The day I stuck Hunger Games into my ears, Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress Oscar, albeit for her role in a different film, Silver Livings Playbook. I took that as a sign that I should finish the almost 35 hours (every bit admirably read by Carolyn McCormick) of this history-making trilogy, just to figure out why it’s such an international favorite – this generation has come of age guided by Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen! I gave up on HP (blasphemy!) after four volumes, but a trilogy I could handle.
For the five readers who might miraculously be unaware of this cultural phenomenon (I was one of them! I shockingly managed to stay virtually oblivious to the storyline and no, I haven’t seen the film – although I did creepily imagine Donald Sutherland as the heartless President Snow, and egads, there he is in celluloid!), here’s a quick overview (with minimal spoilers) …
Welcome to Panem in a post-apocalyptic North America, made up of 12 districts and one controlling Capitol. As a reminder that rebellion is futile, every year, one boy and one girl ages 12 to 18 from each district are chosen by lottery to be sent to the Capitol where they will fight to their deaths in the Hunger Games. The final surviving child is declared victor. In District 12, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place, and Peter Mellark who once saved Katniss’ family’s life from starvation, is chosen to accompany her for the 74th rendition. They’re accompanied by their mentor, a bitter, belligerent, drunken Haymitch Abernathy, who was crowned victor of the 50th Hunger Games.
At the core of Catching Fire is the 75th Hunger Games; as with each “Quarter Quell” – which happens every 25 years – unexpected new rules are introduced and this time, past victors – again, one male, one female – from each district must return to the Capitol for another murderous round. The slaughter of the latest Game is interrupted midway … but the real body count has barely begun. That comes in the gory, gruesome conclusion, Mockingjay, in which Katniss fulfills her duties to District 13 (surprise! it’s not a wasteland) and her own promise of murder as the eponymous Mockingjay of the rebellion.
A longtime close friend (we’ve actually been to Platform 9¾ together, even though we’ve agreed to disagree about a certain wizard) recently asked if I ‘liked’ Hunger Games. My answer would be an immediate ‘no.’ Too much self-absorbed babbling, too much slaughter, too rushed an ending after an over-prolonged bloodbath, are at the top of a long-enough list of why not. But if she asked me if the series kept my attention, made me react strongly, made me think long after the 35th hour, I’d offer a definitive ‘yes’ to all. In a phrase, the almost 1,200 pages comprise a mythic (think “Theseus and the Minotaur“) anti-war treatise. For the human race which seems determined to repeat history – even far into the future! – perhaps endless reminders of such horror are our best (only?) defense.
[Heinous] Tidbit: Rabid Hunger Games fans made the film adaptation a racist battleground when they sent tweets that went viral blasting the depiction of two characters, Rue and Thresh, by African American actress Amandla Stenberg, and Nigerian-born actor Day Okeniyi, respectively. I can only link here, because I can’t bear to re-type such hate. Not only racist, might these detractors also be illiterate? “She has dark brown skin and eyes…” (p. 45 in the 2009 paperback reprint), and “Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue …” (p. 126). Nervous fear for the next generations looms large; what’s happening to multi-culti, post-racial progress?
[Happy] Tidbit: What timing that Fire posters are ubiquitous this week. I admit that the addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman to the cast of Fire just might send me to the movies (I haven’t seen any of his films, but he’s an unforgettable powerhouse on stage). But the best reason to catch Fire? Half of my brother’s childhood closest friends (they’re twins) co-wrote the screen adaptation! Fire opens November 22, 2013.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2008, 2009, 2010