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12 May 2008 THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, Scholastic Press, October 2008, 407p., ISBN: 0-439-02348-3


"Just as the town clock strikes two, the mayor steps up to the podium and begins to read. It's the same story every year. He tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.

"The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight-to-the-death. The last tribute standing wins."


I've just spent an entire day reading the four-hundred-plus pages of Suzanne Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES and rooting for sixteen-year-old female narrator Katniss Everdeen to succeed in the goal of systematically terminating the lives of the twenty-three other teen characters who have been chosen by lot (or have volunteered) to be this year's Hunger Games participants.


What does this say about me as a reader and about today's world in general?


Over many millennia it has somehow become natural and/or expected that humans will root for the home team, whether it is the middle school girls' volleyball team, the high school debate club, the region's professional sports franchise, or the nation at war (Right or wrong, love it or leave it.) It seems so natural, so bred into us that we tend to feel more comfortable supporting those with whom we feel more familiar rather than those who are unknown and "different." (Is this not inherently the root cause of racism, ageism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and fear of those who have different sexual orientations or those who are differently-abled?)


"You don't forget the face of the person who was your last hope."


It speaks to the effectiveness of Suzanne Collins' storytelling in THE HUNGER GAMES -- the first book in a trilogy -- that when provided a bit of Katniss Everdeen's background, I found myself so quickly and thoroughly invested in her life-and-death struggle. But it is certainly discomforting to put down the book and recognize my enthusiasm for a story in which this resourceful, good-hearted young woman must become inhuman and intent upon annihilating other, equally-innocent adolescent characters who have similarly left behind parents, friends, siblings, and pets.


Is it possible to be both good-hearted and a killer? How much (or little) does it take to peel away the veneer that makes us human?


In a letter accompanying the Advance Reader's Copy, the author speaks of her own childhood reading of the story of Theseus and how, "Even as a third grader, I could appreciate the ruthlessness of this message. 'Mess with us and we'll do something worse than kill you. We'll kill your children.'"


It sure seems to be a cold and brutal world in which these twenty-four young participants have been brought up. I expect that the subsequent volumes in the trilogy will delve more deeply into the workings of The Capitol. It surely seems to be a place from which Katniss and her community are quite isolated -- in the same manner that so many of us feel so little connection with (and contempt for) our own government, its logic, and its actions and high-handed policies.


"I know I'll never marry, never risk bringing a child into the world."


THE HUNGER GAMES succeeded wildly in keeping me reading -- and caring. In fact, I very much cared about the events here despite having never watched or cared about the reality shows on television that Collins also cites in her letter as an inspiration for this story.


For adolescents whose lives frequently feel like they are subjected daily to the law of the survival of the fittest, this will be a story they will embrace with unbridled enthusiasm.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

Moderator, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/




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