the hunger games & catching fire

I read The Hunger Games a couple of weeks ago and its sequel, Catching Fire, over the weekend.  And really, all I have to say is this:


Okay, maybe I have a little more than that to say.  But that’s what it boils down to.  While not quite matching the narrative grace of The Book Thief or the character introspection of Wintergirls, Suzanne Collins has produced the most gripping, bone-chilling, and heart-stopping YA novels I’ve read in quite some time — possibly ever.

Collins has set her books in the futuristic society of Panem, a country separated in to 12 districts and the Capitol.  The Capitol’s regin over the Districts — each of which operates as a distinct unit, with virtually no communication between them — is absolute.  The Capitol controls supplies, travel, communication, and law-enforcement.  But a number of years back, a rebellion started throughout the districts.  Though the Capitol was able to eventually crush the rebels, the officials deemed it necessary to devise a way for the citizens of Panem to remember who is really in charge.  Thus, the Hunger Games were born.

In a sadistic ritual that is part Survivor, part Gladiator, each District is forced to send two teenagers — one boy and one girl — to the Capitol, where all 24 “tributes” are sent into a constructed wilderness called the “arena.”  They are given few weapons and fewer supplies.  The Games end when only one is still alive.

And in The Hunger Games, it is 16-year-old Katniss who finds herself going into the arena for District 12.

Collins constructs Katniss’ world with care and precision.  It’s impossible not to feel the oppression of the District’s poverty, or the futility of protestation.  Katniss, likewise, is intricately developed; her every thought and emotion is so real it’s almost tangible.  And these sensations only intensify as Katniss enters the Capitol and then the arena, as she develops relationships with her mentor and fellow tributes.  Collins’ pacing creates a grasp on the reader nearly as absolute as the Capitol’s rule of the Districts; even during the short spans when I set the book down, I couldn’t get Katniss and the Games out of my head.

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The best praise I can give Catching Fire is to say it was nearly as good.  I hesitate to reveal much, because to give even the premise would give away the end of The Hunger Games. And really, you need to read The Hunger Games first — Catching Fire just won’t make sense otherwise, though Collins spends a few too many pages in the beginning of it reviewing the events of Hunger Games just in case.  The slow start gains momentum quickly, however, and it doesn’t take long before the story moves into full speed — and beyond.  In fact, the climax is so quick and chaotic that it requires a second, or maybe even third reading, to make full sense of it.  But when the entire picture comes together, it’s clear that the third installment has the potential to be just as incredible of a read.

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Unfortunately, it seems that I’m going to have to wait more than a few weeks for that one.


~ by Molly on September 8, 2009.

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