Once again, I find myself stuck in the middle of a book series because of my job as an RA.
As part of my programming requirements for April, myself and two other RAs are leading a book circle around The Hunger Games. At least Suzanne Collins is capable of putting together an intelligent sentence. Many intelligent sentences, whole paragraphs and chapters actually. Not only was the story riveting, but it was incredibly well written; I especially appreciated her brevity in areas the could have run the risk of spewing pointless teenage angst. That’s more than I can say for some Young Adult Fiction writers… *cough*StephenieMeyer*cough*. Also, who spells Stephenie like that? Really? Granted, not the real point I’m trying to make.
The Hunger Games follows the story of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a girl who is selected as one of the representatives from her District to fight to the death on national television. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the book is set in a post-apocalyptic world that reads something like if Ayn Rand was asked to executive produce the reality show Survivor. Every year, the Capitol – the rich powerful rulers of this neonation where North America once was – randomly selects one boy and one girl from each of the twelve surrounding districts to fight to the death a huge arena, and the whole thing is broadcast on live television. The thing I found most unsettling about the book was that as the reader, you’re almost set in the position of someone watching it on TV. You can’t help but get drawn in and start cheering for more death, if only because you know it means that the protagonist will finally make it out alive. It’s all very gladiator/Ancient Rome. I do applaud Suzanne Collins for using some discretion when it came to the violence; there is only one truly gruesome description of one of the contestants’ death, but by that point in the book he’s been built up as evil incarnate and you really want him dead anyway.
Without getting too much into it, I do think that there is room for a broader discussion based on the themes in the book. To what extent do we still exploit people via reality television. Granted, we don’t make them kill each other (as much as some of the Housewives would like to try). But it can still be incredibly demeaning. There’s also the issue of the haves vs. the have-nots; the Capitol has an obscene concentration of wealth amidst a nation stuck in abject poverty. These poor teenagers’ lives become dispensable for the sake of one season of a several week-long TV show. It’d be like 23 children dying every time HBO came out with another miniseries (and thank God that doesn’t happen, because I’m rather fond of HBO miniseries). Collins raises a whole host of other interesting issues, which I can’t wait to discuss with the book group I’m co-facilitating on Sunday. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years this book was being taught in English classes across the country. Maybe by teaching books like The Hunger Games, we’d be able to foster some more legitimate authors and not just some housewives who dream about vampires all day.