Sunday, March 11, 2012

Self-aware dystopia lives up to hype

Book: The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins

Published: 2008 (Scholastic)

Pages: 374

This is how I reacted to reading pressure when my boyfriend said he’s going to see the movie on its opening weekend and would I like to go with him?:

Because it meant I chucked my semi-cherished plans of keeping indie cred by reading Battle Royale instead of this popular series first. And of course I had to read the book before we see the movie, which pushed back my increasingly panicked plans of not adding any new books to the pile I want to get through, dammit.

It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay, because The Hunger Games reads fast and well, and it’ll be at least another year before the second book gets turned into a movie my boyfriend’ll want to go see on opening weekend, and too much indie book cred will make this blog insufferable anyway.

So! Katniss! She’s cool. She’s less the bold new feminist icon that reviews have told me about than an almost gender-neutral kid just focused on survival. That’s a refreshing change. Her skills and interests are presented as completely normal for her age, place, and family social status; she’s equal to Gale’s skills and nobody’s surprised about that. They just tell her to bring more illegal squirrel next week. She’s protective in a non-maternal way that sometimes hurts her own interests. She knows her own strengths and relies on them far more than exploiting her weaknesses to rely on other people. She can hunt and track but good fuck, don’t let her heal or cook anything more complicated than a roasted leg.

She’s cool, but the world building is the real star around here.

Collins is great at letting just the right amount of detail unspool around major events that Katniss knows well but is experiencing in person for the first time. I wonder if all the male tributes have to get waxed down for the presentation, too. All the new terms feel naturally descriptive but still memorable, the history revealed is enough to know reasons for actions but little enough to want to know more, and the action scenes I could totally follow in my head. Brava. 

A few “but…”s, though:

  • I wish the games would’ve been played in a more interesting arena. Of all the landscapes possible, this year’s was the one that sounds the most like the backyard I had before I moved into an apartment.
  • The fuck were those mutts about near the last bit of the games?! Please let there be a science lab raiding/rescuing scene in later plot.
  • I’m dreading reading more about Peeta and Gale and Katniss as a triangle. The love story angle was SO GOOD in this book, meaning it was an ingenious strategy to act like it was an act for the cameras and Peeta’s reveal that he wasn’t acting was, duh, not a surprise to any of us but played as a genuine one to Katniss. That was handled well but I fear it will turn into hormonal teenage angst just as I celebrate how free this series is of that crap.
  • Katniss’s inter musings about strategy got a little circular and reminded me of said teenage angst in books where the girl is worrying about what to do with/about a boy. But the higher stakes here (actual, physical, nobody-will-help-my-family death, as opposed to oh-my-god-I-want-to-die-over-this-socially-embarrassing-situation death) make it tolerable for a far longer time.
  • Now that Collins has built a world, will she be as good at tearing it down? Rebellion to come, I guess. I plan on reading Catching Fire and Mockingjay back to back because my boyfriend says Catching Fire ends on a much more “what the fuck just and is going to happen?” cliffhanger than this one did.   
 Also, a point to remember: this isn’t a hard book. It’s solid YA plotting with fleshed-out characters and that’s a very good, enjoyable thing, but reading the whole triology in two days won’t get you into Harvard or anything. It will merely prepare you for life in a Capitol-controlled wilderness when you have to fight to death. Argue amongst yourselves as to which is more important a skill.

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