"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy

TITLE:  The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay
AUTHOR: Suzanne Collins

It's been years since I've read any Young Adult literature, not since my days as a YA librarian back in the '80s, and I'd forgotten just how wonderful YA books can be. The writing, when good, is clean and crisp, and the plots aren't convoluted. Not that I don't like convoluted, but sometimes, you just want to read a good, easy-to-follow, solid story, and this trilogy is that and more.

It's hard if not impossible to review a trilogy without some spoilers, so, you've been warned. :)

In typical YA fashion, there's the usual teen angst. But this being science fiction, there's a larger realm to deal with. In a future world, in a place that might once have been the United States, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, has had to grow up too fast, hunting to put food on the table so her family can eat after her father's death while working in the mines. Of the 12, cordoned-off districts (the 13th was destroyed in a failed revolt against the Captial), hers is the mining district, the poorest and also the one with lax regulations, allowing Katniss and her friend Gale to slip under the wire fence to hunt in the wild.

In the first book, The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta, the baker's son, are forced to participate in a fight to the death tournament. The Capital instituted the Hunger Games after defeating the rebels and every year, each district sends a boy and girl tribute, chosen by lottery, to the games. A large part of the story deals with the pomp and pageantry involved as the games are viewed as great sport by the Capital and the rest of the districts are forced to watch as their loved ones are put on display, then dropped into the arena. The second half of the book is devoted to the games, with Katniss not only fighting for her life, but dealing with her conflicting feelings for Peeta.

Catching Fire picks up a few months after The Hunger Games. Katniss, having found a way to defy the President and the Gameskeepers, saving both herself and Peeta, has made an enemy of the President who cannot allow a mere girl to have embarrassed him, as well as becoming a symbol for rebels in other districts. As Katniss, touring the districts with Peeta and the past winners of the games as part of the annual ritual, comes to learn how bad things are in the other districts, the President is plotting his revenge. The lax Peacekeepers of District 12 are replaced by strict ones and her friend/maybe boyfriend Gale is whipped after being caught with game he illegally hunted, showing Katniss and her people that things will only get worse. But the ultimate revenge is a clever bit of manipulation that gets Katniss, Peeta, and other former winners back in the arena for a games to end all games.

Mockingjay finds Katniss and her people refugees in the midst of full-blown rebellion. Now the Mockingjay, a symbol of and inspiration for freedom from the Capital, Katniss reluctantly joins the fight while dealing with personal tragedy and her feelings for both Gale and Peeta.

There is a positive ending to the series, but not a happily ever after ending. The resolution felt real, as did the characters. Collins built a believable world, even without detailed explanations as to how it evolved, focusing on Katniss and her struggles as good YA books should. This is a coming-of-age tale in the midst of great horrors, as well as a story about survival and hope. Katniss, as narrator, has a clear voice that conveys the wide range of teen emotions, fears, desires, and confusions that are universal in their appeal. With the movie being filmed of the first book, you'll want to read the books soon. I highly recommend them, because they're not just for teenagers.