Thursday, July 9, 2009

Got game?

Warning: Here There Be Spoilers. (sorry, Melissa)
This is not a review, just a discussion about what makes The Hunger Games work. So come play, your life won't be forfeit. I want to pick up the thread of previous posts about the longevity of myths and the soaring popularity of young adult fiction.
In case you somehow missed it, this book is both a hot seller and a critics' delight. Wouldn't we all love to have our book be a Kirkus starred review and get kudos from the New York Times and Publishers Weekly? There are a few voices who say it's been done before; the Japanese novel, Battle Royale, has a similiar premise. And it's not hard to see elements of Thunderdome and Lord of the Flies. No really new ideas, right? Just original voice.
Author Suzanne Collins said in a Scholastic interview that the idea came to her while channel surfing and finding lines blurred between reality shows and war coverage. And she was fascinated by the Greek myth of Theseus who volunteered to go to the Minotaur's Labyrinth when Athens was forced to pay Crete with the lives of its children.
In The Hunger Games, sixteen-year-old Katniss volunteers to replace her younger sister, whose name is drawn by lottery. In this futuristic world, a dominant central government forces twelve districts to pay tribute by each sending a boy and a girl to participate in a game only one may survive. The games are the ultimate reality show with secret cameras following the kids as they struggle to kill opponents and survive a hostile environment.
So let's dissect the novel:
*Written in first person present tense. I didn't even notice for some time because I was immediately caught up in the tension. It fits the fast pace of this book.
*Grabber opening with it being the day of "reaping," a word which was chilling even before I knew what it was, but I wanted to find out. By page nine, Katniss tells her best friend she never wants kids, and you know something is so bad she doesn't want to bring anyone into this world.
*Scene setting. Goes from almost medieval hard-scrabble existence, in which Katniss hunts illegally to feed her mother and sister, to a garish, hedonistic Capitol, where Katniss is transformed into a media darling. I bought into it, given the history of humankind.
*Characters. Drawn individually with organic quirks. Easy to keep track of a multitude of characters because of this.
*Moral dilemma. Katniss is a survivor and a hunter, so she approaches the game using her physical and mental skills, but she is thrown off by her compassion for others. She tries to see that as weakness but never truly succeeds.
*Deception. Katniss tries to second-guess when she is being "played." Sometimes she gets it wrong.
*Build-up. It is half-way through the book before Katniss steps foot on the playing field. But the tension increases steadily to that point and then becomes breathless.
*Romance. Well, not Twilight stuff. Katniss has a soul mate in her best friend, who is left behind to see if she survives the games, but on the playing field she is maneuvered into a pretend romance with her fellow tribute player. At least, she thinks it's pretend. It she is mistaken, all the rules are out the window.
*Ending. Several unexpected but believable twists. Katniss does something sure to infuriate the powers-that-be, so the tension and path to Book Two beckon.
For me, all the above worked. (hence my squeeing in the last post about a contest for the second book).
But I want to hear what you think. Did this book capture you? Why? Did you find flaws? What? Any insights you have that we can all benefit from in our own writing? Thanks for any comments on this.


Laura Canon said...

OK, I'll confess I haven't read it, but you make it sound great, Tricia. I've got the title written on a little note next to my computer now.

PJ Hoover said...

This book is one of the best I've read in the last few years. Totally! I basically had nothing negative to say about it!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Laura: It rocks. Hope you think so, too.

PJ: Yay! Great minds, etc.

Anybody leaving me a scrumptious comment: I will be gone a day to see my sister, so I'll respond to any and all upon return. Happy day to you!

MG Higgins said...

I read Hunger Games, so let there be spoilers! GREAT book. Gripping story. I was especially captured by the sense of unknown--never really knew what would happen next. I'll be pre-ordering Catching Fire--unless you have a contest to give away your contest ARC after you read it!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Sorry, no ARC for me :(
I agree, Melissa, The Hunger Games was a great ride, never knowing what was coming next. Can't wait for Catching Fire.