Monday, August 23, 2010

Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins

I write this on the eve of the release of Mockingjay, the third installment in this powerful trilogy by juvenile/young adult author Suzanne Collins. (The first two are Hunger Games and Catching Fire.)  If you've read any of the chatter about Mockingjay, you know that the second book, Catching Fire, left many cliffhangers that fans are anxious to see resolved.

Basic premise, without revealing much:  Katniss Everdeen, the heroine, lives in a society called Panem, loosely modeled on the United States.  There are 12 (or are there?) dsitricts, and one central Capitol.  Once upon a time in Panem, the districts revolted against the tyrannical Capitol . . .lost . . and brought about the Hunger Games.  As punishment, and as powerful suppression of further revolutionary activities, the Capitol forces each district to select one girl and one boy (aged 12 and up) to participate in the annual Hunger Games -- a fight to the death among teenagers.  Of course, in the first book, Katniss is the girl selected from her district.

Though quite disturbing, this is a book one cannot put down.  I've often said it makes me wish I was still teaching -- just the themes of power and corruption could keep me busy for weeks in literature classes.  That's not a death knoll for the series;  it reads as action/adventure, and it seems to be only the more mature readers who are catching what Collins is really doing here -- making some really uncomfortable comparisons to the society in which we are living today. It's just that some readers will need assistance to see those comparisons.

Thus, the series joins the realm of dystopian literature.  Remember reading "1984" by George Orwell, mainly because we were living in the 80's?  Remember asking, could this really happen? Remember realizing that government is pretty powerful, that we can't afford to close our eyes?  The Hunger Games trilogy will be that book for many of today's adolescents . . .if they can get past the silly "Gale/Peeta" controversy (modeled on the equally silly "Edward/Jacob" debate of last summer.)  All dystopian literature, while removed enough from our real society to remain fiction, still presents questions that challenge our comfort zone.  I'm glad this series has so much potential to do that for kids.

If you are a parent, I highly recommend you read this series.  If you have teens, read it and begin discussing it with them now . . . asking questions like who should rule a country, how much wealth is fair, why is there such a distinct and growing separation between rich and poor.  These are questions that older adolescents - as well as we adults -- should be thinking about now.  If you have younger children, read the series anyway, and be prepared to discuss it with them some day.  You won't regret it.

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