*Not My REAL Bookshelf

*Not My REAL Bookshelf

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"The Hunger Games", by Suzanne Collins -- A STUDY ON A SERIES, PT. 1/3

Most of you by now have at the very least heard of the phenomenon that is The Hunger Games. This novel by Suzanne Collins and its sequels have engendered such a tremendous buzz, that Hollywood felt the need to stick their own fingers into the popular pie and generate a film series based on the trilogy. While I have enjoyed the films most ferociously, that is not why I'm here today. We all know that the book is ALWAYS better than the movie, and this case is no exception.

My first knowledge of the story came from my then twelve-year old Mini Munchkin, who insisted that I simply HAD TO read this! Since her literary tastes in those days typically ran more towards the Junie B. Jones set, I was reluctant to take her advice on the subject. To be perfectly honest, it sounded godawful -- children being chosen by lottery to fight to the death for entertainment, like some sick and twisted reality show?? I was appalled. It wasn't until after her thirteenth birthday party, which consisted of taking her to see the movie in the theater the day it was released, that I finally saw the light. I positively devoured The Hunger Games, which took me approximately 3.87 hours to do, and quickly followed up with the other two tomes in the series. I've been utterly addicted ever since!

Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year old girl living in a dystopian wasteland once known as the United States. It is now known as Panem. She shares her life with her little sister Primrose, and their mother. Their father was the victim of a mining accident, and that one event has served to shape their lives in ways that will come to decide the future of every citizen of their nation.

The ruling city of their homeland, better known as The Capitol, has decreed that one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts will be offered up as Tribute in an annual event called The Hunger Games. The Capitol citizens view this monstrous affair as the last word in entertainment -- the rest of the nation has no choice but to follow along with these Games in order to preserve the lives of them all. As fate would have it, Katniss winds up taking her sister's place in order to spare her from a terrible death. The boy chosen to accompany her is Peeta Mellark. Peeta is the person who quite literally saved her life years before, though they have never spoken to each other before. The tale truly begins with their journey into the arena, to fight to the death with twenty-two other Tributes from the other districts.

After a dizzying trip to The Capitol and a round of spectacular makeovers, the Tributes are prepared for what they are about to face. Interviews, strategies, training, and subterfuge collide to create a powder keg of emotion, hubris, and fear. Little by little, we come to know these kids and the forces driving them. Once their time in the arena begins, only one can emerge victorious, and it is the fear of letting down young Primrose that drives Katniss forward into survival.

Fighting off injuries and the elements proves to be a Herculean task for most of those who survive the opening moments at the Cornucopia, where all of the supplies are stored before the Tributes arrive. Each day brings death, and often the nights do as well. After the calamitous losses suffered on all sides, Katniss and her district partner are eventually forced together into a pact to survive the Games. The difficulties they face as they carry on toward the ending are both harrowing and grave. By the end, the showdown is so brutally disheartening that it left me breathless with horror. Imagining my own children being left to such a fate is the kind of thought that keeps me awake at night.

Throughout the novel, Katniss' journey into a jaded sense of enlightenment keeps the reader guessing start to finish. Her actions as she comes to realize the depth of the deception they have faced has consequences that are incendiary and far-reaching. By the time I reached the conclusion, I was so intrigued that I could barely concentrate on day-to-day life. I simply HAD TO continue the saga and learn the fate of the so-called "star-crossed lovers of District Twelve".

All in all, I was swept away by the storytelling elements of this book. Collins' simple prose and powerful imagery made for one hell of a good read. The immediate appeal reminded me quite a lot of the Harry Potter saga, another set of tales yet to be covered in this particular blog. Anyone who skipped the books in favor of the films has done themselves a grievous disservice. There is so much more to this trilogy than can be properly addressed in the condensation process of turning a book into a screenplay.

Rating: ★★★★★

"Catching Fire", by Suzanne Collins -- A STUDY ON A SERIES, PT. 2/3

Reading works in a series frequently causes me endless despair, in the interminable waiting for another sequel to be released kind of way. This is why I typically avoid series if I can, at least until all of the stories are already published. I was fortunate to be a latecomer to the fandom for this series, keeping me free of that particular brand of anguish.

I've often felt that it would be difficult for your average, ordinary mortal to follow up such a genius work as The Hunger Games with any degree of success. Lucky for us, Ms. Collins appears to be on a higher plane of mortality!

Catching Fire picks up where The Hunger Games left off, with Katniss and Peeta back home in District 12 picking up the pieces of the friendship that was shattered by Katniss' post-Games revelations. Due to the nature of the requirements placed on the shoulders of any Victors, the pair is preparing to be thrust back into the spotlight once again for the sake of maintaining the image that helped them become Games favorites in the first place. They are reunited with stylists and prep teams, coming to know them even better than before. This all leads up to the Victory Tour, placed midway through the year between the Games, for the Districts to celebrate the individual Victors in person. New threats cause new rifts in relationships both old and new, and loyalties become divided in ways nobody could foresee.

The real trouble begins with two things: The arrival of a new and excessively militant Head Peacekeeper, and the announcement of the third Quarter Quell, which occurs every 25 years. These Games always come with especially cruel mandates. (In the second Quarter Quell, the Reaping called for twice the usual number of Tributes, one of whom was Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss' and Peeta's mentor.) The emergence of a pair of Victors of the seventy-fourth Hunger Games elevated District 12's number of living Victors from one to three. When the announcement called for the Quarter Quell Tributes to be reaped from the pool of existing Victors, it meant only one thing -- Katniss was headed back into the arena.

Preparing for their newly-decided fate meant a variety of changes for the pair and their mentor. Constant athletic training for the Tributes, sobriety for the mentor, and changes to friendships and familial relationships alike were the new order. Even the Capitol's preparation period prior to the Games was wildly different, with alliances being formed and reformed both in secret and out. The culmination of their preparations was still no match for the arena that was chosen. It was a challenge for all manner of skill sets right from the start, save a select few from District 4. Overcoming stereotypes was a challenge for nearly every Tribute in the Games.

As the plot thickened, it was easy to see the change coming over Katniss where Peeta was concerned. But the mystery of other Tributes seeming to put his survival ahead of their own was both a source of consternation for Katniss and the reader, and a bit of clever foreshadowing. By the time the climax of the story arrives, the suspense is palpable. The events that bring the Quarter Quell to its end are as disastrous as they are disturbing, and the aftermath of those actions and reactions will leave you shaken to your core. I know they did mine!

All told, I positively flew through this story! It was impossible to put it down, and left me desperate to get to the finale that was waiting in the third installment. I would venture to say that it was my favorite of the three. Dazzling mental imagery interspersed with suspense and danger and a heartwarming approach to young love all combine to create a story that I found captivating. I could honestly have done without the whole "two's a couple, three's a crowd" angle, which is seriously DONE. TO. DEATH. in all manner of fiction these days. But beyond that, it was a positively thrilling read.

Rating: ★★★★★

"Mockingjay", by Suzanne Collins -- A STUDY ON A SERIES, PT. 3/3

In the third and final installment of the saga of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins brings us Mockingjay. This incredible story chronicles the details of a nation's revolt against those who would seek to keep it under their thumbs, and the power of love and friendship in the face of tremendous adversity.

It is the time in the aftermath of the Quarter Quell, and Katniss Everdeen is hanging by a thread. Everything she has ever known has been lost, except for her mother, her sister, and her best friend Gale. Panem is in full-scale rebellion. The disastrous end to her latest trip to the arena keeps her mental state in constant disarray. In addition to all the rest, she is having to struggle to learn a new way of life outside of the only home she has ever known. Alliances formed during the Games are the only link she has to her life before everything around her exploded away.

With Peeta and many of the other Victors being held captive, all thought is bent on how to free them from whatever horrors they must be enduring. Spies from inside the Capitol have the intel they need to strike back, but it comes at a terrible cost. It is only after their mission succeeds that they learn exactly how injurious that may be.

Life after the return of the captives turns to keeping the Mockingjay in the public eye, to give the rebels the strength of will to carry on. As Katniss is shuffled from one district to another, she has to learn to grieve everything that she has lost. Old friendships begin to die out in the face of what has been done to her, leaving precious few allies in her court. Her mother and sister remain in their new home, receiving medical training. Slowly, she begins to find the courage to be the person that everyone already believes she is.

When the fight for Panem finally reaches the Capitol, Katniss endures weeks of physical training to be eligible for combat. She and her squad begin attempts to make it to City Center, with the assassination of President Snow being the main objective. Many heartaches are suffered along the way to achieving their goal, and true colors begin to be shown. When the fighting reaches its horrifying climax, the cost is too much to bear, leaving Katniss shattered beyond repair.

Once the final mission is over, the former residents of District 12 begin to slowly trickle back into their old lives. Stock is taken of everything that has been lost, and people begin to rebuild what the war destroyed. Some return, while others can't bear to come home. The mental instability that gripped Katniss at the outset has had a resurgence, and only one person can help her to lift it away -- Peeta, who has finally returned to her after being hijacked by those in the Capitol. As the story comes to a close, we see the bright new future that waited for the people of Panem.

While this was my least favorite of the three, the book was incredible nonetheless. (The mental illness Katniss suffered hit a bit too close to home, and made reading from her perspective somewhat more difficult than I was quite prepared for.) Definitely a fitting end for a dystopian masterpiece, however heartrending the anguish may have become prior to the conclusion. I can't recommend this trilogy highly enough!

Rating: ★★★★★