Kyle Lukoff delves into the dystopian world of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games.
I used to work in the kid’s section of Barnes and Noble, and borrowed a copy of Suzanne Collins’ the Hunger Games
right after it first came out. It looked pretty good—post-apocalyptic future America, governmental oppression, and a girl who saves the day.
I got home and cracked it open, expecting to read a chapter or two before starting dinner. I read and read and read, and when my growling stomach reminded me that dinner was supposed to be hours ago I went into the kitchen, book in front of my face, and scarfed down a few pieces of cheese without losing my spot on the page.
The first chapter plunges you into a world of governmental oppression, where after some unnamed disaster the remainders of the United States formed into a nation called Panem (after the Latin panem et circenses
, or bread and circuses). Every year each district is forced to choose at random two teenagers, a boy and a girl, to participate in the Hunger Games, a reality-TV show where the contestants fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen, the heroine, volunteers after her sister’s name is called. Peeta Mellark joins her, and creates Game history when he announces that he is in love with her. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but at the end of the first book Katniss and Peeta inadvertently spark a revolution, and spend much of the second book paying for it.
It was dark by the time I finished, and over the past few hours I had laughed out loud, gasped in fear, clapped my hand over my mouth in amazement, and felt my eyes well up with tears. Instead of just a cool story I had found a scathing critique of the government and media and reality television, a perfectly-crafted adventure, and one of the most inspiring heroines I’ve ever come across.
From then on, every time someone asked me for a good teen book (sometimes even just a good book) I’d point them towards the Hunger Games. I would especially recommend it to young men, because I believe that it’s extremely important for boys to read books about strong, smart, capable girls.
So of course I couldn’t wait for Mockingjay
, the third book in the series, to come out. Katniss had escaped death countless times, failed to quench the revolution she inadvertently started, and was struggling to choose between the two boys who loved her.
Yes, the romantic subplot plays a large part in the novels. Katniss has to choose between Peeta, her opponent and later ally in the first Hunger Games, and Gale, her best friend and hunting partner. But unlike certain other heterosexual teen love triangles I could dismissively name (for example, ones with sparkly vampires), there is no pining away or angst-ridden declarations of eternal love. At one point Gale and Peeta are coolly discussing which one of them they think she’ll choose. Gale says that she will “pick whoever she thinks she can’t survive without.”
“At the moment, the choice would be simple,” she thinks. “I can survive just fine without either of them.”
I admit, I’m a sucker for books with strong young women as the lead characters. I grew up on The Paper Bag Princess
, and later graduated to Tamora Pierce’s explicitly feminist YA novels, and Katniss is one of the best heroines I’ve ever come across. She’s strong, she’s brave, she’s smart, she’s determined. But at the same time she’s hardly Supergirl. She’s got plenty of blind spots, plenty of weaknesses that her enemies easily exploit. But these don’t detract from her as a character—rather, they make her believable and lovable.
In a country where the execrable Twilight
books have swept through the YA literary scene like a tidal wave, the popularity of the Hunger Games
gives me hope. Like the most skilled science fiction authors Collins presents us with a country very much like ours…or what ours will be if certain trends continue. The series shows young people that it is possible to rebel against and defeat an oppressive structure. Not only that, it shows that a young woman can be the face of that rebellion.