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The Hunger Games
Book
2008
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  New York Times Review

THE past year has seen the publication of more than a dozen post-apocalyptic young adult novels that explore what the future could look like once our unsustainable lifestyles cease to be sustained. (Spoiler alert: It's gonna be bad.) Amid this rising sea of dystopias, two books stand apart: "The Dead and the Gone," by Susan Beth Pfeffer, and "The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins. While some young adult novels are content to read the way bad sci-fi movies look, both these books transcend their premises with terrifyingly well-imagined futures and superb characterization. Unlike most of the recent dark visionary fictions, "The Dead and the Gone," a companion to Pfeffer's acclaimed "Life as We Knew It," explores an apocalyptic event not of our making: in the near future an asteroid hits the moon, changing tides and weather patterns so profoundly that human life in New York City becomes nearly impossible. Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales must take care of his family, because his mother doesn't return home from her hospital job in Queens and his father is missing in Puerto Rico. Alex and his sisters attend Catholic school, and they all struggle with the complexity of faith in the wake of an unbearable (and for most, unsurvivable) act of God. What makes "The Dead and the Gone" so riveting is its steadfast resistance to traditional ideas of hope in children's books - which is to say this is a dark and scary novel. But it is not without hope. Alex and his sisters receive some assistance from the government: there are weekly, if meager, bags of food for those who stand in line for hours. Most of their help and hope, though, comes from the church, and the tension between faith and disaster keeps the story taut. Pfeffer subtly explores the complexity of believing in an omnipotent God in the wake of an event that, if it could have been prevented, surely would have been. Some of the plot seems more symbolically resonant than realistic - Alex, for instance, takes coats and shoes from dead people to trade for food, and it's hard to imagine a shoe shortage in a mostly depopulated Manhattan. But the story's climax and resolution feel achingly right. Pfeffer subverts all our expectations of how redemption works in teenage fiction, as Alex learns to live, and have faith, in a world where radical unfairness is the norm. Suzanne Collins's brilliantly plotted and perfectly paced new novel, "The Hunger Games," is set much farther in the future but grapples with many of the same questions. Collins, the author of "The Underland Chronicles," a well-regarded fantasy series, has now written a futuristic novel every bit as good and as allegorically rich as Scott Westerfeld's "Uglies" books. "The Hunger Games" begins long after the human population has been decimated by climate change and the wars that followed. Now North America is the nation of Panem, a country with 12 fenced-in districts that all work to feed the enormously wealthy and technologically advanced capital. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, the poorest of them all. Her father died mining in the Seam years ago, and now her family survives thanks to her mother's knowledge of herbal medicine and Katniss's own illegal hunting and gathering outside the district's fence. THE archetype of the girl survivalist is familiar - she's tough and resourceful, but kind and sentimental. We are put on notice that Katniss is something different in Chapter 1, when she describes a lynx who followed her around while she hunted. In many books, that lynx would be Katniss's best friend. But not this one: "I finally had to kill the lynx because he scared off game. I almost regretted it because he wasn't bad company. But I got a decent price for his pelt." Long ago in Panem, there was a District 13. The district revolted, and the Capital demolished it and killed all its inhabitants. To commemorate the event - and to remind the districts of its power - the Capital organizes the annual hunger games. First comes the reaping: one boy and one girl are chosen from each district to attend the games. Then the games themselves: a fight to the death among 24 teenage competitors in a sprawling environment controlled by sadistic game masters. The event is watched by the whole nation on live TV. The winner - and there can be only one - returns to his or her home district triumphant and rich. When the reaping comes to District 12, Katniss isn't chosen - but her little sister is. In a harrowing moment, Katniss sacrifices herself to the games instead. She's certain this is a death sentence - no one from the underfinanced and undernourished District 12 has won in decades. But as the games begin, Katniss's intelligence and accumulated knowledge about edible plants and hunting become an advantage over the better-fed, stronger kids with wealthy patrons who can send them medicine or weapons. As the contest progresses, Katniss develops a relationship with the boy from her district. But not even she seems to know whether her feelings are real or faked for the omnipresent cameras. The concept of the book isn't particularly original - a nearly identical premise is explored in "Battle Royale," a wondrously gruesome Japanese novel that has been spun off into a popular manga series. Nor is there anything spectacular about the writing - the words describe the action and little else. But the considerable strength of the novel comes in Collins's convincingly detailed world-building and her memorably complex and fascinating heroine. In fact, by not calling attention to itself, the text disappears in the way a good font does: nothing stands between Katniss and the reader, between Panem and America. This makes for an exhilarating narrative and a future we can fear and believe in, but it also allows us to see the similarities between Katniss's world and ours. American luxury, after all, depends on someone else's poverty. Most people in Panem live at subsistence levels, working to feed the cavernous hungers of the Capital's citizens. Collins sometimes fails to exploit the rich allegorical potential here in favor of crisp plotting, but it's hard to fault a novel for being too engrossing. Both Collins and Pfeffer plan sequels to their books - here's hoping civilization can hang around long enough to publish them. John Green won the Michael L. Printz Award with "Looking for Alaska." His most recent novel is "Paper Towns." Two novels set in a chilling future where civilizaton barely survives.

  Library Journal Review

In a far-future United States, a cruel Capitol keeps order by demanding an annual tribute for its Hunger Games, in which two contestants, a boy and a girl, are chosen by lottery from each of 12 districts to fight to the death in an event televised from an arena. Katniss Everdeen lives in what used to be Appalachia and is now called the Seam-a dirt-poor district without much hope of success in the games. Katniss volunteers in her sister's place and may just have the smarts to win. Then Peeta, the soft baker's son chosen from her same district, does something surprising. He declares his undying affection for Katniss just before they enter the arena. Is there room for friendship, loyalty, or even love when survival is on the line? Why It Is a Best: Collins's prose is merely serviceable, but she writes compelling characters and spins one terrific yarn. The premise is good to begin with, and the surprises keep coming. Why It Is for Us: In this fight to the death, the book's violence is cringe-worthy by even the most jaded standards. The exploitation of the desperate and impoverished for the entertainment of the wealthy and powerful is a theme reminiscent of Stephen King's The Long Walk or The Running Man. King himself makes the comparison in his Entertainment Weekly review of the book, saying "I couldn't stop reading."-Angelina Benedetti, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

*Starred Review* This is a grand-opening salvo in a new series by the author of the Underland Chronicles. Sixteen-year-old Katniss poaches food for her widowed mother and little sister from the forest outside the legal perimeter of District 12, the poorest of the dozen districts constituting Panem, the North American dystopic state that has replaced the U.S. in the not-too-distant future. Her hunting and tracking skills serve her well when she is then cast into the nation's annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death where contestants must battle harsh terrain, artificially concocted weather conditions, and two teenaged contestants from each of Panem's districts. District 12's second tribute is Peeta, the baker's son, who has been in love with Katniss since he was five. Each new plot twist ratchets up the tension, moving the story forward and keeping the reader on edge. Although Katniss may be skilled with a bow and arrow and adept at analyzing her opponents' next moves, she has much to learn about personal sentiments, especially her own. Populated by three-dimensional characters, this is a superb tale of physical adventure, political suspense, and romance.--Goldsmith, Francisca Copyright 2008 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

Katniss Everdeen is a survivor. She has to be; she's representing her District, number 12, in the 74th Hunger Games in the Capitol, the heart of Panem, a new land that rose from the ruins of a post-apocalyptic North America. To punish citizens for an early rebellion, the rulers require each district to provide one girl and one boy, 24 in all, to fight like gladiators in a futuristic arena. The event is broadcast like reality TV, and the winner returns with wealth for his or her district. With clear inspiration from Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and the Greek tale of Theseus, Collins has created a brilliantly imagined dystopia, where the Capitol is rich and the rest of the country is kept in abject poverty, where the poor battle to the death for the amusement of the rich. Impressive world-building, breathtaking action and clear philosophical concerns make this volume, the beginning of a planned trilogy, as good as The Giver and more exciting. However, poor copyediting in the first printing will distract careful readersa crying shame. (Science fiction. 11 up) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
Now in paperback, the book no one can stop talking about . . . <p>In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the other districts in line by forcing them to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight-to-the-death on live TV.</p> <p>One boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and sixteen are selected by lottery to play. The winner brings riches and favor tohis or her district. But that is nothing compared to what the Capitol wins: one more year of fearful compliance with its rule. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her impoverished district in the Games.</p> <p>But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.</p> <p>Acclaimed writer Suzanne Collins, author of the New York Times bestselling Underland Chronicles, delivers equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, in this stunning novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.</p>
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