So a few months ago, I read this amazing trilogy called “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. Okay, maybe “read” isn’t quite the right word; “devoured” is much more appropriate. Let me just start by saying this is one of the best series that I’ve read in a long time. While the main plot line of the novels is not a new one—children forced to kill each other—Collins does a remarkable job of creating a rich and deep alternate universe to explore the effects of war on adolescence. It is an extremely well-written addition to the canon of young adult (YA) dystopia novels. A few other examples would be Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies, The Long Walk, The Lottery, and Death Race 2000. It is set in North America after a third world war. The new Nation that is set up revolves around an extremely wealthy capitol city, set high in what was the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by 13 extremely poor districts that each specialize in a certain industry (coal, fishing, agriculture, etc). 74 years before the first novel starts, there was an uprising against the Capitol. The Capitol crushed the district’s rebellion and completely annihilated District 13. To remind the districts every year of their failed attempt at freedom, the Capitol hosts the Hunger Games where one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from every district to compete. These 24 contestants are shown the life of luxury in the Capitol for about 2 weeks before being set loose in the arena where only the last child left alive will be set free. And all of it, the preparations beforehand to every moment of bloodshed in the arena is televised 24/7 to the districts and the Capitol. The citizens of the Capitol live and breath for the Hunger Games while the district populace is forced to watch every moment.
Let’s skip the obvious YA dystopia for a moment and contemplate the voyeur aspect of these books. In a culture where the cast of the Jersey Shore is the most recognizable “TV stars,” it’s easy to see our sick obsession with “reality” TV. What’s realistic about any of these shows? That’s not how life works. It’s just ego-centric people getting rewarded for stirring up drama. There are no “afterschool special” moments that you get in sitcoms where some morality lesson can be obviously inserted. There’s no educational value whatsoever. The only way you could gain anything from reality TV is by considering it a guide on everything NOT to do to be a decent human being. (The only exceptions that I make to this opinion are Man vs Wild, and Survivor Man, since they’re preparing me to live in the wild after the zombie apocalypse.) Still, it’s very entertaining… like a trainwreck… you know you should look away, but the morbid fascination keeps you locked in. But in the Hunger Games, it is all real, but the people of the Capital treat it like light entertainment. I really like this subtle criticism of American culture and how Collins uses it throughout the books. Because along with the reality TV aspect of television, there’s also a propaganda war in the third book, but I can’t say more without spoiling something.
There’s something about these YA dystopia novels that really intrigues me. With the absence of adults (except the fact that adults always put the children in these situations), the children are forced to rapidly mature or die. And with the promise of either death or glory, children are capable of the most unspeakable acts. The YA dystopia genre completely removes a slow transition through maturity and forces the main character(s) to conquer Darwinism by transforming into epic heroes. While most YA dystopia novels have a few innocent characters (one of which is always the main character) surrounded by more mature, bullying characters, Collins leans the other way. Katniss is used to taking care of her entire family by hunting and providing for them. She has carried the weight as the head of her house for years now and is already mature in the sense that she can provide for the physical needs of herself and those around her. In this sense, Katniss is very much like Lyra and Will from His Dark Materials, or Sabriel from the Abhorsen trilogy. In these books, the characters not only grow in the emotional and moral areas that they are lacking, they mature into natural leaders. Most YA dystopia novel main characters don’t lead, but mainly mature enough to ensure their survival. In this way, Collins has mixed some elements of epic YA lit into the dystopia, causing the characters in The Hunger Games to develop more deeply than others in the same genre.
What I enjoy most and least about this trilogy is the ending. I will admit that I might have thrown the book across the Metro car and scared an old lady with my choice of colorful language as I read the last page. But after cooling down and re-reading it, I realized that it was the only possible ending that could really happen. I won’t say anything else because it would spoil it, except for the fact that Katniss is NOT a Bella or a Mary Sue character where everything works out just so perfectly in the end and everything is roses and butterflies. Ugh. I hated the ending to Breaking Dawn purely because no one died and everyone was fricking happy in the end. I wanted Bella to die…
Wow, ok tangent. Basically, The Hunger Games is a MUST READ trilogy for anyone who enjoys YA literature. I’ll be watching for anything else that Collins does in the future and praying that it lives up to her first trilogy.