I don’t like young adult fiction. I abhor it, in fact. The majority of it, in my humble opinion, stands as the antithesis of quality writing and a warning sign that Western culture is declining in intelligence and creativity, all in favor of what can (barely) be described as low-brow, cheap-thrilled entertainment, a poor excuse to get teenagers and young adults to “read something.” (It is also my opinion that the minds of teens and young adults can handle greater reading challenges than we give them credit for; it’s your presentation, not your material, high school teachers and college professors).
The authorial style Collin’s uses in writing The Hunger Games certainly fits the mold of what many know today as “young adult fiction;” it’s lazy, simple, and avoids complex language and sentence structure. The first-person present perspective did frustrate me, mostly because it comes across as uneducated and a little arrogant on the part of the main character. These annoyances made me question reading the book as I went through the first couple pages; they just rubbed me the wrong way.
About the time I hit page ten, I stopped being annoyed and became fascinated, intrigued, infuriated, and sad all at once.
For those of you who are just crawling out from under your rocks, The Hunger Games is about the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, previously known as North America. Due to events not spoken of in the book, Panem emerged from the ashes of what was presumably some great catastrophe, with the Capitol at its center, ruling over the thirteen districts surrounding it (ideas of apartheid come to mind). As punishment for a previous rebellion from the 13 districts, District 13 was obliterated, and all other districts now must send “tributes” (a boy and a girl between ages 12-18) to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a last-child-standing fight to the death, the winning district receiving large supplies of grain, oil, and other necessities for sustenance. Competitors are chosen by lottery, and when the younger sister of one Katniss Everdeen is chosen, Katniss volunteers to take her place.
Reminiscent of, though far from on par with, dystopian novels such as Brave New World and 1984 (and Battle Royale, though Collins claims to have never read the book), THG touches on themes of war, death, sacrifice, compassion versus survival, and tyranny, and does so quite accesibly. As mentioned earlier, I found myself overwhelmed with indignation at the Capitol and fascinated with Katniss, saddened by her losses and the life she lives, and intrigued by her tenacity and ability. Her defiance of authority resonated with me, as such characters often do, and the presence of a strong female lead not hopelessly dependent on the romantic affections of some boy was a great thing to see as well, especially in young adult fiction.
It’s by no means classic fiction, though I don’t think that was Collins’ aim in the first place. Anyone can read this book and love it, but what separates this novel out from other books in its genre is its use of Greek mythology (Katniss is comparable to Theseus, and Collins cites the myth as inspiration), it’s examination of the darkest sides of humanity as well as the most compassionate, and its respect for good storytelling, even if the author’s style is rather simple.
One of my favorite parts of the book that I want to touch on is a creature known as a Mockingjay, the bird featured on the covers of all the books and the title of the third one. Mockingjays are the offspring of a Capitol created animal designed to memorize and repeat human conversation in an effort to quell rebel offenses during the rebellion. Once the rebels figured out what was going on, however, they used it to their advantage and sent back false information. Giving up on the project,the Capitol abandoned the birds, thinking they would die off. Instead, they mated with mockingbirds, and while they lost the ability to speak, they still sang. They would listen to humans sing and repeat their melodies back after listening. Some humans, like Katniss and her late father, could get the entire forest of mockingjays singing.
The mockingjay, to me, symbolizes hope that the evil of men can indeed be used for good. Instead of an instrument of espionage and death, the mockingjay became a mouthpiece for beauty and creativity of human beings, a way of showing the Capitol that, though they may harm the body, they will not ever harm the soul of the districts that surround.
I could probably talk a whole lot more about this book, it’s strengths and weaknesses, but I don’t want to go overboard and write a dissertation-length post either. All I can say is that this book is pretty awesome, and worth a fair shake from even the snobbiest of readers.
May the odds ever be in your favor!