Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A book you'll Hunger for

When you're a librarian, inundated with books, it can be hard to choose what to read. My office is full of books I have to read, books I want to read, books I've heard about, books no one has talked get the picture. Sometimes it takes an extra little push to get me to read a book, but when I do, I'm glad I was pushed. Such is the case with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, to be released in October of 2008.

I haven't read Collins's Underland Chronicles because, well, I am too far grounded in reality and generally don't read speculative fiction unless it's for a selection committee. I'd heard buzz about The Hunger Games (and how could I not?) but still didn't feel really inspired to pick up the galley off the cart in the corner of my office. At ALA, I had the great honor and pleasure of attending the Scholastic Literary Brunch on Sunday, at which Collins read from The Hunger Games.

The minute she finished talking, I picked up her book and did not put it down unless forced. In fact, I had a selection committee meeting after the brunch and made myself take the book back to my hotel room so I wouldn't read it while I was supposed to be doing committee work. It's that good. It's worth ALL the hype and then some.

The plot: In the ruins of a place that used to be called North America, the country of Panem has emerged. Panem consists of a Capitol and twelve districts, each with a different economical focus. At one time, there was a thirteenth district, but it was destroyed by the Panem government when its people tried to rebel. Seventy-four years ago, the Capitol began the Hunger Games, in which one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen from each district, called tributes, are sent to the Capitol each year to compete in a fight to the death. The winner's district receives food, which is in scarce supply in many of the districts, and money and great honor.

The protagonist, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, took over the role of family provider when her father died in a mine explosion. She and her mother and younger sister, the delicate and sensitive Prim, live on the Seam, a poor area of District 12. When the book opens, it is reaping day, the day the tributes from each district are chosen. In some districts, being chosen on reaping day is an honor, but not in District 12, which has only had two Hunger Games winners in 74 years. When Prim is chosen, Katniss volunteers to go in her place.

Katniss is sure her participation in the Hunger Games is a death sentence. After all, there are tributes from other, richer districts that have been trained all their lives for these games. She's one of the smallest competitors, the least educated, the poorest, the hungriest. But she's also got a few things the other competitors don't.

Why you'll love it: Not a single word is wasted in this book. Although Collins could easily have gone on at length about the state of Panem, the outdoor arena, and Katniss's home, she doesn't. She gives us just enough to work with. The readers know the setting is dystopian, even dire, without being drowned in details of the horror. Katniss has a bitter edge to her and is always sympathetic if not always likable. There's a well-paced romance storyline as well, and everyone I know who's read this book is excited to know where it's going in book 2. (The Hunger Games is the opening of a trilogy.) Even better? The ending leads us to believe that book 2 could go anywhere. It could pick up where book 1 left off, or take place 10 years in the future, or be told from a different character's perspective. Katniss's world is so wide, but Collins uses first-person narration very, very well so we only get to see what matters in Katniss's immediate moments. The possibilities are near endless. By using just the right descriptors, Collins puts you right into the Games, complete with evil politicking and near-death experiences for Katniss. It is frightening on so many levels

I know there was buzz over at A Fuse #8 Production about this being a Newbery contender. Personally, while I am wholly with Betsy on the quality of the writing, I think it reads more Printz. Either way, it's definitely a contender for a major award. So far, this is one of my top 10 of the year. Maybe even my top 5. It's a perfect next read for those who loved Life as We Knew It and I will be positively twitching until book 2 comes out.

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