Reading Diary: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
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.
Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch--this is the Capitol's way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear: "Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there's nothing you can do . . ."
If there was any doubt in my mind that I had become the newest Censor Librorum on the
Given the kind of questions I'm asked and the kind of answers I give, however, I think that the name of my new office should be spelled S-E-N-S-O-R. What can make or break a book for me is almost never something explicitly stated: it's either between the lines of the text or part of the bigger picture in which the book is a small detail. In this instance, it was the bigger picture that kept me from reading The Hunger Games for almost two years.
I Think I'm Team Peeta
In a nutshell: I hate the YA Love Triangle trend with the fire of a thousand suns.
There may be some books that do it well--in which case, bully for them--but for me, this isn't merely about quality of writing. I honestly think that it's unhealthy for young girls to have so many of these stories in their reading regimen--that is, to make a habit out of identifying with female protagonists who have two very different but equally dishy boys fighting over them.
I've read only the first Hunger Games book so far, but it doesn't seem too bad. The action-adventure plot and the dystopian world building manage to outweigh the more "emo" elements. Katniss is confused about her new feelings for Peeta, who is clearly in love with her, but she still thinks that what she has with Gale is completely platonic, and so it doesn't get the chance to muddy the waters yet. Perhaps I'll be really turned off when I read Catching Fire . . .
It was this that I really wanted to tell my friend, but she began with different questions . . . Definitely a fellow Sensor Librorum, the first thing she wanted to know about The Hunger Games was whether all the scattered elements ultimately added up to a nihilistic message. (Official Sensor's Answer: No.) Then she asked whether the gore was gratuitious or organic to the story. (Official Sensor's Answer: Organic.) Her third concern was whether the expected "undercurrent of rebellion" is exploited--but before I could ask what she meant by that, she jumped to the reason she had some misgivings about the trilogy.
The Hunger Games had been recommended to her by a huge fan of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight--a book that had horrified my friend's husband. It had also put off another pal of hers, who couldn't believe that when Bella was given a choice between a dead boy and a live boy, she chooses the dead boy. I hastened to assure my friend that The Hunger Games is nowhere near the level of Twilight . . . but that isn't saying much, is it? =P
There was one more issue to bring up--something I didn't see until my cousins from the US came to visit last week. Only one of them hadn't read the novel, and when the rest were giving her an overview of the plot, the phrase "the one percent" got thrown around quite a bit. I'm not quite sure what it means, but it comes off as the sort of political movement I distance myself from, on principle (Repeat after me, class: "Jacobites are men of right. Jacobins are men of sin. And Commies always suck."); and that's really enough for any Sensor. My friend was surprised by that because she has heard others describe The Hunger Games as very right wing. In all fairness, though, I wouldn't say the "timely" political angle is a big issue: some sort of totalitarian set up is a convention of many futuristic novels. I think my cousins' and her friends' different interpretations are purely reader reactions, neither of them necessarily what Collins herself intended.
By the end of our conversation, my friend had reached a decision about The Hunger Games: "I'm convinced I'll have to read it first . . . I'll get my husband to do it." (ROFL!)
But I do think that's fair. =) If your friendly neighbourhood Sensor Librorum hasn't given you a definite reason to draw the line at a book, then you'll have to do the rest of the "sensing out" yourself to determine whether it's appropriate for your children.
Image Sources: a) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, b) Team Gale / Team Peeta