Next year we will be treated to the next big pop-literature film adaptation from the young-adult section, the first in a trilogy of books written by author Suzanne Collins called The Hunger Games. I only became aware of the series when the third book hit shelves earlier this year and I was informed that it has a rabid fanbase similar to that of Twilight or Harry Potter and I casually dismissed it because quite honestly I’m not particularly interested in jumping into another series where I have to defend my opinions on the work from its fanbase. I have enough trouble discussing comic books, I don’t need the people who spend their time writing slashfic on their tumblrs to come out of the woodwork because I don’t “get” what makes their particular property so great. I love the Harry Potter novels, but I don’t discuss them with anybody because the last time I did that it nearly turned into a fistfight. I had to read Twilight for a contemporary literature assignment and the only person in the class who liked that book essentially made a verbal comment that I should die in a fire as I tumble down a cliff.
So, yeah, fandoms and I are leery of each other at the moment. But sensing that I would probably be drawn into the pop-culture whirlpool surrounding the property when it came to theaters, I wanted to get ahead of it and actually read the books before they made it to the screen so that I could better understand the series as a whole, in it’s original incarnation and as an adaptation. Little things changed my mind that urged me towards picking up the novel. Comparisons to Battle Royale, which I love just a little bit more than a lot. The fact that Stephen King apparently loved the shit out of it and while I haven’t loved everything the man has done I DO respect his analysis of the art form and he’s usually right when he recommends the work of one of his contemporaries. Thus, I snatched up all three of the books with the intent of reading and reviewing them this summer.
What did I think?
Well, I have to give Suzanne Collins major props right off the bat for having the decency to craft an interesting setting that utilizes all the best traits that one tends to lean on in the process of world-building. The world of the post-rebellion North American coalition of districts known as Panem is vivid and interesting. Post apocalyptic worlds tend to be bland because everything is stripped away and rebuilt using scraps. Collins’ world is not so much like that, as the world seems bleak but it’s clearly still a civilization. It’s not the end of the world, it just feels like it to the people there. And her painstaking detail in giving each district a distinct identity, even if it’s never reall expanded upon, gives the book a sense of depth and reality missing from other such works.
Where the book truly excels is in its eagerness to revel in the bleak harshness of reality. Young adult fiction tends to be tepid and uninspired, following a very simple formula. Here, there is no reluctance to turn away from the darkness of the world that Collins has built. The concept demands a fair amount of darkness that other writers would likely have tried to avoid in the hopes of shielding the readers from being uncomfortable in reading for pleasure. But good literature has to be uncomfortable sometimes. When it is, that is the mark of truth. The writer has made you invest enough in the concept and characters that discomfort at the idea of a character death is genuine and real. The Harry Potter novels also recognized this. And it’s in this connection to the work that fandoms arise. In reading this particular novel, I could sympathize not only with the characters but with the fans who attach to them.
I’m actually quite looking forward to the next book. If it in any way manages to keep the energy of the first installment I’ll be more than pleased. Reading the synopsis it seems like the entirety of the second book hopes to maintain the tension of the last few chapters of this entry, which were honestly some of the best parts of the novel entirely. I’ll let you know how that turns out.