Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Hunger Games; Catching Fire; Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I was skeptical.  I had heard about the story line and it didn't appeal to me.  I'm wary of Young Adult literature in general.  I had heard comparisons to a certain vampire series once too often.  But while visiting my dear sister-in-law, who's opinion about books I totally respect, and seeing these on her shelf - I finally caved.  And the verdict.....
   I gobbled up all 3 books in 3 days.  And loved nearly every bite.

      This series takes place in  post apocalyptic times in the fictional country of Panem which has a central, decadent Capitol and 13 districts that supply it.  At one time, the 13th district rebelled and the Capitol completely destroyed that district, using the rebellion as an excuse to oppress the other districts.  The Hunger Games are an annual televised event where the ruthless Capitol randomly selects one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts, and pits them against each other in a game of survival where they are forced to kill until only one remains.  These games are intended as a reminder that no one is more powerful than the Capitol and the games create a constant state of fear in the nation as districts are isolated and divided.
        In The Hunger Games, Katniss's younger sister Prim is chosen so Katniss volunteers to take her place as the female District 12 tribute.  Peeta is chosen as the male tribute and their crew decide to present them as a team to increase the chances of one surviving.  Katniss's skills with archery and survival and Peeta's persuasive personality and genuine kindness enable them both to survive till the end - when they are forced to take a stand against the Capitol or kill each other.
         In Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta return triumphantly from the Hunger Games only to find that everything is not as they thought it would be.  The people have make Katniss into a hero to rally a rebellion around.  To make matters worse, the Capital has decided to get revenge by pitting former survivors against one another for the Quarter Quell.  Katniss and Peeta are back to the Hunger Games once again and are determined to make sure that the other comes home alive.
       In the Mockingjay, the rebellion begins to catch fire and the Capitol is determined to get the nation under control once again, whether by using Katniss and Peeta for their own purposes or by destroying them.  The two of them have to make a lot of hard choices and big sacrifices as they end up leading a rebellion against the Capital and united the nation.

What I liked about the series:
- very well written.  You won't want to put it down.
- I am a total sucker for a post-apocalypse story
- it wrestles with the big ideas of justice, sacrificial love, loyalty, justifiable force  and peace.  And no easy, preachy answers are given.
- Collins has come up with a premise that is at the same time shockingly barbaric and unnervingly relevant to our culture today
-to my great surprise, the language is totally clean!  There may be a stupid or idiot once or twice, but I was so caught up in the story that I didn't notice.  Much cleaner than your average Gordon Korman book.  :-)
 There is a love triangle that features pretty centrally in the series - Katniss has a close friendship with Gale who loves her more than friends but is patiently waiting for her to realize that she feels that same way; Katniss also feels a strong loyalty and affection for Peeta, who saves her life and who she in turn saves.  Peeta boldly declares his love for her and Katniss feels pressured by the circumstances to demonstrate love that she doesn't necessarily feel.  Gale and Peeta experience a rivalry combined with mutual respect. The "romance" includes kissing and thumping hearts, but is surprisingly chaste - and realistically complex.

Would I give this to my kids?  Yes... my oldest was intrigued when he noticed me finishing one book and immediately picking up the next one, but he's still a bit too young for this.  Since much of the tension in this book depended upon the relationship between Katniss, Peeta and Gale - and my boy still thinks girls have cooties -he'll be missing out on a lot here yet.

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