I have read a lot of fiction that was, well, a little young for me. Not so much lately, but certainly in the past I’ve found hours of entertainment in reading the exploits of characters in Teen Fiction. The examination could be, perhaps, the fact that I never properly grew up, but mostly I think it’s because they take a very short time to read and it’s pretty much the equivalent of watching something like Gossip Girl. Especially if said books are, in fact, Gossip Girl. There are, though, the other books. The Harry Potters, the (whether good or bad) Twilights, the books that are basically cultural phenomenons that I can’t quite fail to get my grips in. So why has it taken me so long to read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins? In fact, like Twilight, it wasn’t until the release of the final book in the series that I even knew The Hunger Games existed. But I feel the need to talk about it now because it’s probably been since the Millennium Trilogy that I have literally been unable to put a book down.
The Hunger Games takes place in an undisclosed time that’s at some point in our future. Presumably the polar ice caps have melted because a good portion (California and a large chunk of the West along with the East coast and all of Florida) of North America is underwater, leaving only the nation of Panem spanning what was once the United States and pieces of Canada, though it seems the majority of the latter is consider The Wilds. Located to the far West, somewhere in the Rocky Mountains is the Capitol, a shining, technology savvy, overly opulent to the point of Romanesque, Citadel that rules over twelve districts. Formerly thirteen. But, like all good histories have, there was a rebellion that left District Thirteen in ruins, confirmed the Capitols rule, and spawned the Capitol’s way of keeping everyone else in line; the Hunger Games.
Every year each district has a lottery that chooses one boy and one girl from each district to participate in the games; a live televised event where the twenty-four participants, or Tributes, are locked into an arena where over a span of a couple weeks must fight each other to the death. In some of the plusher districts being chosen is an honor, having prepared and trained (which is technically against the rules) their whole lives. In others, such as District Twelve, the home of our protagonist where keeping themselves fed is the greatest life challenge, being chosen is a death sentence.
When a child of Panem turns twelve years old their name is put one time into the pot for drawing as a possible Tribute in the Hunger Games, at age thirteen their name is entered twice, at fourteen three times, and so fourth until age eighteen when their names are withdrawn. But of course because nothing is fair for the poor there is such thing as tesserae. Tesserae, a small year’s supply of grain and oil, may be drawn out by a child of eligible age in exchange for their name being entered an additional time. And tesserae may be taken out for each member of the family. Essentially they have to risk their lives each year in order to keep themselves and their families alive.
Our lead character is Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl from District Twelve, the coal mining district in what used to be called Appalachia. Ever since her father died in a mine collapse Katniss has been taking care of her mother and sister, Primrose (who she loves more than anything), by making daily jaunts into the forest to hunt game and gather berries and root vegetables. This is, strictly speaking, illegal but everyone turns a blind eye because everyone trades with Katniss.
The book begins on the day of the Reaping, when the names are drawn for those chosen as Tributes in the Games. A general sense of foreboding hangs heavily over the early chapters as we get to know the characters and prepare for the inevitable. When Prim’s name is called out as the girl Tribute to District Twelve, Katniss takes her place, volunteering for the games and certain death, because she knows she can not win. Worse still, the boy’s name called belongs to Peeta Mellark, a boy who was once kind to her.
They have one hour to say their goodbyes, more than likely for the last time, and then they board a train bound for the Capitol, where they spend the next week being prepared, introduced, groomed, trained, and interviewed to get ready for the Games, which are the height of entertainment in the Capitol. Cause, you know, it’s really awesomely fun to watch kids kill each other.
I had the inclination to read this book a couple of months ago, but I didn’t take any step forward until recently when I signed up to receive it from the library and was dismayed to discover I was number a hunred and forty-eight in line. That might have piqued my interest even more, so I eventually purchased the book from Target for a whole seven dollars and forty-nine cents. Even though I was in the middle of something else I picked up The Hunger Games to read a couple of pages, and I haven’t put it down since. I tried to read it before bed and ended up with five hours of sleep, fitful with dreams of being hunted in the woods. I simply can not put it down. The characters are intriguing, the situation impossible, and the circumstances eerily realistic feeling. I immediately ordered Catching Fire and Mockingjay, books two and three in the trilogy, from Amazon. Now I just wish they’d hurry up an arrive.
So, when will I stop reading books emblazoned with the Scholastic logo? Probably when adult fiction gets this imaginative.