Working at a bookstore, it's easy to get ck of hearing about all the teen fiction novels that have turned into pop culture phenomena over the last decade or so. I'm putting off reading the Harry Potter series until everyone else shuts up about it, so I can admit it if I don't absolutely adore it without fear of being defenestrated, and no force in this life or the next could ever compel me to read Twilight . For some reason, though, I have always sensed that The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins might be different. I had heard several ringing endorsements of the book, and unlike many Potterheads and Twihards, the fans of this series did not froth at the mouth or explode into hyperbole, but mply were resolute in their opinions that these are some amazing works of fiction. And they're right. I took home the first book in the trilogy, and within 20 pages or so, I was completely immersed. This is one of those books that is categorized as "Teen Fiction" primarily because most of the central characters are young people rather than because the material is in any way immature or unsophisticated. As the story marched along, I was struck by how much appeal this tale of survival in a dystopian world holds for horror fans. Suzanne Collins skillfully establishes an underlying sense of dread and hopelessness to the story, even as main character Katniss Everdeen endears herself more with every page. This teenager's tenacity and strength of spirit are traits that most "final girls" in horror would be envious of. Without giving too much away, here are the most important broad strokes of the plot. America is no more, replaced by a new country called "Panem", which is comprised of 12 outlying districts that mostly subst at various levels of poverty and a gaudy, crass capitol city that sounds a little like Las Vegas, which is mply called "The Capitol". At some point in Panem's not too distant past, the districts rose up against the Capitol's rule, and were badly defeated. Now, both as punishment and to keep the districts divided against each other, a death match called "the Hunger Games" is held each year. Every district must send one boy and one girl between ages 12 and 18, who is selected more or less randomly (though it's a little more complicated than that). This year, when Katniss' younger ster is called, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Of the 24 contestants who enter every year, only 1 can win, and the only way you can win is by being the last one alive. The whole thing is filmed and broadcast to all of Panem as these kids are forced to kill one another.I know there are shades there of Battle Royale, but trust me, this is something altogether unique. The action in the arena where the Hunger Games are held is brutal, bloody and realistic, without going to the level of exploitation. And the arena itself is a truly terrifying and inspired creation, featuring artificially generated walls of flame, genetically engineered beasties of several varieties, and something called "the Cornucopia" where the contestants (or "tributes") can snag much needed weapons, food and supplies...as long as they can fight their way past each other to get them. But what is perhaps even more disturbing than the ongoing bloodbath and the tale of survival horror that unfolds in the arena, is the run-up to the Games that occurs in the Capitol. Each tribute is given a team of stylists that cluck over them and are mostly just trying to make a name for themselves, and is forced to take etiquette lessons and endure interviews before an audience of people who will be tuning in to watch all save one of them die. Katniss is able to wear clothes and eat foods in the Capitol that are finer than she's ever known, and she even makes connections with fellow tributes. But even friendship and merriment are unnerving and deadly here, nce emotions can be exploited, and feeling things for someone you must battle to the death might mean a moment's hetation later on that could get you killed. I was extremely impressed by this genre-blending, uncomproming piece of literature, and I'm not ashamed to say, there were a couple times I was choking back tears as characters I'd come to love tried to survive ordeal after ordeal, with varying levels of success. That's not something that happens to me very often and when it does, I know an author is doing a lot of things right. I had never read a Suzanne Collins book prior to this, but she has the potential to become one of my favorite authors if the rest of this trilogy is as stellar as the opening salvo. I give The Hunger Games 5 out of 5 stars.The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic. Copyright 2008.