Thursday, May 17, 2012

The post-apocalyptic future of reality TV

5 out of 5 stars

Okay, I finally get it now. What can I say, I'm slow. After all, it took me a couple of years of hearing Harry Potter this and Harry Potter that before I finally sat down with a (good, non-translated from English to American) copy of the first book and discovered the wonders of the Harry Potter universe, discovering my own inner Harry Potter fanatic at the same time. So it's only right that it took me a few years of hearing about the marvels of The Hunger Games and its sequels before breaking down and reading it. Now that I have, I can quite cheerfully join in with the rest of the crowd (something I so rarely do) with my own "OMG, this book is freakin' awesome!" war cry. Because it truly is.

Before I get to how beautiful and heartbreaking the story is, I have to say it is told in what might be the most perfect example of fiction writing. Collins's writing should be held up as an example to students in creative writing classes aimed towards aspiring YA fiction writers, heck, for any fiction writers, period. Those authors who have managed to get their stuff published by some miracle and not by any show of actual talent (I'm looking at you, Stephenie Meyer) should study Collins's books front to back and back again to get an idea of how a compelling story should truly look and behave. In The Hunger Games, the story flows along at exactly the right pace, neither rushing us through scenes nor holding us back with needless information. Back story is filled in only where it's needed, at just the right places, with enough information to gently round out the story as it keeps up its brisk pace, without becoming overstuffed or bogged-down. There is no purple prose here. In fact, the prose is succinct, almost terse, yet filled with such vivid and vivacious detail; words, much like the food in certain Districts, are rationed, producing a concentrated story with no waste, no unnecessary flourishes, and an almost electric page-turning readability.

As far as the story, it's...wondrous. Violent, yet filled with tear-jerking scenes of compassion and mercy. There's action a-plenty, but woven between those scenes of heart-pounding peril and nail-biting panic are scenes of desperate soul-searching, tender moments showcasing the uncertainty of burgeoning love, human moments of doubt and fear and calm acceptance. And, of course, I have to say something about Katniss. She comes from a long line of strong, positive female YA role models, following in the footsteps of Jo from Little Women, Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden, Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie from Julie of the Wolves, even Hermione from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. But what I love most about Katniss is, she's the complete antithesis to Bella Swan and, hopefully, an antidote to the portrait of womanhood portrayed by Swan. (And here I apologise to both Suzanne Collins and Stephenie Meyer. I truly dislike pitting authors against each other, but with two such enormously popular series, featuring two such disparate characters, each of whom are idolized, it's hard not to compare them and see the faults.) Where Katniss is strong and resolute, Bella is whiny and limp; where Katniss works to provide for her family, gaining her identity from her role as provider and, at times, de facto mother, Bella has no identity, no goals, in fact, strives to be nothing more than Edward's arm candy. Katniss constantly thinks about her life, where she's going, what she's becoming, worrying over the fate of her family, the consequences of her actions, layer upon layer of well-rounded, slightly (yet healthily) neurotic complications which combine to create an actual human being, which, in side-by-side comparison, only shows up that much more clearly how much of a cardboard cutout Bella Swan is...and how, after fifty, perhaps a 100 years, the world will still remember Katniss. Girls will still read about her and imagine themselves in her image. And Bella Swan? Forgotten, a curious fad relegated to a footnote in history.

Read April 13-16, 2012
Originally reviewed on Goodreads April 18, 2012

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