Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games (3 1/2 stars out of 4)
When I think of the television I watched and the books I read growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I am still amazed by how much our futurists and science fiction writers got right, and amused by the things they got wrong. Robert Heinlein’s vision of showers and other household machines that communicate with their patrons and even get insulted when they are underutilized never materialized, and The Jetsons’ flying cars still seem absurd. However, the too-short-lived original Star Trek got many things right; i.e. automatic doors (except they don’t whoosh), communicators (cell phones), medical scanners (MRIs), and tricorders (PDAs). Star Trek’s plots are known for their cutting-edge coverage of political, social, and cultural terrain, and one 1968 episode, “Bread and Circuses,” predicts the type of brutal reality show featured in Suzanne Collins’ exciting new novel The Hunger Games. Ms. Collins has smartly connected the dots from gladiators Kirk, Spock, and McCoy competing on national “Empire TV” against men with names like Flavius and Claudius Marcus, to American Gladiator, Survivor, and the sometimes-violent YouTube. She has molded this media maelstrom into a new trilogy.
Katniss Everdeen is sixteen and has already survived several reapings, but today brings another grim opportunity to participate in the annual terror of Panem (post-apocalyptic North America). Each year, one female and one male child aged 12 to 18 from each of Panem’s 12 districts are randomly chosen to participate in the Hunger Games, a nationally-televised reality show in which the children must kill each other to survive; only one wins at the end. It is supposed to be a time for celebration, but during the festivities, “. . . at least two families will pull their shutters, lock their doors, and try to figure out how they will survive the painful weeks to come” (11). When Katniss’s younger, frail sister Prim is chosen, she invokes a custom that allows her to volunteer for her, a practice seldom seen in District 12: “In some districts, in which winning the reaping is such a great honor [and] people are eager to risk their lives, the volunteering is complicated. But in District 12, where the word tribute is pretty much synonymous with the word corpse, volunteers are but extinct” (24-25). To make matters worse, while her male companion in the games, Peeta Mellark, seems attracted to her, they have a history that makes Katniss uncomfortable: “Why him? I think. Then I try to convince myself it doesn’t matter . . . Our only interaction happened years ago. He’s probably forgotten it. But I haven’s and I know I never will” (29). When they arrive at the Capitol in the Rocky Mountains, Katniss and Peeta face two impossibly-daunting challenges: defeat 22 well-trained and highly-prepared foreigners, then, in the unlikely event that only the two of them remain, fight each other to the death.
One main reason I enjoyed this book is that I got the impression while reading it that Suzanne Collins enjoyed building this universe. Many cultural and historical allusions poke fun at both the novel’s authoritarian government and ourselves: hosts, stylists, and handlers with names like Cinna, Flavius, and Claudius, and Caesar; a mad rush and fierce battle for contestant sponsors, with handicappers and odds dictating citizen wagering; and most importantly, the look of the arena and competition always being more important than the lives of the contestants. Needless to say, since it is a planned trilogy, there is plenty of room at the end for more, and I am looking forward to it. Like its primary predecessor, the Shadow Children series, The Hunger Games promises action and suspense for quite a while.


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