Monday 8 July 2013

The Hunger Games

(July, 2013)

The 2nd Year students all have to read a book for their summer homework. Usually it’s one of a selection of graded readers, but there are a couple of returnees whose English is pretty decent and they need something a little more challenging. My library doesn’t really have all that much aimed at their age group, but this is apparently quite big right now and I thought it might be suitable. I just had to read it first to make sure.

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

‘Stuff aimed at their age group’ is known in bookish circles as Young Adult, a category I passed out of all too long ago even in the strictly literal sense, and the mid-teens range it actually refers to is even more distressingly distant. So the glib answer as to why I don’t read or have many YA books is that I am not a Young Adult, in the same way that I don’t read much chick-lit because I’m not a chicken.

That’s not the real reason though; a good story is a good story, after all. No, the real reason is that the heroes and heroines in YA stories are usually ‘young adults’ themselves. Again, nothing wrong with that; I work with teenagers every day and love it. But stories must have journeys, and the traditional bildungsroman journey is one from childhood to adulthood, from immaturity to maturity - so there’s a decent likelihood that for at least the first third of any given YA novel  the main character is going to be a whiney, self-obsessed little shitball who needs nothing more than a damn sound thrashing. So I don’t read many YA novels because they make me feel like a stereotypical schoolmaster from the 1950’s, and that’s not a place I really want to be.

I realize I’ve covered this before, but I’m rehashing it here because Katniss Everdeen turns out to be one of the rare YA protagonists who I don’t immediately feel like kicking in the throat, and that strikes me as remarkable enough to justify reaffirming the wider context. As the book starts she’s already gratifyingly tired and world-weary and it just goes on from there. Plus in my mental image of her she looks, inevitably, exactly like Jennifer Lawrence and there’s really not a lot to complain about as far as that goes.

YA novels aren’t like adult novels. That much is obvious. They’re not inherently worse, but the rules are different. The Hunger Games is written entirely in the first person present tense, which is a device I haven’t seen for a long time. The ability (or lack thereof) of adults to suspend their disbelief requires that first person narratives in grown-up books should have some sort of plausible explanation. Even The Song of Achilles, which necessarily posited a world populated by demi-gods, centaurs and the like, felt the need to explain the act of narration as being by the disembodied ghost of Patroclus.

You get no explanation here. You’re just in Katniss’ head and you can choose to go with that or not. It obviously vastly reduces the chances of a more interestingly ambiguous unreliable narrator, but it does force an unavoidable sense of immediacy that suits this story perfectly. I should probably also note that first person present tense is the simplest for readers to process, and that makes it a pretty good bet for EFL learners (which you’ll remember was my ‘real’ reason for reading).

I’ve managed five hundred words on this without making a comparison to Battle Royale but that’s about as much as I can manage, so I’m going to cave in slightly and go for the obvious description of this as Lord of the Flies meets The Running Man. And as with both those works there’s quite a forceful satirical anger underpinning much of it, which is all the more pleasing for being so unexpected. You get the personal growth and will-they-won’t-they romance angle, but there are obviously some very pointed targets getting shot at, both figuratively and literally.

Maybe reading this immediately after 1Q84 has made me more receptive to something far more straightforward, but I really enjoyed this. Worth the hype.


  1. Another wave I chose to ignore. When this was all the rage last Summer Autumn...I think? I just tuned it out because of my natural inclination to go the other way or get out of the way of folks moving en masse' towards anything.

    Review was a nice read. I wasn't sure how you really felt until the last line. Kinda like a good book :)

    1. Well, 'not wanting to kill the main character' pretty much counts as a win for this type of book.

      I know what you mean about turning left when everyone else is turning right. Sometimes means you can miss out on some genuinely good stuff, but you find a lot of even better things as well, so I figure it's a fair trade.

  2. I really enjoyed the Hunger Games book and maybe it is because even though she's a teenager she does have a lot of adult responsibilities. Also she's not mooning around after some guy.

    1. Yeah, I reckon that's it. She's already got the annoying part of growing up over and done with, which makes everything else far more bearable.