So I just finished reading the first book in the series centering on heroine Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games. Katniss is the heroine of these young adult novels written by Suzanne Collins (this first book was published in 2008). The Hunger Games trilogy takes place in an unidentified future time period after the destruction of the current counties making up North America, in a "new" nation known as "Panem." Panem consists of a rich Capitol, located somewhere unknown in the Rocky Mountains, and twelve (formerly thirteen until one is destroyed) surrounding, poorer districts which cater to the Capitol's needs. As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol (explaining the destruction of the thirteenth district), every year one boy and one girl from each of the remaining twelve districts, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are selected by lottery and forced to participate in the "Hunger Games." These games are televised to the people of Panem and the winner is the last person (child) alive.
Yeah ... I know. This doesn't sound exaactly like young adult literature. Or even the type of fiction that I generally like. However, I had heard of The Hunger Games in passing the last few years when I would overhear conversations of students (or even academics) who would claim that Katniss was a much better female character than the popular Bella in the Twilight series (and films). I had actually tried reading the first Twilight book a few years back (on the suggestion of students) but I couldn't get past the first few chapters because (1) I thought the writing was so unedited and awful and (2) I just simply didn't like Bella. But when I was playing around with the Kindle app on my new ipad I downloaded a few free "first chapters" of some current bestsellers and the rest, well, is history. I fell into The Hunger Games and couldn't stop reading. Not only is this novel well-written, but Katniss is likeable and fun! (she sorta reminds me of Salander from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series!)
I suppose one huge reason I liked the novel was the subliminal political message I saw brewing up beneath the surface of this supposedly youth novel (Occupy Wallstreet anyone?). Katniss is "playing" in the Games with Peeta, a boy from her district. It turns out that these two have known each other their whole lives (Peeta has had a long time crush on Katniss) but as you go further in the novel, the reader realizes that the death of either one of these characters would be truly awful (not that the deaths of the other gamers are actually desired either). Why do "the rules" need to be followed anyway? According to the rules of the Game, either Katniss or Peeta must die in order for the other to leave the arena (as they both end up the last two players). At one point a severly injured Peeta attempts to force Katniss to kill him. Katniss doesn't want to do this (and neither does the reader!). Because the Capitol must have a winner from the games to exhibit, Katniss suggests that they both eat poisonous Nightlock berries, and therefore die together. After placing berries in their mouth, they are hastily interrupted by the Games' host and both allowed to live.
However, since Katniss Everdeen has humiliated the Capitol and its rules (Oh no! She questioned authority!), she becomes a political target and inadvertently inspires a rebellion in the districts. She and Peeta make it back to their disctrict by the end of this first book but that is where it ends. As you can imagine, I am absolutely dying to read the next two books (which I will do once we make it to the holiday break in December! -- I have to focus the next month on work and school).
I suppose one could argue that I need to be spending the limited time I already have reading dissertation "stuff" and writing every chance that I get. I think I do sort of do this (though I could be more dedicated I agree) but this novel is the type of reading that I do when I have hit my bed and I am looking for about 30 minutes of good reading before I fall asleep. I didn't think, though, that I was going to be as excited about this novel as I got -- I love Katniss! And I am super excited to discover that there will be a film version of this novel coming out in March 2012 (featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Stanely Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and Lenny Kravitz!). I am no book critic, but I will encourage anyone looking for a good read to pick up the tale of Katniss Everdeen. If only more of our young women had a role model like this -- a teenager who is confident and knows what she wants! And if only more of our young people (like many of the Occupy Wallstreet protestors!) had such confidence and a willing attitude to change what they don't like!