The Bookshelf: The Hunger Games trilogy

Hello readers… and welcome to a new feature here at Mr. Blahg, The Bookshelf.  Here you will find either books that I have just read or old favorites I feel like recommending.  Today’s pick is a young adult series that began in 2008 and culminated this month with the release of the third and final book in the trilogy… The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009) and most recently Mockingjay (2010).

Yes, these are young adult novels getting a great deal of attention by adults… and for good cause.  Simply put, they are good.  The basic premise borrows heavily from some other notable films from the past (Battle Royale, The Running Man), yet puts enough of a twist into the story that any resemblance to either of those movies vanishes rather quickly. 

The premise is that in the future, all that remains of what was North America is a country called Panem.  Panem is controlled by a dictatorial president in the Capitol who rules over 12 separate districts.  Seventy four years ago a rebellion was staged by the districts (then 13) to overthrow the Capitol… the rebellion was squashed, District 13 was obliterated and as punishment and a reminder of this time, the Hunger Games were established.  Each year, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are picked via lottery from each district to enter into an arena in order to battle to the death on television.  The winner of the Hunger Games will live comfortably for the rest of their life and gifts will be showered upon their home district for the following year.

Katniss Everdeen, our protagonist, is a remarkably strong and intelligent 16 year old girl fro District 12 who finds herself entered into the 74th Hunger Games.  There are a host of other characters, most notably Gale, her best friend and possible romantic interest, and Peeta, the other District 12 “tribute” going into the Games.  Yes… there is somewhat of a “who will she pick” element to the story which is why many people have compared these novels to Twilight, but this is a completely different animal than that.  Of other significant characters are Prim, her sister and Haymitch… a drunken former victor of the Hunger Games who acts as Katniss and Peeta’s mentor throughout the Games.

What begins as a story of death and cruelty turns into a revolutionary and political game where you never know who is the enemy and what is the right course of action.  The author, Suzanne Collins pulls no punches.  This book is violent.  It can be heart wrenching.  She kills people off regardless of age… yes, she kills 12 year olds!  And this book deals with post traumatic stress without ever once putting it in such terms.  This is a very dark book series that is not afraid to go places you may not expect.

The writing style occasionally leaves a bit to be desired.  It very much reads as a young adult novel.  There is very little subtlety and even less literary flourishes… yet the direct approach she takes makes for a fast and perfectly paced read.  Each chapter seems to end with a major bombshell propelling (and compelling) you to keep reading.  I felt the pace did not slow up in the slightest until well into the third and final book…. and at that point, I was welcoming the rest.  I read through all three in about 6 days and felt oddly exhausted.

Regardless of age, I would highly recommend this series.  It’s fun, exciting, emotional at times and brutal for the majority… but a fantastic read and a great story.  Between Lisbeth Salander of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Katniss Everdeen, there appear to be a great trend of awesome female leads who take no crap and come out swinging… and that can’t be a bad thing.

Enjoy the read,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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