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Book Bites: The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

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Who hasn’t read The Hunger Games? This might seem like an odd moment to write a review about a trilogy which was published several years ago, sold more than 1 million copies worldwide, and has been launched as a highly successful movie on the silver screen. Then again, perhaps right now, after the initial frenzy is over and shortly before the second movie comes out in November, is the time when reflective, picky readers will want to listen more closely to what this whole story is about.

(Ah, yes. I’m a reflective, picky reader.)

A lot of positive and negative things have been said about The Hunger Games trilogy, many of them valid. But the truth is that the message that Suzanne Collins delivers is beyond anything you can expect. The trilogy is a brilliant page-turner which will capture you in a whirlwind of action and emotion and leave you feeling several years older when it finally releases you from its clutches. They’re pretty drastic books – not so much for the blood and gore but for the rawness of the emotions and the anti-climactic yet inevitable ending. I’d even go as far to say they’re not very far from the reality that many people are living today. If you’re dabbling with the thought of reading The Hunger Games, here are a few pointers that may help you make up your mind.

1. It’s not really a series about children killing each other. Certainly, most of the main characters are in their teens, but that’s pretty much it. All of them, and especially the main heroine, Katniss Everdeen, think and act like adults. The only thing there is to remind us that Katniss is really a young girl is the occasional allusion to her purity. (Making her very much a Jeanne d’Arc kind of character.)

2.  It’s not really a series for teenagers. Of course, teenagers read this story, and they love it. But I can’t imagine them getting as much out of it as a person with some life experience. (Although perhaps I’m underestimating teenagers? It’s been a long time, peeps.) The human premise of this book is painfully real and the ending shockingly anti-climactic. A pack of teenagers losing it during a gory reality show isn’t really the focus of the series. Rather, it tackles the topics of governments and their subjects, of manipulation, of war and helplessness, of necessity and responsibility, of giving everything to a cause and losing everything in return, and yet still finding something to hold on to in the end. It’s an intense and serious read, if you’re willing to pause and reflect on what’s before your eyes.

3. It’s not just the first book. What’s striking about the series is how different the first book is from the other two.  Not so much in tone as in its subject matter.The Hunger Games is a fun and action-packed read, where the main heroine, Katniss Everneen, is very much on top of things most of the time. By the end of it, you feel confident that series will end with her defeating her challengers and settling in a life of abundance and bliss. But then the cracks appear in Catching Fire. Things aren’t so easy after all, and Katniss is caught up in a dilemma which, any way you look at it, doesn’t offer hopeful prospects. So she makes a choice and bravely trudges on, but her resolve is crumbling because she’s not really sure what she’s doing anymore. In Mockingjay everything becomes a complete mess. The erratic, unstable Katniss is hardly a shadow of the rational and confident woman she was in the first book. She realises that she’s become a pawn in a much larger game, and accepts her role for the purpose of achieving a personal goal. And even that, the one thing she’s been working towards all this time, turns upon itself in the end.

Ultimately, the book is about the power of humanity: about the capacity for unconditional love and for mending and carrying on after everything, everything has been lost.

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