The Hunger Games By Suzanne Collins
May 6, 2011

I am totally serious when I tell you that this is one of the best book series in the history of the world.

If you haven’t heard of it, you are living under a very secluded rock, and your internet access is probably pretty patchy, so I thank you for using your meager bandwidth to read my blog. If you are among the living and have heard of it – but not made the leap into reading it – you are feeling worried and hesitant right now. You don’t like “hunger” and you care less for “games”. Perhaps you tend more toward “eating” and “praying” and “loving”  Trust me, I totally feel you. I had similar concerns and I assure you they were completely unfounded.

It should be noted that my beloved friend Vampire Susan read this book before me, and had it not been for her enthusiastic endorsement, I can’t say that I would have read it. The Hunger Games has taught me many things, but first and foremost I learned to trust Vampire Susan when she gets a little teary and scarily insistent about a book.

In addition to the the strident Vampire Susan endorsement, it should not surprise you to learn that I was also attracted to this series because it was being called “The Next Twilight“.

While the writing is orders of magnitude better than The Twilight Saga, it shares a similarly addictive quality and is literally screaming for a film adaption (which is well underway).

From the first page of The Hunger Games, I was obsessed and enchanted on a scale equal to that of Twilight, however it was immediately clear that this was not Twilight. Instead of love triangles and supernatural creatures,  it is a dark and violent tale that centers on a sadistic, fight-to-the-death reality television show for children, charmingly called The Hunger Games. Its like Survivor for teenagers, except that participation is compulsory and no one is voted off the island – they are murdered by the other contestants.

The story is set in the nation of Panem, which is located in a vaguely futuristic North America rendered not quite unrecognizable by the ravages of global climate change and society shattering revolution. Panem is comprised of 12 Districts, each teetering uniquely on the cruel and ragged edge of poverty. The citizens of each district are allowed to exist only as cogs in a machine of conspicuous consumption driven by the fleeting and violent appetite of the wealthy, privileged citizens of The Capitol. While Panem is resolutely not America, it is quietly haunted by a familiar American echo. Places and names whisper to the reader that Panem may have once been America, and that America could one day become Panem.

Like Twilight, The Hunger Games is written from the perspective of a dark haired teenage girl, but make no mistake – Katniss Everdeen is no Bella Swan. While Bella takes 3.5 books becomes a bit of a badass, Katniss doesn’t have the luxury of time and the love of a beautiful vampire to coax her into heroism. After losing her father to a mine accident and her mother to paralyzing grief, 12 year old Katniss stepped into the role of parent and provider for her sweet little sister Primrose. So, several years later when Prim turns 12 and is selected as a contestant in the The Hunger Games – where she will surely die – Katniss does not hesitate to take her place.

Nobody’s damsel in distress, Katniss is a hunter and a warrior – strong, savvy and smart.  She’s an imperfect heroine whose greatest weaknesses may be her pitch-perfect teenage girl insecurities and her insistence on sacrificing herself for the people she loves.

While there are frequent moments of humor, intrigue and romance, this is undeniably a story about the futility of war and its profound and destructive impact upon children. While it is an exceptional work of escapist, adventure-focused fiction, it is also a timely meditation on class stratification, the media’s glorification of violence and the inherent corruption of power.

Did I mention that this is a Young Adult book?

The brilliant Suzanne Collins does not pander to her young audience. Where other authors may have tried to sugarcoat this story of children forced to kill children, she does not condescend or flinch from the horrors of war and sad finality of death. While it is set in a world consumed by tragedy and hopelessness, it is also a testament to to the bonds of friendship, family and shared humanity. The Hunger Games is more than just a message – it is a sad and beautiful story of patriotism and revolution, betrayal and loyalty, and the transformative power of both love and hate.

It is not for the faint of heart, but never disappoints. Please read it.

Matched By Ally Condie
January 2, 2011

Everyone keeps saying that angels are the Next Big Thing (NBT) in YA fiction.

I seriously hope not, because angels are lame.

One day, I will tell you about Fallen, which is the only angel book I’ve been able to stomach so far. It was lame, but featured the prettiest book cover ever, so I’m still kind of a fan.

Anyway, I don’t think angels are the NBT, partly because all the YA angels I’ve encountered seem to be vampires with wings, which is stupid. The NBT has to be something different from the Last Big Thing, or else its just Twilight 2: Electric Boogaloo.

After reading Matched, I feel that its time to close the polls: Dystopia is the NBT. Go home angels.

Apparently inspired by The Hunger Games (which is beyond awesome), it seems like everyone is writing a book about how much the future sucks.

Matched is one of those books.

It is the story of Cassia Reyes, a 17 year old girl living in a futuristic society – conveniently called The Society – that has eradicated disease, eliminated hunger and appears devoid of crime and all around messiness. Being a bit of a control freak  myself, I didn’t initially find the Society all that objectionable. What’s wrong with a little scheduling, people?

Unfortunately, the Society has achieved its perfection by mandating genetically ordained arranged marriages, and controlling every aspect of each citizen’s life with a combination of  propaganda, pharmaceuticals and fear. Oh and destroying all but the “top 100” poems, songs and paintings of the extinct civilization that preceded it. An extinct civilization that is unmistakeably ours.

This book could have been called Freedom, if that title wasn’t already taken, as much of the story concerns Cassia longing for the freedom to choose her own boyfriend, eat pie for breakfast, listen to her own music, keep her own secrets and write her own poems. She longs for the freedom to be her own person, and not the person predicted by the science and experience of authority.

My inner 15 year old loves this book as it is a perfect metaphor for adolescent angst. Where Cassia loves and respects her parents, its the government controlling and destroying her chosen life, for every other teenager, its their parents harshing their mellow.

Cassia begins the story as an obedient goody-goody who doesn’t even think rebellious thoughts. But the government-scheduled death of her grandfather (Heads up Tea Partiers!) and a subversive love triangle tend to change a girl. Before too long, she’s smuggling banned Dylan Thomas poems and kissing a mysterious boy named Ky.

I am always happy to see contemporary YA authors reference classic poetry and literature, because it encourages Kids These Days to seek out the authors and poets and artists referenced. This is probably because today’s Best Selling YA author, is yesterday’s high school English teacher, and that’s probably not a coincidence.

Oh and the cover art – sublime. I love when a book cover references the story, and this one looks beautiful and means something.