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The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
374 pages
Genre: Fiction/YA/SF

What authors seek, more than anything else, is word of mouth advertising. And for Suzanne Collins, the word of mouth campaign has succeeded spectacularly. Long before I read The Hunger Games, I had repeatedly read high-praise reviews of the novel on my flist. I am fond of dystopias--one of my favorite books is Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale—but also suspicious of the young adult genre, particularly young adult science fiction as spearheaded by Scott Westerfeld, whose books I enjoy but do not really appreciate in-depth. So I approached The Hunger Games with a certain amount of trepidation. Katniss sounded like just your typical stubborn, free-spirited protagonist (supposedly a "strong female"), and the plot synopsis was interesting but not astoundingly original.

In the broken remains of North America, the glorious Capitol rules over 12 colonies, called Districts--there was once a 13th colony, but it rebelled and was utterly destroyed for such defiance. In continuing punishment, each year the Capitol stages the Hunger Games--one boy and one girl ("tributes") from each district, to fight to the death in a controlled arena, captured every second by cameras, as the ultimate reality television. Katniss Everdeen from the 12th and poorest district, a resourceful and hardened girl fighting every day to keep her family fed, finds herself one of the 74th Tributes when she volunteers in place of her younger sister Primrose. The rest, of course, is Collins's book.

By the end of the first page, I was smiling at Katniss's dear, frail little sister Prim. By the seventh page, I had fallen in love with Gale. And I couldn't stop reading; the characters' plight, set against the stark dystopic backdrop, had knotted clear fishing wire around my heart and would not stop reeling me in. I made internal excuses, of course--just one more page, one more chapter, oh, maybe two--but I did not, and still do not, possess the willpower to stop reading a truly good book.

And this is a good book. Certainly the best young adult science fiction tale I've read this year, perhaps ever, given the relative scarcity of that subgenre. Westerfeld, for all his popularity and fans, has never managed to evoke such a reaction from this reader. I connected with Katniss from the start, but Collins showed me Peeta's virtues and ultimately managed to balance the love triangle. As a writer myself, I understand the difficulty of such a balance. At first I thought that I could predict the plot easily enough, but Collins surprised me at several points, particularly the end. The love triangle is patently obvious early on, of course. Though I fall into the "young adult" age category, I usually prefer reading more complex adult literature; however, I am naïve enough to empathize fully with Katniss's confusion. I know exactly what it feels like to not be sure whether you like, rather than just like, someone--much less two people at once! I don't envy Katniss's dilemma but I understand it perfectly.

The cliffhanger ending left me wordless. I could only close the book, close my eyes, and exhale, "Oh, my." Katniss's indecision right up until the last page is absolute series setup. It's a gorgeous cliffhanger, enough closure to end a novel but not enough to end readers' emotional attachment. The plot may be superficially concluded, but the characters—the most important emotional threads—are still at the introduction.

Ironically, the cover (an elegant black affair in itself) proclaims Collins as an NYT bestselling author, but I have never heard of her. In this case, word of mouth has far prevailed. I've already enthusiastically endorsed the book to several friends, and consider this review high praise as well.
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keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Keix

January 2011

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