girls. There is blood, there is ooze, there are poison-induced hallucinations, and there are vicious animals that shred a boys face agonizingly slowly as he moans and cries out for death. And, of course, the entire premise of the book is that the people are so oppressed by their government and live in such fear that they must willingly let their children die in this bloodbath each year.

I heard about "The Hunger Games" when a book editor told Kurt to read it, mentioning that it was to become a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) next year. Just the fact that Lawrence will be playing the books's heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is clue enough as the book's general mood. Bleak. Hopeless. Gritty.  So far, only two other parts have been cast: Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth as Katniss's fellow District 12 competitor and as her faithful hunting partner from her normal life, respectively. Kurt fears that the movie will not carry its seemingly necessary R rating because that would restrict its audience to greatly, so we are expecting a watered down, PG-13 version. Just as bad, Kurt predicts voiceover narration as the majority of the writing takes place in Katniss's head. If either of these two potential pitfalls materialize, there will be no denying that, in this case, the book is definitely better than the movie. 

"The Hunger Games" takes place far in the future, giving it that comfort of "this could never really happen," but the truth is that we are not far from it now, and that adds tremendously to the draw of its premise. The outrageous nature of entertainment today and the ways in which we exploit children do not seem so very contradictory to a world where kids slaughter each other for fun; we already have it in virtual versions.

Katniss is just a kid, but she lives in a world where she illegally hunts for food each day to provide for her mentally absent mother and needy, younger sister. She knows an adult life and she is ripped away from a family that needs her and forced to kill others lest her own family be annihilated as a repercussion.  These are not the typical rites of passage of teenagers, and these are not the themes common to teen literature. I assure you, any adult will relate to Katniss's internal conflicts and turn the pages rapidly to see how she confronts them.

You only have a year until the movie comes out, so read the book now. This way, you will have enough time to read the other two books in the trilogy, too: "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay." I have not read them yet, but I am going to buy them today.