Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Suzanne Collins”

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #34: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I put off and put off the re-read of this series for as long as I could, but I finally gave in. I picked it up, read the first paragraph, and before I knew it I was accidentally fifty pages in, so I was just like, okay, fuck it: this is my Saturday (and Sunday and Monday for books two and three, as it turns out).

It’s funny how when you’re a a part of an online community how different pop culture can feel, and how things can trend with a certain group of people. Everything feels more personal. The online circles I tend to frequent are full of smart, geeky, enthusiastic wonderful people, and in those circles shit like The Hunger Games — intelligent thrill rides that you can finish off (or rather, that you HAVE to finish off) in a single sitting — tends to flourish. Unfortunately, that also means I have little beyond my own thoughts and experiences to add to the discussion. This book might just be the most reviewed book in this here Cannonball. Plus, with the release of the film, it’s Hunger Games fever out there.

I do have some things to say about reading this book for the second time, which was a much different experience than reading it for the first time. It’s the true test of a good book if it’s still enjoyable the second go-round even though you know what’s going to happen, and the Hunger Games series definitely holds up (I will even venture to say that it was better on re-read for me).

I had some issues with the writing the first time through, but because I’ve now spent so much time with these characters and this story, and I love them now, that was much less important to me this time. This time around it was less about what’s going to happen next and more about watching how this thing sets up the next thing, or how this other thing is paid off later, or how this other other thing reads completely different now that I know how that thing over there turns out. The narrative makes even more sense in retrospect, as does Katniss. Especially after the glut of YA dystopian/romances I’ve subjected myself to since reading this book for the first time, I really appreciate the Katniss of it all. Her particular brand of individual personhood is refreshing. She struggles with her feelings, and she doesn’t act like a typical character in a dystopian romance, bland and non-specific. She is three dimensional and has a definite personality, one that is wonderfully grating at times.

Actually, I think the love triangle gets too much play out here in the real world. This book is not about a love triangle; that’s just a secondary thing. Katniss’s love life is secondary, maybe even tertiary, both to the narrative and to her as a character. Obviously, her fake “love life” put on by the cameras is very much in the foreground, but in those moments we’re inside of Katniss’s head, it’s almost never about love. It’s about survival, and playing the game. Any real feelings she develops for Peeta or discovers about Gale are so muted and confused for her that she can’t even begin to sort them out until all of this is over for good. This is a war story, a story about how greed and spectacle are used to anesthitize the masses and keep the status quo, and sure it’s got love in it, maybe even as driving force, but not the kind of love that makes teenagers ask each other if they’re Team Peeta or Team Gale.

What surprised me the most about re-reading this book is how completely absorbing this story still is, despite having read it before, and despite having just seen the movie. It was just as un-put-downable as the first time I read it, and because I’ve internalized it, the story feels like it’s mine now. So yeah, I’m adding a star to my previous four star rating. I think the book has earned it.

[Link to original review here.]

Sophia’s #CBR4 Review #13: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

So, the final installment of The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay (2010) by Suzanne Collins… I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to write this review, but it’s probably a safe assumption that I’ll be throwing out spoilers for all three books.

Click here to read the entire review (and it is full of spoilers). Although I enjoyed the series, I was a little disappointed with it in the end.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 14: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This one has kind of been done to death, so I’ll just spare you and say I liked it and if you want to read more you can check it out over on my blog!

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #15: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

So. The Hunger Games. You guys know what this is about, right? I mean, it’s been reviewed at least ten times on this site and I guess there was a movie or something that came out recently. I saw it, of course, since I was pretty much required to, having LITERALLY (not literally) devoured the book. Funny story (this is not really that funny)…I actually read the book while I was on my honeymoon, sitting on our balcony on a stormy day, while my new husband took, like, a four hour nap (getting married is hard, you guys) and I was SO SUPER GLAD he slept so long because if he’d tried to interrupt me in the middle of this book, I probably would have thrown him off the balcony, straight into the ocean, strong-like-Peeta style.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you any of this, other than that I’m trying to avoid summarizing this book because you already know what it’s about, right? And if you don’t, you’re probably not even reading this review, in which case I’m addressing this to no one, so I can safely say OH MY GOD IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THIS BOOK YOU ARE A BIG STUPID DUMMY DUMB FACE.

That said, here is what the book is about, in great detail, because if you’re still reading, you already know what happens. If, you know, any non-readers made it past the first paragraph, I’m pretty sure they stopped reading after I started calling them names. And if they are still reading, DUH HERE BE SPOILERS.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman named Katniss Everdeen. WE LOVE HER SO MUCH.


Wait, that’s creepy. Let’s start over. AHEM.

Katniss Everdeen is a young woman who lives in a magical terrifying place called Panem. Panem is divided into twelve districts and Katniss is from District 12, the poorest of all districts (which is saying something). Most districts are in terrible shape because of THE CAPITOL AND EVIL PRESIDENT SNOW.

Every year, the Capitol requires each district to choose two tributes, a boy and a girl, to send to The Hunger Games, a delightful sport in which the children fight to the death. It’s fun for the whole family! The Capitol does this to punish the districts for trying to revolt 74 years ago. Basically the Capitol is all like, “Oh, you think you’re so great and you want to be free and junk? Well, we can kill your kids whenever we want, so how bout THEM apples?” I don’t know why The Capitol talks like Will Hunting, but just go with it.

Katniss has a sister named Prim who, having just turned 12, has to participate in The Reaping for the first time. The Reaping is the ceremony in which the tributes are chosen, so Prim is pretty nervous. And even though Katniss promises Prim that there’s NO WAY she’ll be chosen, she is. Oops. It’s OK, though. Katniss takes Prim’s place because Katniss is a badass. See?

Katniss and the boy tribute, Peeta Mellark, travel to The Capitol straight from The Reaping, but not before Katniss has some teary goodbyes with her sister and Gale, the beautiful man-child she hunts with. Gale is her best friend, who she MIGHT want to invite to her pants party at some point, but who knows? Not Katniss, that’s for sure, because feelings are confusing.

Katniss and Peeta travel to The Capitol with Effie Trinket, their Capitol liaison or something, and Haymitch, who previously won The Hunger Games and now drunkenly coaches District 12 tributes in between blackouts. The Capitol is filled with really obnoxious people (think of a city filled with Paris Hiltons), except for Cinna, Katniss’s stylist, who is SO AWESOME I LOVE YOU CINNA.

Cinna makes Katniss look unforgettable by setting her on fire. (Just go with it.) Everyone starts calling her The Girl on Fire but no one calls Peeta The Boy on Fire even though he was on fire just as much as Katniss. But it’s OK because soon Peeta tells everyone that he’s been in love with Katniss since he was but a wee child, so everyone is all, “Peeta! Star-crossed lovers! OW MY HEART.” Well. Everyone but Katniss. Katniss is more like: ew, feelings.

They finally enter the arena to compete and there’s an awful lot of bloody killing for a children’s novel. For a while, Katniss thinks that Peeta is working with the Careers (a group of tributes from Districts 1 and 2, who train their entire lives for The Hunger Games) to kill her, but really he’s protecting her because of all the LOOOOOOOOVE.

Katniss has a brief interlude with a young tribute named Rue but I’m not going to talk about it because it makes me feel like this:


Eventually, the gamemakers announce that they’ve changed the rules: now two tributes can win, so long as they’re from the same district. Katniss, at this point, scampers off to find Peeta, who has buried himself in mud because of his extremely disgusting leg wound. Katniss nurses him back to health and pretends to be in love with him so Haymitch will send her food and medicine, which, you know, maybe (?) makes her a whore* BUT JUST A TEENY TINY BIT because she also kind of likes Peeta. She doesn’t really know because she’s too busy trying to stay alive BUT ALSO because as we discussed, feelings = confusing.

More people die until Peeta and Katniss are the last two tributes left, at which point the gamemakers change the rules again and say that only one of them can win. Peeta is totally ready to sacrifice himself for Katniss because Peeta is better than all of us, but Katniss devises a way they can both win. Hooray! Except not, because President Snow is pissed that she tricked them, so Haymitch tells her to make sure she really, super looks like she’s in love with Peeta. He doesn’t need to tell Peeta anything because Peeta’s already in love. Peeta finds out later that Katniss was (mostly?) pretending and gets really sad face which makes me really sad face because POOR PEETA WE LOVE HIM.

This review is now over 1000 words long so I’m going to stop now. You should probably just read this (again). It’s totally worth it.

*Only NOT REALLY because this is LIFE OR DEATH, PEOPLE. Whore it up, Katniss.

hairlikecutgrass’s #CBR4 Review #2: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

What is it possible to say about The Hunger Games that hasn’t already been said? Everyone knows the gist of what it’s about, so I’m not going to get into that, I’m just going to tell you why you should read it.

From the beginning, it’s a fast-paced, exciting read. A lot of the exposition is interspersed with the action, which keeps it moving quickly. So even if you think you’re going to hate it, just read it already, so the rest of us can talk to you about it! Can you believe how crazy such-and-such death was? Don’t you think that so-and-so is going to turn out to secretly be a jerk? Is (narrator) Katniss secretly a jerk? Are we going to talk about how disgusting reality TV is, or could be, or are we going to rush to the theater to watch kids battle it out to the death and thank some deity that at least it’s not real? (I’ve heard the movie doesn’t glorify the actual games, but I guess we’ll see.) Is society already as gross as it is in the book?

There are deeper questions to be asked when you read The Hunger Games, for sure. What happens when the government has too much power? How do people deal with that when they benefit from those inequities versus when they’re held hostage by them. These questions aren’t posed directly, nor are they really answered. I also think that if you’re frustrated by politics but they’re on your radar, (hi, that’s me!), you’ll probably be more apt to start drawing parallels and getting cranky. But The Hunger Games is self contained in a way that doesn’t make it seem like it’s trying to tackle such big issues, it saves them for later. I definitely think that’s important for a YA book, to not get too serious about the issues in a way that bashes the reader over the head. (I think Collins saved that all for Mockingjay, or else just lost all her restraint there.) It’s just about a girl fighting for her life and her family’s future in a really fucked up system.

Also, maybe I’m overly sentimental, but isn’t it a bit of a tear-jerker?

More reviews (and other junk) at loseyourcred.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #26: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

This book is the third in The Hunger Games trilogy and this review WILL contain spoilers for both The Hunger Games (Book 1) and Catching Fire (Book 2). So skip over this if you’ve managed to avoid the series so far. You really should read the books, though. : )

Katniss Everdeen has survived not one, but two Hunger Games, and is now a wanted criminal. Her home district in Panem has been completely destroyed, but luckily her best friend Gale and her family, as well as a few hundred survivors have been rescued and taken to the believed to be destroyed District 13. While Katniss is still alive, she’s not allowed any respite. The survivors of District 13 have rebuilt their civilization underground, and manage to feed, clothe, train and educate everyone through rigid order. They are now in open rebellion against the Capitol and want Katniss to help them mobilize the rest of the country by operating as a figurehead and symbol, the Mockingjay.

“My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is thought to be dead. Most likely he is dead. It is possibly best if he is dead…”

While Katniss was rescued from the 75th Hunger Games by District 13, Peeta was not, and it turns out that there are fates worse than death. Peeta appears to support the cause of the Capitol, and begs Katniss and the rebels to agree to a peace treaty. Katniss agrees to be the Mockingjay on the condition that Peeta (and some of the other surviving Hunger Games contestants unaccounted for) be rescued, and not executed as traitors. Until he is, it’s quite obvious that President Snow is torturing him specifically to try to break Katniss’ spirit, and through her the rebellion.

Is Katniss right to agree to be a figure head for a civil war she wants no part of? While she has survived the Hunger Game arena twice, it’s quite clear that war, politics and propaganda are just as deadly a game to traverse, and she has to make sure her loved ones are safe. She lives with the knowledge that District 12 was destroyed in retaliation of her actions, that Peeta is being tortured because of her, and that if she steps a foot out of line as figurehead, she could endanger the lives of the loved ones she has left. Unable to truly trust anyone, she has to make the best of a dreadful situation, and hope that things turn out right in the end.

While I thought that Catching Fire became a bit of a rehash of the first book in the series, Collins takes the book and her heroine in a different direction in Mockingjay. The districts of Panem are now in open rebellion, and while the first books had fights to the death as televised entertainment and a way to keep the population cowed and contolled, this book depicts full on civil war. Katniss is still so young, but forced to make nearly impossible decisions, to keep herself and her loved ones safe. She’s racked with guilt about Peeta, who’s being tortured and brainwashed by the Capitol and President Snow. She feels conflicted towards Gale, who seems to excel  and thrive at guerilla warfare and advanced weapons development. She knows that District 13 and its President need her to act as figurehead, but that also that because of her popularity, she may not live long once the war is over, no matter what side emerges victorious.

I didn’t have books like this when I was a teenager, that’s for sure. I kept putting off reading Mockingjay because the previous two books were so dark, and I had heard this one was especially bleak. However, The Hunger Games trilogy are now the publishing phenomena of the season, with a very good film adaptation in the cinemas, and teenagers everywhere devouring the books. Three of the teenage girls I teach claimed that they couldn’t do their homework properly (which among other things, involves writing a reading log), because they were worried they were going to spoil the book for me. Obviously, I can’t give my pupils excuses to skip their homework, so I devoured the book in the course of a weekend, and can now with authority join in the discussion of whether Team Peeta or Team Gale should win. I certainly think teenage girls (and boys) have much better role models in these books than they get in the Twilight books. Collins certainly can’t be accused of underestimating the intelligence or maturity levels of teens, and teens today could do much worse than reading and discussing these books. A very good (if bleak) ending to an engrossing series.

Originally posted on my blog:


xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #14: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Steer clear if you don’t want to know about major plot points in Mockingjay, the third and final book in the The Hunger Games series.

“War is Hell” may be a phrase heard so often to have become a cliche, but Suzanne Collins’s final book in her Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, doesn’t let its heroine or readers forget the reality or power of those three words for an instant. The action picks up right where Catching Fire left off. Katniss Everdeen has been scooped up out of the arena of the 75th Hunger Games and taken to District 13, which has not only survived its rumored destruction, but has rebuilt itself into a police state, run uber-efficiently by the forbidding President Coin.

“My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is alive. He is a traitor, but alive. I have to keep him alive…”

Katniss may have made it out of the arena, but her sometime fiance and friend, Peeta Mellark, was left behind and the evil President Snow has wasted no time in torturing and exploiting the boy, trying to quash Katniss’s role as the Mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion against the Capitol’s tyranny. Katniss is so upset about her friend and so unsure about the way of life in District 13 that she is an unwilling rebel leader. President Coin, childhood friend Gale, mentor Haymitch, and others must persuade her to take on her role. But who can she trust?

“I’m sick of people lying to me for my own good. Because it’s really mostly for their own good.”

Katniss is more at home in her beloved woods

Katniss is a free spirit. She thrives in the open air. But District 13 is the opposite of freedom. It is sterile, with every hour of the day of its residents accounted for; the food portioned out based on body weight. Coin and her team want Katniss to be the Mockingjay — on their terms. But she negotiates some terms of her own, including immunity for Peeta and the other Hunger Games champions who have been captured and possibly brainwashed, a la The Manchurian Candidate. As much as Katniss doesn’t want to give up on Peeta, once he has been brought to District 13 she is so upset at his altered behavior that she avoids him. Katniss can’t seem to function inside four walls. Outside in the arena, Katniss could be free and use her hunter’s instincts to protect Peeta and others. Inside the cell-like atmosphere of 13 she shuts down.

“I sit back on my bed cross-legged and find myself rubbing the smooth iridescent surface of the pearl back and forth against my lips. For some reason, it’s soothing. A cool kiss from the giver himself.”

Collins keeps hinting at where Katniss’s heart really lies by having her cherish a pearl, a gift from Peeta. The pearl was such a nice symbol, it was a little strange that it didn’t occur to the character (or author?) to have Katniss use it to help deprogram Peeta, or at least have her show it to him at some juncture. But it just disappeared after a point and was never referred to again.

Where Katniss finally does get an opportunity to feel more at home is on the field. Coin and Co. really just want to use the Mockingjay for pro-Rebel propaganda film clips, but Katniss manages to go on a few missions where she sees the horrors of war first-hand. Back at the weapons lab she is even more horrified when she sees her friends Gale and Beetee working on weapons that are meant to destroy the innocent. When will these games and toys that kill children ever end?

While she debates how deeply she wants to get involved in the rebellion, Katniss is also still bouncing back and forth a little between Peeta and her longtime friend Gale, but it should be clear to anyone who can read between the lines that Peeta is the one who truly holds her heart, even if Katniss can’t quite see it until almost the last page. Sorry, Gale fans.

Katniss and Collins have much more on their minds than which cute guy she should choose. Katniss is in the middle of a horrible, bloody, civil war, and she is as much of a pawn as ever. She and her fellow arena survivors are all suffering from post-traumatic stress. Katniss has had to grow up fast and watch people she loves be tortured and even killed in front of her eyes. Mockingjay pulls no punches. It is violent and at times heartbreaking. There are no real winners in a civil war. Katniss learns that the Hunger Games never really end. One of the most harrowing passages happens right at the beginning of the novel, when Katniss tours the rubble that was once her home.

“I stared down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather. This is where the bed I shared with my sister, Prim, stood.”

As much as there are some shattering things that happen to our hero, Mockingjay is not ultimately a downer. Katniss grows up. She loses a lot, but she also learns what she needs. She will never really be free of the Games and the horrors that she lived through, but she can still sing and she can still get through each day and finally open her heart to love Peeta. She may worry about telling their children about their pasts — as her parents kept things from her, and many parents shield their children.

There were many scenes in the book that should seem familiar to anyone who has seen footage or interviews with people who lived through World War 2 or Vietnam or any other modern war. People will always seize at life and try to put starvation, concentration camps, and other horrors of war behind them, but they will never forget. There is a scene at the end of Mockingjay with Prim’s cat Buttercup, that had me in tears, as it is often the little, human things, the day-to-day parts of life that we take for granted that are so often threatened or obliterated by war. Young people certainly need fun, adventure, and fantasy in their lives, and the Harry Potter series fills that bill, but The Hunger Games trilogy, as quick and addictive a read as they are, also has something to say. About life. About our past, our present, and hopefully, never about our future.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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Even Stevens’s #CBR4 review #7: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I re-read The Hunger Games in anticipation of the movie coming out this weekend. This is actually my fourth time reading the book, I believe, and I’m pretty sure at this point everyone and their mother has been bombarded by The Hunger Games or knows someone who loves it, so this is going to be more of an informal review and my general musings on why I love this book so very, very much. As a bonus, I also followed Mark Reads through each chapter as he experienced The Hunger Games for the first time. That added an extra, very fun layer to re-reading the book.

Please note: Spoilers lie ahead

First and foremost, I think that every single time I read the book, as soon as I put it down I forget just how brutal some of this stuff is. The basic story is that what was formerly known as North America suffered a crippling civil war, in which the common people tried to rise up against the government and lost, and now the government keeps each of the districts (the areas that emerged after the war) in check by keeping them hungry and forcing 24 teenagers (2 from each of the 12 districts) to fight to the death. The added insulting and dehumanizing aspect is that these games are treated much like the Olympics and people are expected to revel in the games and the death of these children. Seriously, I don’t know how I forget how brutal this is, but I seem to manage it every time.

What struck me last time I read the series, and was even more apparent this time, was that Katniss, while pretty bad ass, can be a hard character to connect with. I completely understand why she is how she is, she’s a survivor and has to act as such, but man can she be frustrating! It’s most definitely Peeta that humanizes her here (and even more so later in the series). Katniss and Peeta’s relationship is also one of my favorite literary relationships. There’s so much there: respect, admiration, love, a shared horror in the Games. Their relationship ties in seamlessly with the story and while it has some bumps, it’s well earned. Also? My favorite part of reading along with Mark Reads was his dubbing Katniss and Peeta “Katpee” or “Peenis.” I could not stop giggling (yes I have the humor of a 12-year-old boy on occasion).

Many have accused Collins of having a choppy, too-direct style of writing, but I think it serves the Games perfectly and I think those descriptors sell her short; there is so much to consider in her story: brutality and oppression, class differences, the war-like mentality that can develop from the games (it gets downright Lord of the Flies-ish in some parts), power and who wields it… there’s just so much. And if Collins does one thing exceeding well, it’s write action and suspense. There are some parts that still give me tingles and having seen some of the movie promos, I’ve gotten actual chills; I choose to think it looks so good because of the strength of the source material.

I also noticed some foreshadowing for the future books a little more prominently, aside from the obvious rebellion plot points. For instance, we get a couple of examples of how Katniss handles trauma and extreme stress: she tends to shut down and shut it out. That most certainly plays into the story later, and I liked seeing the setup here.

And oh man, Rue. Rue still gets me, even on the fourth read. I lied, Peeta isn’t the only thing that humanizes Katniss. In fact, I think Rue might even edge Peeta out in that area. Katniss is her strongest and most relatable when she’s acting in defense of those she loves and the development of her relationship with Rue, and her handling of Rue’s eventual death is both sweet and heartbreaking.

This remains one of my favorite books of all time, and most certainly hold up on a re-read (or several). Also, if you have the time, do yourself a favor and check out Mark Reads.

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #13: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

Steer clear if you don’t want to know about major plot points in Catching Fire, the second book in the The Hunger Games series.

Like Theseus, the Greek mythical hero that she is patterned on, Katniss Everdeen can be kind of a dope sometimes. She is incredibly instinctive and resourceful and clever, but completely incapable of seeing the bigger picture. She is also seventeen years old, and even though she has helped support her family since her father’s death, and been in tons of life-threatening situations, she has also led a sheltered life. A born rule-breaker, she managed to survive and win the Hunger Games with her fellow district competitor, Peeta Mellark at her side, the first time the Games has ever had two champions in one year.

Sinister President Snow sees the double winners as a direct challenge to his authority and places all the blame with Katniss. As she and Peeta embark on a victory tour of the nation, he visits her and threatens her. She must help quell any rebellious feelings that may be stirring in the districts, or he will come down hard and fast on her and her friends and family. It is soon clear as they travel that the two young winners and “lovers” presence is having the absolute opposite effect desired by Snow, as Katniss and her token, the mockingjay, are taken up as a symbol of hope and a rallying cry to end the oppression by the Capitol.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss and Liam Hemsworth as Gale in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games

The love triangle is still pretty unconvincing in the second book, and ultimately not as important to the story as what is happening in Panem. We like the two guys she likes, sort of, but we never really get to know them, as Katniss doesn’t seem to know them very well, either. Sex and love are something she is clearly unprepared for. If there wasn’t a Twilight series, one feels that author Suzanne Collins and her heroine could concentrate on what really interests them — the politics of Panem and the coming-of-age of Katniss and the difficult moral choices she continually faces. If Collins really wants the love triangle to feel a bit less lop-sided in the final book, Mockingjay, she better tell us more about Gale, who right now is just the strong silent type.

When Collins isn’t having Katniss puzzle over the teenage problem of who she really likes the most, she is telling the reader more details about Panem and the rebellion that Katniss and her mockingjay symbol helped jumpstart in the first novel, The Hunger Games. There are times that Catching Fire feels like it’s treading water a bit, with expository paragraphs recapping what happened in the first book. Are there really readers who, not having read The Hunger Games, would pick this one up first? Should the author really care about them so much?

We see all the characters through Katniss’s eyes and narration, so the reader must at times fill in the blanks, or finds themself actually ahead of Katniss in terms of evil President Snow’s plotting. This tends to keep all the other characters rather sketchy, but they are still interesting and appealing enough to stand out, especially Peeta Mellark, their mentor Haymitch, fellow Hunger Games champion Finnick, and stylist Cinna.

Donald Sutherland as President Snow in the upcoming film.

When the action takes us back into the arena, I was a little ticked off (pun intended), but the pacing is great and there are enough surprises to indicate that the series is really going somewhere. It’s not just a “which cute guy should I choose” or a first book reboot. Collins has something to say about war and governments and the innocent ones who get caught in the crossfire. Her story isn’t heavy-handed, but it will be interesting to see if a sequel that so clearly illustrates oppressive governments and corrupt society will have an effect on the belief systems of young readers who grew up loving these characters and re-reading the books.

The other nice thing about this series is that with all of the science fiction-like creatures and threats that encompass Katniss’s world, she and the other main character, Peeta, are really just a couple of kids who are doing their best to keep each other alive. Unlike a lot of other YA fiction, Katniss isn’t a vampire or a wizard or anything “special” except a very resourceful young lady. As frustrating as she may be at times — she has a tendency to get a hold of the wrong end of the stick and fiercely pursue it — she is brave and real and we can’t help rooting for her. Or hesitate grabbing up the final book in the series and see how it all comes out.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #12: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I finally decided to give this book a try, not only due of all the praise and hype, but because I am intrigued by Stanley Tucci’s blue hair in the previews. The Hunger Games is technically a YA novel, but like the Harry Potter series, adults will enjoy it, even appreciate it more than teens. It’s also a lightning-fast read. I finished the series in just a few days, but as fast-paced as it is, the characters and the problems of the world they live in stay with you long afterward. My reviews of the other two books are to come. Needless to say I will also be checking out the soon-to-be-released movie adaptation.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games

Author Suzanne Collins has woven some familiar ideas — Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, reality television shows, ancient Roman gladiatorial combat, the Greek myth of Theseus, Romeo and JulietThe Wizard of Oz and much more, into a still original look at a dystopian future where 24 teenagers are forced to fight to the death in a yearly televised contest, the Hunger Games. The games are supposedly a lesson or a punishment for the sins of previous rebellious generations, but they have clearly morphed into the main source of entertainment for a spoiled Capitol that can cure practically any wound or disease and seem removed from death — hence a lust for bloodsport.

What takes The Hunger Games beyond just a mere will-or-won’t-our-heroine-survive drama are all of the little moral dilemmas that keep cropping up as she tries to survive her time in the arena. 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen has been the head of her family for years. She is accomplished with a bow and arrows and hunts to keep her family and friends from starvation. When her younger sister Prim is selected as the female Games participant, the devoted and intrepid older sister volunteers in her stead. Katniss has learned survival techniques in her many hours hunting in the forbidden woods outside of the district where she lives, but she still assumes that she will be dead meat as soon as the Games begin. She just wants to die with some honor and ensure that her family won’t suffer.

The boy tribute, the other competitor from her district, Peeta Mellark (the names!), is obviously besotted with her (obvious to everyone but Katniss), and doesn’t feel he has much of a chance, either. Katniss at first distances herself from Peeta, who tries to help her at every turn, as she knows that she will ultimately be forced to kill him at some point in the games. The rules state that at the end there can only be one winner.

During the early days of the Games Katniss meets and befriends a younger girl, Rue, and the two briefly form an alliance. They bond instantly, much like kids do on the modern-day playground. But always hovering in the background are the rules of kill or be killed. Like Spartacus, these gladiators are never far from death.

The Games are broadcast live, and Katniss is at all times aware that what she is doing and saying is going straight back to the Capitol and her friends and family back at home. There are times when she is even mugging for the cameras. Like Survivor orProject Runway or The Bachelor or any of the other reality competitions we all tune in to these days, how much of the drama is real, or prompted by getting better ratings and sponsors? Katniss quickly learns that if she shows tenderness towards Peeta and plays up the romance angle everyone watching back home will lap it up — and sponsors will respond too, by sending in silver-parachuted, much-needed supplies.

There were a few loose ends or questions I had during the book that I felt weren’t completely answered. Katniss’s country, Panem, what is left of North America after a post-apocalyptic war, has been reduced to 12 districts (District 13 had been obliterated in a huge conflict that led to the current state of things). We learn that district 12, where Katniss and Peeta hail from, is what we call Appalachia. I was hoping for more clues to where and what the other districts were. Or how about a map? The Capitol seems to be located near modern-day Denver, but all of the other districts were a mystery.

Katniss is a great central character. She has been so beaten down by life that she can’t pick up on the romantic (tri)angle, either at home, where she is “friends” with older boy Gale, or during the Games with Peeta. There is a lot of chaste kissing in the last third of the book that may give younger readers a thrill, but may have the older readers rolling their eyes. I sympathized with Katniss, who grew impatient with all of Peeta’s lovey-dovey-ing, when she was trying so hard to keep them both alive under very harsh circumstances. The characters’ priorities were very different, which kept them interesting.

Katniss may be naive in many ways, but she has naturally good instincts. Once she sees how things are going, she can quickly adapt. She is a brilliant hunter, but also has a huge heart, connecting to and feeling for the other contestants. Knowing that The Hunger Games is a trilogy, most readers won’t be too worried about Katniss’s ultimate fate. Collins is aware of this, and makes the conflict center around the life and death decisions Katniss has to make and how far she is willing to go to survive. The Hunger Games is a fast but absorbing read. It may raise more questions than it answers, but its characters and setting are more than compelling enough to make me snatch up the next novel and see where it takes Katniss next.

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