March 10, 2010
As I was reading the book (another recommendation by one of my students), I was struck by the same feeling I get that makes horror movies so difficult for me to watch--the hopeless, inescapable feeling of being trapped. In a suspenseful horror movie, the feeling is visceral; I don't want to be there, participating in the experience of walls closing in, killer getting closer, options disappearing.
Books are different for me, though I can't quite tell why. I have a vivid imagination; I can see clearly what I'm reading. For some reason, though, I don't feel quite like I have to live through the situation in order to experience it. Despite being fully engrossed and present in the story, I am not made to feel I am in peril. I get to experience the cathartic release ("Thank goodness it's not me!") from a removed spectator position, rather than participant. It's fascinating and entralling and riveting, and I love it.
The Hunger Games is another book set in the post-modern world, a dystopian society that is simultaneously familiar and foreign. The country is divided into twelve districts, many of which are suffering economically. Kaitness and her family are barely eeking out a living (by illegally hunting) in District 12, the most distressed of all the districts. Hunger is a constant companion, and the well-being of her sister and her mother are the sole focus of her days.
That is, until the annual reaping, wherein each district is obliged to offer up two tributes to participate in The Hunger Games, sacrifices to the Capitol which provides for their safety. All children and young adults are eligible, at a certain age, to become selected, and in this particular year, Kaitness' beloved younger sister is selected. Desperate to protect her, Kaitness offers up herself as this year's female tribute. Along with her, District 12 sends Peeta, the local baker's son. They will represent their District in the fight-to-the-death struggle that is The Hunger Game.
All tributes, two from each district, are transported to the Capitol, where they are fed, trained, and prepared for a brutal, televised competition in a wilderness designed to test their strength, cunning, and perseverence. It's closely followed by all the inhabitants of each district who are hoping a win will bring money and food and respect to their families and neighbors. Ultimately, there can only be one survivor who will reap the benefits of wealth and adoration, both for themselves and for their district. Once chosen, a tribute has no option. It's kill or be killed, survive at all costs. Alliances can be made initially, but trust is a hard-won commodity, since there is the ever-present knowledge that if there is to be but one victor, alliances can only survive so long.
Kaitness and Peeta face ruthless opponents, devastating wildfires, attacks by genetically engineered beasts, starvation, and lack of water. There are ambushes, broken alliances, and loss of friendship. The most difficult trial, though, that they must face is the knowledge that the bond they form with one another will become the most painful thing of all. To end the Games, either Kaitness or Peeta, or both, must fall.
Part Running Man, part Logan's Run, part Rollerball, part The Lottery, part Survivor, and part Big Brother, with Lord of the Flies thrown in for good measure, it's the kind of book that has appeal for the young adults for whom it's written and their parents as well. I couldn't put it down, and when I did finish, I felt the need to run right out and get a copy of the second novel in this gripping trilogy.