Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Battle Royale: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Do young readers like dystopian fiction because they're morbid little buggers, or do they like it because it's the most consistently solid and inventive little sub-genre in the YA universe? Lois Lowry, Scott Westerfeld, Nancy Farmer, M.T. Anderson have all done terrific work with the subject matter, but Suzanne Collins's new series introduces readers to an even grittier, scarier, more complicated world.

The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic United States that looks more like the Dark Ages. The country has been divided into twelve territories, each singly devoted to producing particular goods and services for the convenience and comfort of those in the wealthy, dictatorial capital. After a failed revolution, those in the territories suffer more than ever, and as a reminder of their defeat, each year the Capital demands a tribute of two children from each territory, their names drawn from a bowl.

The children are then whisked away to the Capital, styled into pint-sized warriors, and then pitched into a fight to the death that's televised nationwide. Twenty-four tributes enter the battlefield, only one leaves. While some territories groom their tributes from an early age, others are unlucky, malnourished, weak, and very young (your name starts going into the hat at 11).

Katniss is a wily and hard-hearted 16-year-old from the poorest territory of Panem, roughly defined as our Appalachia. When her younger sister's name is drawn for the tribute, Katniss volunteers herself instead, and is forced into an uneasy alliance with Peeta, the other tribute from Panem.

The Hunger Games is a gripping, brutal book that succeeds because it neither underestimates its readers nor devolves into gratuitous gore. The story is sophisticated enough to appeal to an adult audience as well - I liked it better than most of the "adult" fiction I read this year, and had a hard time putting it down to do things like eat and not miss my bus stop.

One word of warning: it's best if you, unlike me, know that this is only the first book in a series going in. My reaction upon finishing The Hunger Games amused Brady to no end:

"End of Book One? END OF BOOK ONE?!?!?"

Back By Semi-Popular Demand

Somehow, my little break from blogging turned into a big break. I was thinking about hanging the thing out to dry except that, over the past three months, just about every single person who reads it has asked me when I'm going to start posting again. So, I may not have many readers, but y'all are loyal and sweet and I appreciate you.

And what with the news that the Washington Post is killing "Book World" as a standalone section, well, if newspapers don't see fit to attend to this business, somebody ought to do it.

The New York Times better not get any funny ideas, or I may have to fashion a newsprint sackcloth and take to the streets ringing a bell and raving about the end times.