My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins...Wait, I know what you are already thinking...Do I really need to read another review of The Hunger Games? Well, lets talk about what a review really does. A review allows the reader to digest...so to speak...their reading experience. It allows said reader to mull over the key virtues or defects the reader found in the book he or she has just finished. A review is a personal comment on the reader's personal reading experience. So in essence, by penning a review the reader is allowed to connect with the reading community at large, which doesn't often happen; since reading is usually a solitary activity. So, yes I do want to offer my personal take on the colossally popular YA novel.
The Hunger Games has been sitting in my To Be Read (TBR) pile by my bed, since it first came out. What I'm saying is, I didn't just jump on the bandwagon, because it became this giant hit in 2011/2012. I haven't even seen the movie. Honestly, the dystopian genre has always been a favorite of mine. Science fiction is what I called it back in the day, but now this offshoot of science fiction has emerged with its own characteristics (see chart below). It is really amazing to watch a whole new genre come to life from the ashes-so to speak-of science fiction. I guess it is important to identify what classifies a book as dystopian. Robinson Wells defines dystopia on his blog
(http://www.robisonwells.com/2011/05/d...) as, "Utopia with a fatal flaw. Think of all the classic dystopias—1984, Brave New World, The Giver, etc.. These novels all show worlds that attempted to create a perfect society, but that 'perfection' was attained at a horrible cost." (I'll add Shirley Jackson's The Lottery to this list of past dystopian classics) I like this definition, so lets go with it; since there are dystopianites all over the world debating the "real definition" of this genre as I press the keys to click out this review.
Is it Dystopia? A flowchart for de-coding the genre by Erin Bowman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License . Based on a work at www.embowman.com . Feel free to share it for non-commercial uses.
Now for the review...I read the The Hunger Games back in May/June 2012, it jumped to the top of my TBR pile when I was asked to write the English Department's request to add this novel to our seventh grade approved list of "teaching novels." You can't very well write such a document unless you have read the book, but I seem to continue to digress.
I read the book and wrote up the request, but I did not write my review. Before I felt comfortable penning my commentary, I needed some mulling over time. I now have had several weeks to carefully consider this novel, and here are my thoughts...The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is one of the best dystopian novels, I have read to date. It has so much to offer. With that said, I will add that I am going to present my review in a most non-traditional manner. First, I am going to assume that anyone who is reading this review already knows the basic premise of the book, in other words, I'm skipping the summary part of the review. Instead, I am going to focus on the themes the novel has to offer in the hopes that YOU, the reader of this review, will make some connections and develop new original thoughts based on the various and sundry themes floating amongst the 374 pages of this dystopian YA novel-and there are many. Here is what I came up with...
Friendship is seen in many forms throughout the novel:
Katniss and Gale
Katniss and Peeta
Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch
Katniss and Cinna
Throughout all of these relationships, friendship is revealed to be a crucial factor in the triumph of Katniss.
Family and Sacrifice
Loyalty and protection of family – Katniss makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her sister by volunteering as a tribute in the games. This is an important theme for young people, as the life of social media, and fragile connections between friends and family is now the norm. Through the lens of the novel, teens will be forced to imagine if they would be brave or valiant enough to stand up and protect family members, and thereby, decide how much personal relationships mean to them. Would they give up their Gameboys, their Internet or Facebook? What about their cell phones? Young people today are so connected with their technology, they often don’t think about what is at stake.
Survival/Importance of Nature – There are many interesting techniques dealing with surviving in nature on one’s own found throughout the novel. Katniss shows the importance of knowing how to stay alive with no technology, or help of any kind. This is important for young adults today because of society's heavy reliance on technology. Through the protagonist, Katniss, teens are forced to imagine life with no technology. Questions such as-How might a modern day teenager communicate, eat, or provide for their families if they lived in the world of The Hunger Games?- can be addressed by the reader of this dystopian novel.
Freedom and Oppression
Freedom of Speech – The Avox character in The Hunger Games is a distinct representation in our "real world" of the dangers of losing our Constitutional rights as citizens. These servant characters have had their tongues removed for slanderous remarks, or simply questions pointed to the capital of Panem. The novel allows teens to examine the importance of the Freedom of Speech, and think about what we, as a society, should be doing to protect this right.
Loss of Identity through Fashion – The character of Effie Trinket is a colorful, and fashion driven lady who is “always up on the latest fashion”. She does a wonderful job of showing the reader how far fashion trends can go. She is the bridge to discussion of social classes and the gap between rich and poor. The wider this gap becomes, the more apparent it is to outsiders to be able to identify the rich from the poor. The fashions become a symbol of social status in the world, and something that the rich are unaware they are marketing. A great eye opener for fashion driven teenagers.
Defining the “haves” and the “have-nots” – Through the novel, teens are forced to compare and contrast the population of the capitol with the population of the districts. Young adults are forced to use critical thinking skills to decide what is important: the relationships of family and friends as shown in the districts, or material goods as in the capitol. Also, the novel allows teenagers to examine the unfair nature of government, as it is portrayed in the novel, as all products are filtered through the walls of the capital, and thereby the reader is allowed to examine what is wrong with the capital's system of government.
Dangers of the Media – In The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins makes a clear issue of the dangers of reality television, something that our whole society is exposed to on a daily basis. The concept that the reader should be taking away from the novel, is that with little provocation, our society is very quick to forget about the people (tributes) involved in many “media challenges”. As viewers, we disregard the human aspect of television, and focus on entertainment alone. Panem’s capitol is representing the future of our culture if reality television keeps going in the direction it is aimed. The novel forces teenagers to make connections by relating the media circus of The Hunger Games to shows like Jersey Shore and Hoarders. Very savvy teenagers will readily see the dangers of using people’s problems as entertainment. Mature teenagers will also ask questions, such as, do we see these people as people or characters? In asking these types of questions teenagers will become aware that media has a way of making us forget just who is on the other side of the camera.
Loss of Identity through Media – Peeta’s struggle to be more “than a pawn in the games”, is a large theme in the novel. His fight to keep his loyalties with Katniss though the games is honorable and is a good example of overcoming peer pressure. The teens will observe the methods that Katniss and Peeta use to overcame the game’s influence to become killers, and instead hold fast to their morals, and only do what is necessary to survive. In contrast to other characters, Katniss and Peeta did not abide by the capitol’s wish to “put on a good show” for the viewers of the games. They often use the influence of the media in their favor, as well, in helpful and peaceful ways, as opposed to the violence used by the other characters in the novel.
The mockingjay pin - The mockingjay pin worn by Katniss in the novel, symbolizes the revolution of the districts. Using the “historical context” of the pin, which is a jab against the capital (mockingjays were created to spy on the people of the districts, but the districts discovered the birds and used them as a way to feed the capitol false information), becomes something that represents not only the revolution, but hope, freedom, and the ability to change.
The Hunger Games Arena – The Arena that the tributes fight in is very much influenced by the Roman Era Arena. The whole idea of people having to fight to the death as entertainment for the “upper class” is parallel to Roman times gladiatorial competitions held in coliseums all over the Roman Empire. This might potentially opens up a teens interest in a historical time period. It can also allow teens to identify elements of the novel that are inspired by history.
Whooh! I have come to the end of my list of themes. I know this is not what you might have been expecting since this is labeled as a review, but do note the question mark in the post heading. I may expand this to another post and discuss character development in The Hunger Games, but I am running out of writing steam as it is already the wee hours of the morning (when I do my best writing). I would love to hear what other themes I may have missed--and I am sure I missed a few. Please, feel free to add to my list. Leave a comment and lets cooperatively expand the list.
*Note: I would like to thank A. Eiben for her contribution to the "generation of themes" for The Hunger Games
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