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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blog No. 6: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Title: Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins

Bibliographic Information:
Publisher September, 2008
Scholastic Press
Grade Range: 7 and up, Age Range: 12 and up
ISBN-10: 0439023483
ISBN-13: 978-0439023481
Young Adult Fiction 8.1 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
Hardcover: 384 pages

Top 10 SF/Fantasy for Youth: 2009
Amelia Bloomer List: 2009
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers: 2009
Best Books for Young Adults: 2009
Carte Blanche: The Flash
Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Youth, 2008
Dean's List: Another Great Year of Reading
Core Collection: Dystopian Fiction for Youth
Notable Children's Books: 2009

(Above Awards List courtesy of http://www.booklistonline.com/)

#1 New York Times Bestseller
USA Today Bestseller
Wall Street Journal Bestseller
Publishers Weekly Bestseller & Best Books of the Year: Children’s Fiction
New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2008
ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults Selection
#1 on winter 08/08 Children’s Indie Next List
Indies’ Choice—Best Indie Young Adult Buzz Book Honor
2008 Cybil Award for Fantasy & Science Fiction
CBC Teen Choice List
NYPL “Stuff for the Teenage List, 2009
CCBC Choices 2009
New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
Kirkus Best Young Adult Books of 2008
A Horn Book Fanfare
School Library Journal Best Books of 2008
LA Times Favorite Children’s Books, 2008
Barnes & Nobles Best Books of 2008 for Teens & Kids
Borders Best Books of 2008: Teens
Amazon Best Books of 2008
Top 100 Editor’s Pick

(Above List courtesy of the author)

Reader’s Annotation:
Katniss Everdeen, a strong-willed teenager with great hunting skills from District 12—a poor, coal-producing area in Panem, a country that once was United States in the not-too-distant past—has opted to take her younger sister’s place in the annual Hunger Games: an oddly inhumane but popular entertainment event where teenagers compete like gladiators for their survival. This televised event features grueling cruelty, sponsors, lavish ceremonies and great rewards for the lone victor—and death to the other competitors.

Plot Summary:
It is the future, but a not-too-distant one. There, in a country called Panem, which emerged from a United States devastated by war, chaos, drought-induced famine, is an annual event called the Hunger Games, designed to bring honor to its teenage victor—and much-needed pride and sustenance to his or her community. Much like the old Roman gladiators who would compete to the death for pride of self and country, participants in the Hunger Games are thrown into a large, forested “area” of sorts where they must not only rely on all their wiles to survive, but use their stealth and skills to take out their fellow competitors. Panem, divided into the nation’s wealthier Capitol and twelve distinct districts, considers these games entertainment, and broadcasts them all over the country. But competitors only come from poor districts that are numbered, and where people are oppressed. Two from each of the twelve districts—one young man and one young woman—are selected for this distinct honor annually.

Katniss Everdeen, a skilled bow and arrow hunter and16-year old girl from District 12’s coal-producing community often ventures into the off-limits woods with her friend, Gale to pierce rabbits, wild birds and other creatures for meat to feed their families, or to sell on the black market. Her father dies long ago, and her mother, fragile from the experience is not able to well care for Katniss and twelve-year-old sister, Prim. Her mother knowledgeable about healing has passed these skills to Prim but not much else—it is Katniss who is the main provider of food.

When the annual Hunger Games come around again, names of teenagers from each district are drawn from tickets, which are issued in exchange for food. Katniss has her name in several times, as do many other teens in the various communities. When her sister Prim, with only one ticket entered is picked, Katniss stands up for her, and takes her place in the Games. Katniss leaves District 12, and ventures off to the Capitol, where she, like each of the other district representatives--are wined, dined, coiffed and dressed by special stylists and aided by a mentor who was a previous games winner. In Katniss’ case, that mentor is Hay Mitch—who is mostly known as a drunkard.

After wondrous opening ceremonies in which Katniss is transformed into a virtual goddess, the Games begin. Despite her training, Katniss starts the Games at a disadvantage, when she is unable to get water, but eventually learns to rely on her inner voice—and the help of a young “pseudo sister” named Rue—to survive.

Critical Evaluation:

Although Hunger Games is author Suzanne Collins first book in the three-part series, it is not her first novel. It is, however, likely to be considered one of her best in terms of action, character and plot. The book’s inability to win some of the more major awards (like the Printz and others) is contentious. The reason is that many critics feels it is well plotted, but the writing is not literary. I’m not sure I agree. I am not a teenager, but like most of the teens I’ve talked to, I could not put the book down. To me, that is the sign of a great book. And I’m very literary—I both have studied and written poetry!

Is the story all that original? Well, yes and no. Hollywood has bought the book, and the film version is about to come out sometime in 2010. In many ways, this book reminds me of a combination of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Golding’s Lord of the Flies, two classic dystopian books which I will write about in future Blog entries. Like Bradbury, Collins comments on the place of entertainment in society—it gets darker, more inhumane and more violent as the years progress, and people who watch this entertainment get more and more sensitized to it. Like Golding, Collins characters are young adults who work through a “survival of the fittest” theme, questioning the lack of humanity in future generations of young people. However, this is one of the few in the genre (adult or young adult) that I have read in which the lead character is female, strong, emotionally cold but likeable, but has a heart when it comes to what counts: family. All in all, Hunger Games is a book that can be studied in concert with the novels above, but literarily, cannot be considered their equal. But it doesn’t matter: it is a great read.

Reading level/Interest Age:
This book is recommended for 7th grade and up. It has some very dark and violent parts that may be difficult to take for students who are not used to dystopian violence. However, at my high school, this is one book checked out by both males and female readers with equal voracity, and it is seldom on the shelf for more than one day. While the main character is female, there are great action sequences that will appeal to boys as well. It is the perfect mix of action and glamour to be appealing to most everyone. Many adults read it as well, and find it both entertaining and horrifying.

Information about the Author:
Suzanne Collins was an accomplished children’s television writer before she turned to novels. She was on staff of several of Nicolodeon productions, including the Emmy-nominated Clarissa Explains it All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. She received a Writer’s Guild of America nomination in animation for the Christmas Special, Santa, Baby! which she co-wrote. Collins wrote many novels for children, beginning with the New York Times bestselling series, the Underland Chronicles, for middle grade readers. Gregor the Overlander, the first in that series, received much praise both in the U.S and in Europe. In the Hunger Games series, she has written Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay, to be released in August, 2010.

Curriculum Ties:
Great Companion with Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World and Little Brother.

Booktalking Ideas:
In the not-too-distant future, the government has suppressed the freedom of the working class in the districts outside of the Capitol (the center of the ruling class), controlling every aspect of their lives—the availability of food, the ability to marry who one chooses and the opportunity to choose a career. The one big event is the annual Hunger Games—a televised “survivor” type of games where the stakes are high and very real: Whoever survives can feed not only his/her family, but the whole district. Imagine you were chosen. What would you do?

Challenge Issues:
Violence committed against teens by teens. Overcome challenges by mentioning that this is science fiction, and that the violence is done not by the teen’s choice, but by a society and government that has gone wrong.

Why I Included This Book:
Most of the students at my high school read it and couldn’t put it down. Based on their recommendation, I read it and concurred. I finished it in one evening.

Cover image courtesy of: http://www.amazon.com/

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