Monday, May 4, 2009

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (audio)

Yes, I am probably the last person on earth to read this book. I've seen it hold many a blogger hostage, fueling their obsessive natures and making them read until 2 in the morning or while at a stop light. When my Scholastic rep Mary Carrico (thanks Mary!!) offered to loan the audio discs to me, my eyes got all buggy and my day was officially made. Put my kids and I on the list of obsessives, thank you. This was one freaking wild ride.

The United States, as we know it, is gone. We now have Panem, a collection of 12 districts, that is run by The Capitol. To make sure that the districts don't forget who's boss, they annually hold the Hunger Games where they choose 24 teenagers (12 boys and 12 girls) to participate. The best way to describe the Hunger Games is to imagine Gladiator mixed with a little Man Versus Wild, and all of it documented on a really tacky reality show. The kids are thrown together in a man-made, controlled environment called an "arena" and told to go at it. The last kid standing (translation: still alive) wins, and will never want for anything again. They are expected to survive by hunting animals, eating roots and berries and leaves. Big Brother up there at The Capitol can introduce elements (fireballs, torrential rain, freezing cold, mutated wolves) to force action when things get boring. And all of it is televised for viewing enjoyment. If the contestants perform cleverly, or add a little drama, they may get sponsors that send them goodies that come from the sky attached to parachutes.

Our narrator is 16 year old Katniss, from District 12. She is a tough little cookie, and at a young age has learned to hunt for food in order to sustain her little sister, Prim, and her mother, who has been rendered child-like after Katniss's father's death. Katniss is street-wise and realistic, and knows that The Capitol is not to be trusted or counted upon to do anything but stand by and watch people starve to death. Her best friend is an older boy, Gale, who seems to be quite the hottie and has more than a friendly, but benign, interest in Katniss. However, Katniss will also never forget the baker's son, Peeta, who at one time saved her from starvation by leaving leftover bread for her behind his parents' store. Voila! We have a love triangle brewing!

When it comes time for District 12's Hunger Games contestants names to be pulled from a hat, Prim is chosen. Without thinking, Katniss volunteers to take her place. What even rattles her more is when Peeta is chosen as her male counterpart. Katniss cannot bear the thought of killing Peeta. In fact, the two of them have been counseled by their District 12 mentors that if they pretend to be in love, they may receive more sponsors and thus more goodies. Its all very cute, but the brutality and intensity of what transpires in the arena is nothing to laugh at. It is abrupt, violent and sobering. What is even more sickening is the manipulation, narcissism and unreliability of The Capitol.

Obsessive is probably too mild of a word to describe our attitude towards this audio book. We only listened to it in the car, so very quickly the kids were refusing to let their father take them to school. They no longer complained about the long haul to golf practice. They didn't want to talk about their day on the ride home from school. From my point of view, the story was adult-worthy. The character development was surprisingly complete for a YA novel, and the action was as insane as it gets. There were a few incomplete details that only adults would notice, but nothing that gets in the way of the bigger picture.

You may be questioning my judgement in allowing them to listen to such a story, at the ages of 9 and 11. There was no sexuality in the story...some kisses and hugs, all very chaste, but that is about it. The violence was shocking, but not any more than watching Orc heads flying around in LOTR. They absolutely loved the story. They are thrilled that this book is the intended first in a trilogy (the second, called Catching Fire is due out 9/1/09), and that it was recently picked up by Lionsgate to be made into a movie (screenplay will be written by Collins).

Emma's take: I loved this book. I really liked that it was about survival, and I liked imagining that I could survive like Katniss did. I especially liked the story once Katniss was in the arena. There was lots of action and it was so exciting! You never knew what was going to happen next. The lessons that I learned from the story were to be careful when you choose your allies, to be careful who you trust, and to not be afraid to be yourself. I think some kids would be a little frightened with this book if they were younger than me. (Although my brother wasn't.) But I think kids my age and older would love the action and the surprises. I'll be sure to read the later books, because I am eager to find out what happens to Katniss, Peeta and Gale. I've been having fun googling about the book and movie, and can't wait to find out who will be in the movie.

Sandy and Emma's Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


christina said...

Sandy, I think I'm the last person who hasn't read this yet! It has been sitting on my shelf for-ever!!

Melody said...

This book will be one of my top favourites this year! There're so many elements in this book, and reading it was like a roller coaster ride to me because I wouldn't know where the story will lead, and that's the most exciting part! I can't, can't wait for the next installment to release!

I'm glad your kids loved it too!

Unknown said...

I'm so pleased that you all loved this one as much as I did! It's funny that you all wanted to go on car journeys so much - I guess having to wait for the next installment helped build up the tension even more.

I really hope that the second book is as good as the first, as I have had to wait for it for so long!

Beth F said...

Blogger seemed to eat my last comment, so if this comes up twice: sorry.

A 5-star audiobook from you means a must-read for me. I am now the last to read this, but I'll check my library just as soon as I finish current listen. Thanks for the great review.

The Bumbles said...

I think it's really neat that you and your kids listen to books in the car together instead of popping in a DVD. Although from the sounds of it, Emma might do just that when the movie comes out!

Serena said...

this sounds like a great book, and I keep hearing great things about it.

Perhaps this will be The Girl's bday gift!

JessicaLeigh said...

I'm so glad you and your children liked it! I think it's hard not to, really... I'm sure it would be wonderful in audio book format, but I don't think I could have handled only listening to it in the car! I would be taking a lot of little rides to the store late at night! ;)

Matt said...

Wow, I have never heard of this one, but it sounds great, almost like a Margaret Atwood kinda book!

Melissa said...

I keep hearing great things about this one, but for some reason I'm not convinced I'll like it...Maybe I should just give it a try!

Anna said...

I haven't read this one either. Sounds like a good one, though. And I think what we let our children read really depends on their level of maturity.

Diary of an Eccentric

water nymph said...

Hi! can you recommend other books similar to the Hunger Games? Just the right amount of action, suspense, and romance :)