The one thing I regret is that I will never have time to read all the books I want to read.
--Francoise Sagan

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

I've been hearing great things about this series since at least last summer...from readers of all ages. Many of my sixth graders read it and loved it, but many adults I know have been raving about it, too. Considering I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it...but, eventually, curiosity won out.

The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic, dystopian society, which Collins makes so real. In a nutshell...a wave of natural disasters struck North America, chaos erupted, and "the Capitol" emerged and seized control. Now, the Capitol keeps its 12 outlying Districts in line through intimidation and force. Living conditions in the Districts are appalling...people are starving, they're forced to work impossibly long hours in hazardous conditions for little pay, they're imprisoned within their home Districts by electric fences, they're constantly monitored and kept powerless, while people in the Capitol live in total luxury.

To remind the Districts just how powerless they really are, the Capitol forces each one to send a boy and girl between the ages of 12-18 to the annual Hunger Games...a televised fight to death...gladiator style. The "tributes" are chosen via a lottery which they call "the reaping". Every child's name is entered once for each year of eligibility (12-year-olds are entered once...18-year-olds are entered seven times), but families can choose to have their children's names entered multiple times in exchange for food and fuel. Many must do so in order to survive.

In the first book in the series, we meet 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. Her 12-year-old sister Prim, whose name has only been entered in the reaping once, is chosen against all odds as the female tribute from District 12. Knowing Prim has no chance of survival, Katniss volunteers to take her place. We follow Katniss on her journey from home to the Capitol to the arena. She's an underdog going in...but she's not totally skill-less: She's awesome with a bow and arrow. She's an experienced tracker and hunter. She's spent time in the woods...knows which plants are edible...climbs trees effortlessly. Plus, she's smart, and she has an incredibly strong spirit. Propelled by her anger toward the Capitol and her love for her family and friends back home, Katniss quickly emerges as a force to be reckoned with...

Collins achieves this great balance in Katniss...we're terrified for her, but we also have hope that she'll somehow manage to survive. And if there wasn't already enough tension, she begins to fall in love with Peeta, her fellow District 12 tribute...Only she knows, and so do we, that there's no way they can both survive.

As we're watching all of this unfold, so are Katniss' and Peeta's families and friends...and everyone in Panem. All eyes are glued to their TVs. The nation is captivated by Katniss and Peeta, just as we are as readers...and we clearly get the sense that feelings of discontent and unrest are beginning to stir in the Districts. Katniss becomes a symbol of the injustice and cruelty of the Capitol. Her spirit gives the people of Panem hope...and energy begins to build.

Every chapter in The Hunger Games is its own mini can't possibly fold down the corner, turn out the light, and go to sleep. You must read on...and on...and on...because you're dying to know what's going to happen to Katniss and Peeta, her family, her District, her world. Collins masterfully propels you forward. As soon as I finished Book One, I had to start Catching Fire, and now I'm eagerly awaiting the release of Mockingjay, the final book in the trilogy...which doesn't come out until August 24!!!

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