The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (2008)
In a dystopian future, North America has been divided into 13 districts with a capital in the center. Life is harsh, but the attempted revolution was squashed by the capital. To punish the districts and remind them who is boss, the capital took drastic measures: district 13 was destroyed and the hunger games were instituted. Each year, “tributes” in the form of 1 boy and 1 girl (between the ages of 12 – 18) are selected and sent to an arena for a battle royale. Only 1 child will leave the arena alive. The whole spectacle is televised, and citizens are required to watch. Tributes are selected by a drawing, but not everyone has an equal chance of their name being selected. The youngest children have their name entered only once, and with each year their name is entered more times. Additionally, a family may enter their children’s names multiple times in exchange for a minimum amount of food and fuel, which the poorest families must do to survive. Finally, one child may volunteer to take the place of a selected child. In the richer districts, “careers” or children who train their whole lives to compete for the glory of being a victor may fight for the honor of competing, while in the poorer districts volunteers are only found when an older sibling takes the place of a younger. And so we follow Katniss, an older girl who finds herself competing in the hunger games in a fight for survival.
While I have been toying with the idea of starting this series, I have been too embarrassed to wander into the teen section of my library, so when I found the book on the “recent returns” cart, i subtly added it to my pile. I will admit, it was a much better read then expected – I burned through it on a lazy Saturday. While the battle royale is not exactly my cup of tea, the killings had pleasantly few details, and the tactics were interesting. First, like so many tv shows, the contenders formed a series of alliances, which comes with all the tension of knowing that at some point your ally must become your enemy. The “careers” appeared to callously band together to quickly take out the weak, while others allied more out of compassion. A second element was the televised aspect. Cameras followed the contenders at all times, and coverages seems to be something like the Olympics. If a contest wins the heart of the watchers, for a hefty fee the watchers can send prizes to the contenders – gifts of food, medicine or other necessities. At the same time, the gamemakers are also watching, and if the pace becomes too slow they will amp up the challenges – destroying comforts the contenders have found (fresh water sources), adding more challenges (more extreme temperatures) and driving contenders together to ensure more bloodshed. All in all, I can see why this has become a hit series, but I am not sure how this extends through two more books, and I still have no interest in seeing the movie.
Posted in Fiction
Tagged Young Adult
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (2011)
A Mysterious Island. An Abandoned Orphanage. A Strange Collection of Very Peculiar Photographs. Everything the dust jacket promises is found inside this young adult novel (which does have a pretty great cover).
Jacob lives in Florida and has always been close with his grandfather, but still thought that his stories about the orphanage where he was sent when he escaped from WWII were exaggerated. Furthermore, he was sure the photos his grandfather showed him were fakes (and not even very good fakes at that). But then he finds himself in search of his grandfather’s past, and the truth about himself, which starts with a journey to a remote island off the coast of Wales to find the orphanage and what’s left of the people there.
I will say, as someone who is not always a fan of young adult fiction, this story started off pretty strong. Mysterious old houses, unexplained photographs, and something just a little quirky – this book opens with a decent main character, a kid, but not obnoxiously so (all too often teenage narrators do nothing but give a string of poorly written ramblings attempting to imitate teenage angst. I was delighted that was not the case here). The story develops nicely, but starts to jump the shark near the end – the “surreal” elements of the plot take over, and as a reader I found myself struggling with maintaining my suspension of disbelief, and losing interest in a tired story of kid v. evil (which was already overplayed by the Harry Potter series).
Still, I found myself turning the page to see what happens next, and followed the book through to the end (well, to the almost-end. The book certainly leaves itself open to a sequel). The most interesting part of this book is certainly the photographs – Mr. Riggs started with the photos and wrote the book from there. (Note – More on the writing of the book in this L.A. Times Article – Found Photography…) The characters are represented in a delightful collection of strange photos that are scattered throughout the novel (for example, did you notice on the cover that the little girl is actually hovering?), which really adds something special to the book.
P.S. – The best part of the book is seeing the photographs, which one review suggested do not come across as well on the Kindle. This book is recommended to be best read in paper copy.
American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang (2006)
I came across this graphic novel on display at the local library, and was so intrigued I found a comfy chair and read the whole thing. The book follows three story lines (which eventually intersect), first a legend about the Monkey God excluded from the gathering of the other gods, second, about a boy trying to fit in at school, and third, a comic version of a sit-com, whose main character (Danny)’s social life is destroyed when his over-the-top stereotypical cousin comes to visit from China. The book is aimed at a younger audience, so I found the second story line the least interesteing, but the Monkey Legend (with which the book opens)is fascinating, and the third plot line had some scenes that were so offensive I am almost ashamed to admit how funny they were.
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Steven (1883)
Mostly narrated by young Jim Hawkins (a lad of 12), this is the classic tale of Pirates sailing the seas and a treasure map marked with a red X. Jim’s parents run a hotel / boarding house into which an aging sea man moves in. After some strange visitors, a map is found among his effects, and Jim is off with a group of men from the village in search of the treasure of Captain Flint. But they are not the only ones in pursuit of the map, and a number of Captain Flint’s old crew manages to join the crew (including Long John Silver, the ship’s cook) of the Hispaniola. With such dark characters aboard, its not long before treachery and treason begin and the men find them selves fighting not only for the treasure, but for their lives on a deserted island.
This story was originally published as a series of chapters in a magazine, before being combined into a novel. Although this is the classic work of pirate fiction, with slashing swords, adventure at sea and buried gold, somehow I had never got around to reading it, and felt it was about time. I thought some of the old English would be a bit difficult for younger readers, but the book is a classic and no Caribbean reading list would be complete without it. The story has been made into a number of movies, but I am most excited about seeing the Muppet Version – Muppet Treasure Island.