Wednesday, August 24, 2011

So I Finally Finished 'The Hunger Games' Series ... 'Twas a Good Thing

When I started reading Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy about which my twin seventh graders raved, my daughter said she liked the first installment – The Hunger Games – the best and found the final book, Mockingjay, kind of depressing, albeit riveting. By contrast, her brother, who also preferred the first book, found Mockingjay's conclusion “realistic” and said he appreciated that it wasn’t all tied up neatly, with sunshine and rainbows and all that.

Upon completing the series myself this week, I have to agree with them that the first book was the superior of the three, when the freshness of the horrifying premise and the abject inhumane cruelty of the Games still shocked you. (Twenty-four children, ages 12-18, are selected and forced by the government to “play” a game where the last one living “wins” as the government forces them to compete to the death by intensifying the lethal conditions and broadcasting the entire competition on live TV.)

The second book, Catching Fire, was shocking anew in that the “winners” are forced by the government into more deadly competition, both as punishment for the populace for rebelling decades ago (to warn them about rebelling against the all-powerful, dictatorship) and for the purpose of entertaining those in the opulent, wasteful Capitol. Catching Fire had more of a political feel to it as it became clearer that certain participants in the Games were being manipulated by various groups for political purposes.

I read the final book, Mockingjay -- which was indeed the bleakest, my daughter was right -- as the Arab spring of revolt, which had grown somewhat quiet in recent weeks, roared back to life in Libya as rebels tried to take down the dictatorship that had been brutally savaging its own people. Seeing people rioting in the streets, hearing the automatic machine-gun fire during live newscasts, while TV journalists donned protective helmets and bulletproof vests as they beamed images around the globe provided the backdrop for my reading of Mockingjay, where the oppressed districts of the nation of Panem revolted against their violent, oppressive ruler, with the series’ heroine, Katniss Everdeen, serving as the living symbol of the revolution in the person of a 17-year-old girl.

The ending, which I won’t betray here, did as my son said, seem to fit in logically with the overall tone of the series: Dark and melancholy mixed with a dab of hopefulness that springs eternal even under the most precarious of circumstances. But, no matter how realistic it was in the context of the book, it was a downer.

After finishing Mockingjay – which I recommend for readers middle school and up – I've turned to something completely different, Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, a fictionalized story about the life of a First Lady, based loosely on the real life of Laura Bush. Thus far I’m on page 248 (out of 555) and I’m a fan.

Have you read the Hunger Games series? If so, what did you think?

Image credits:


Melissa said...

I loved The Hunger Games. I do agree that it was wonderful and the first book was the strongest of the 3. That said, I can't wait for the movie. I didn't read the books during the uprising in the Arab world, but I was reminded (while watching the 24 hr coverage) that while so much of what is in the book is horrifying, it is still happening today in many parts of the world (minus the sci fi elements). I did think it made a wonderful trilogy, perfect in length and consistent throughout. To compare to Twilight, I felt that the last 2 were a bit long for my taste and the second and third could have been edited down to make just one, in my opinion.

Cooley Horner said...

I adored this series, and I'm so glad you did, too. I was recently raving about them to my boyfriend's middle-school aged cousins, and the kids' mother became very tight-lipped about the topic. She later told me she felt the books were far too violent for children, but in many ways, I think they make complex and difficult situations more accessible to young readers. Your comparison of book 3 to the Arab Spring is quite apt, and I thought all of the books did a nice job of exploring dissent while also exploring a frightening dystopia and all that comes with it. The books create great opportunities for dialogue, so I'm glad to hear you and your family enjoyed them. Now to look forward to the movie!