Sunday, June 24, 2012

Not exactly a book review: "The Hunger Games" Trilogy

 I recently read The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay one right after the other.  I would never have bought these books for myself. I don't read YA. I thought it would be like the Twilight novels, and I'm definitely not into vampires.   

But, my daughter and I share a Kindle account that's tied to my credit card. She asked if she could buy them, and I said okay. She started The Hunger Games a while back, and decided to finish the latter two during her spring break. She told me they were very good. I decided to give the first one a try.  I figured (a) I paid for it, and (b), as a writer, I suppose I should keep up with what is selling. I started reading The Hunger Games without expecting much. I was hooked from the beginning, and I raced through all three books, not paying attention to any details, just clicking through pages as fast as I could to see what would happen next. I plan to go back and re-read  the whole trilogy. I want to enjoy the details, and also analyze what exactly it is in the stories that mesmerized me so. Collins is a good writer! Maybe I can learn something that will improve my writing.

This is not so much a review as a "reaction" -- or, more accurately, bullet points for myself to consider when I go back to look more closely at how Collins pulled off such a tour de force.

Katniss Everdeen reminds me a little of a slightly more personable, but just as deadly Lisbeth Salander. She's a killer without (much) of a conscience, because she has been groomed for that by the world she lives in. Katniss is a game piece for adults to play with. Literally.  She is smart, creative and resourceful, however, and she often departs from the script her handlers set for her. Her handlers never completely manage to conquer her spirit.

Katniss' two male potential love interests, Peeta and Gale, are fascinating. Collins dribbles out information about them in such tiny doses that it is not clear until almost the very end of the last book which one is Katniss' true soul-mate. (I wonder how many other readers backed the wrong horse, like I did up until almost the very end.) Both boys are deeply flawed characters who genuinely love Katniss, each in his own way.  The difference is that one of them still (somehow and despite almost overwhelming obstacles) believes in love's power to heal emotional and spiritual wounds, and the other has been poisoned from the inside by hate. On the outside they look much alike, but neither boy is entirely what he appears to be. Collins did amazing things with these two characters. 

At first the story-line seemed to resemble the Star Wars theme of the battle between good and evil, until it becomes apparent that, in this story, the battle is between two Evils with the dwindling remnant of Good caught (and, too often, massacred) in the cross-fire.

It's a coming-of-age story set in a totalitarian state where human life has no value other than as entertainment for the masses. It's bread and circuses. These kids are gladiators in the arenas of some post-apocalyptic Evil Empire.  The message: humans never learn.

It's a love story, in a world that contains very little love. The tiny flicker of love's flame that still manages to burn in a few strong hearts prevails against the enormous power the state unleashes to try to destroy it.

It's an anti-war story that acknowledges that the human species is a bloodthirsty animal, so there will always be wars.

It's also a story about how the human spirit (black-hearted though it may be) can also be capable of soaring to amazing heights of self-sacrifice. It is a spirit that can (given enough time and love) heal from almost any wound inflicted on it, whether the blow comes from foe or friend or family.

It's ultimately a story about the power of story -- to educate,  to warn, to heal and to bless (both the writer and the reader).

I am blown away.

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