Monday, June 06, 2011

Let the games begin

With the Harry Potter films coming to an end this summer and the Twilight movies down to the last two, studios have been on the lookout for the next hot young adult series to adapt. Apparently the lucky winner is The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. For the last month or so it seems like each new day has brought another casting announcement for the first film. I liked the Harry Potter books, was looking for something easy to read, and was interested enough/worn down by all the news generated about this series that I decided to dive into the first novel.

The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America in which the Capitol holds an annual lottery to select two children--one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 to 18--from each of the twelve districts for a televised battle to the death. The spectacle is a means of controlling the population and quelling all notions of rebellion. When 12-year-old Prim's name is drawn, her 16-year-old sister Katniss volunteers to take her place. The majority of the book details Katniss' trip from what was once Appalachia to the Capitol and eventually the arena where she must outlive her 23 competitors.

Even with that concept, the book is more violent than I was expecting, especially considering the age group this is surely intended for (and will appeal to). It'll be interesting to see if the film, which I'll guarantee gets a PG-13, ends up being as controversial as Battle Royale, a Japanese novel and film adaptation that never received theatrical distribution in the United States. (I seem to remember reading that the sticking point was the large sum the producers wanted for North American rights and not the kids killing kids content, but I could be wrong.)

As page turners go, it's a mostly compelling read, even if I could more or less guess what the ending would be from the outset. If this were a film, Collins would be criticized for too often telling us rather than showing us what is happening. In other words, the author can be overly direct in explaining the plot mechanics and the protagonist's emotions. The writing tends toward the schematic, but the premise is solid enough that such an issue isn't fatal. The book also suffers from a few lulls and fails to develop any of the other child warriors beyond Katniss' fellow home district selectee/love interest.

This book isn't as deep or imaginative as the Harry Potter series, but then again, I remember those books mostly getting better as they went along. I should stress that I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games. Life in the arena comprises nearly two-thirds of the novel and contains sufficient thrills and questions about how to behave morally or honorably in a war-like situation to keep one engaged. Plus, the foundation has been set for the heroine to become more than one-dimensional. Katniss is so task-oriented here--rightfully so--that removing her from under the thumb of the Gamemakers should add some shading to her, but I'll find out as I get through the next two books.

Hey, how about that? I've read two books in less than a week and a half. It's been a long time since that happened.

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