I Am Hungry For More Hunger Games

I was skeptical.

I really was. Listen, I’m sorry, I had kind of a weird taste in my mouth about this whole “YA” thing. Sure, okay, in part it’s the whole Twilight thing. I saw grown women soak their panties over these books, and that was long before the films even hit theaters. When I was a teenager, I was reading books that were no longer about teenagers. I was reading Stephen King and Robert McCammon and Christopher Moore and David Morrell. I was reading adult books. Didn’t need to read at or below my level.

So, the YA phenomenon kind of weirded me out.

Mea culpa.

My bad! My bad.

I finished The Hunger Games yesterday.

I have not wolfed down a book that fast since… well, okay, since Victor Gischler’s The Deputy, but before that I can’t remember the last book that had me gnawing to get back to it so goddamn bad. I just — whoomp — vacuumed the book into my brain. I didn’t even mean to read it right now. It was going to go on my (ahem, ever-growing) pile of books. But I got curious, I read the first page, and next thing I knew, 30 pages were wadded up in my mind, digesting under the strain of synapses desperate for good fiction.

Is it a perfect book? Hardly. But it’s so good, the characters so simple yet so interesting that you just can’t care. You want to know what I really dug about the book? Here’s some stuff.

The Stakes Are Right There On The Table For All To See

Suzanne Collins isn’t dicking around. It’s rare in a book that you have stakes so clear: “Hey, you’re a teenager who is going to have to battle two dozen other teenagers until you’re all murdered. Oh, all of you but one. You kill or be killed. Have fun!”

Stories can live or die on the stakes presented — stories with muddy stakes, where you don’t really know the outcome or why the characters are striving to achieve an outcome, they ultimately feel mushy. Like they’re sagging somehow in the middle.

Simplicity Works

This isn’t an overcomplicated book, and it’s not written in an overwrought style. The characters are fairly straightforward, the plot is itself nothing particularly special, and the language doesn’t call attention to itself. And that’s perfect. This story would probably only be hamstrung by greater complexity. And to be clear, I don’t mean to suggest that this simplicity is in any way a downside, nor am I saying that the book doesn’t contain nuance or deeper layers. It just doesn’t rely on those things. Look at it this way: a movie like Die Hard is what it is. It isn’t overly complex because it doesn’t need to be. You can find more there if you want to look for it. Otherwise? Enjoy the ride. This book is very much like that. I’d call it popcorn, but it’s too grim, too hard a nugget to be popcorn. Which leads me to…

Man, This Is Some Grim Shit

No, it’s not on par with the “Straitjacket Game” scene out of Swan Song (if you haven’t read that book yet, fix your shit now or never speak to me again), but even still, we’re talking kids brutally murdering other kids. It doesn’t get splatterpunk on you or anything — kids don’t roll around in ropes of viscera — but it’s a pretty disturbing thing. Disturbing all the more because the entire continent remains glued to this, erm, “tradition” the way most people watch Dancing With The Stars. I honestly expected the book to pull its punches, but… nope. Pretty dark stuff. So much so that, when the inevitable film comes, I seriously wonder how they’ll get away with giving it anything less than a PG-13 (answer: they will sanitize the book).

It’s Genre, But It Doesn’t Parade Its Trappings Around Like A Frilly Dress

I don’t like it when a genre story overwhelms me with detail. They get so caught up in world-building that they forget about, ohhh, I dunno, getting to the actual story? They’re so in love with the laws and norms of various markets and space knight societies and goblin cotillions that the stuff you really care about gets trampled underfoot.

Hunger Games doesn’t waste your time. I don’t even know that it cares that much about its own trappings, instead preferring to focus on the story of these characters. It’s really quite elegant.

Mmmm. Present Tense.

I am totally digging on present tense. Just adore it. Feels so active, so alive.

Blah blah blah, “cinematic.” But it’s true.

I Now Want To Read A Lot More Young Adult Fiction

As a lark I also read the opening chapter to Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker and found that to be a totally compelling read as well. Right now, it looks as if some really brave stuff is going on in the Young Adult realm. Seems like the risks are being taken there, which is unusual given that it’s also the Big Money Maker area right now (if I read the market right). Usually when that happens, you get endless retreads and not risk-taking, but hey, I won’t complain. I’m going to just move on to the next book in the series and start plotting on how to fill up my shelf (or at least, my iPad) with more great YA literature.

35 comments

  • I’m perhaps the sole person to pay more attention to the world rather than the actual story, which I don’t think is very healthy [for the reasons you mentioned], but I really geek out at the possibility to play an omnipotent entity in the creative process of my worlds and stories.

    Dude, seriously I missed the whole Hunger Games. I’m not from the US, so I could just decide to ignore the whole parade [which I did]. It seems that this series is a HUGE deal.

    • @Harry —

      Do you game? Play RPGs? They’re a good place to lose yourself in a world and its details.

      And I’d definitely say not to ignore the parade — the first book is pretty great stuff.

      — c.

  • Nice summary, Chuck! I’m glad you liked the book. I’ve read the series and I think the first is definitely the best of the series. As you said the stakes are right there and there is a huge sense of immediacy to the book.

    As with all good sequels, in the later books the stakes change and they get less immediate. That’s why I think I really like the first book best.

    But there are some great themes throughout the series and it would be great to discuss them when you’ve read them.

    V.

    • @Victoria —

      I know a lot of people have claimed the 2nd and 3rd books were not quite as strong. I’m curious to see how they play out without the immediate tension of an ongoing Hunger Game.

      — c.

  • I’m late to the Hunger Games – I’m afraid I didn’t notice the first book until the series took off – but I’m on the waiitng list for it at the library. I’m re-reading the Leviathan and Skullduggery Pleasant series while I waiit.

  • Oh, yes, I can definitely recommend Leviathan! Behemoth is out now, too, but I haven’t read that one yet. I would say that Leviathan is for somewhat younger readers, though. Probably more late MG, but as you’ve noticed now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with reading below your level! :)

    I also like Michael Scott’s ‘Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel’ series. I’ve read through to Sorceress and am very curious to know how all the characters’ loyalties will play out.

  • Apology accepted, Chuck. Apology accepted. :-D

    The thing with YA these days, especially when you get into genre fiction (beyond UF and PR), is that it doesn’t dick around. Beth Revis did a post a few weeks ago that I think hammers the nail on that spirit – http://bethrevis.blogspot.com/2010/11/genre-doesnt-have-age-suggestion.html

    Now you need to go read Ship Breaker, Leviathan (if only to get to Behemoth, since the second book in that serious might just be the perfect adventure), Uglies (what can I say? I love Scott Westerfeld), The Enemy (where some kids do roll in ropes of viscera). Also, what’s available of Beth’s upcoming debut (murder mystery in space!) is shaping up to join the parade of awesome.

    • @Kate:

      The one I will avoid is (sadly) The Enemy — on reading the description, it has some comparison to the feature script we’re working on, and I have no desire to cross-pollinate. Ours is still very different, but just to make sure, I want to keep my brain away from too-similar works.

      But Ship Breaker, yes. Windup Girl, maybe. Leviathan, sure. Awesome.

      It shows that, I think, literature is more mature and has fewer restrictions on age (as you note) than cinema, which is great.

      — c.

  • Well that’s as good a reason as any to avoid a book as I’ve ever heard. But it is worth going back to in the future once you get some comfortable distance between you and the script. I’m eagerly waiting for the summer and the not-so-sequel sequel.

  • Hunger Games is on my list of things to -hopefully- get for christmas, and if not, get right after. I’ve heard good things, though your blog post has me curious now. Is it like Battle Royale? (Have you even read Battle Royale? If not, you should try it, even translated into English it is one of the few books to really get my blood pumping during an action sequence) Mostly curious on the idea of teens brutally killing teens, which is also the basic story in that book.

  • @Anthony

    Having read both, the only similarity is the idea of kids killing kids for entertainment. And one but where Katniss nurses a male character back to health. Battle Royale is more graphic by far, and Hunger Games has more of a scifi edge.

  • Hooray! I’m glad you liked it. I haven’t picked up Catching Fire and Mockingjay yet myself, but it’s more due to being buried under piles and piles of other awesome books than reluctance to get back to the series.

    I was winding up to recommend Shipbreaker for your next read, but I see you’ve already beaten me to it. And now I have to add a reread of Swan Song to my already-teetering pile. I loved it so much, and it’s been years since I last read it, which is a shame.

  • *COUGHCOUGHGASPCOUGH*

    You know I find this whole post terribly amusing, right? :D “Right now, it looks as if some really brave stuff is going on in the Young Adult realm” UH, YEAH. Lol.

    Also, I didn’t realize Bacigalupi’s new book was a YA. I think he’s a great writer, I’ve not picked up this new one yet and have felt itchy as a result.

    • Hey, I said “mea culpa.” No need to get cocky about it — would you have rather I never picked up the book to begin with? I am very willing to be wrong about stuff like this, especially when “wrong” equates to “good books are being written.”

      — c.

  • Dude, you had gotten a bit snippy with me, so I’m just… truly DELIGHTED that you’ve come around. There are some fantastic YA books out there. Now about those Sparklepires…

    (lol. Kill them all. Burn them with fire.)

    • @Stoney —

      Hey, listen, I apologize if I came across as snippy. Never my intention.

      I just felt a little burned, is all — from my vantage point, I was acknowledging my prejudices toward the genre and looking for a discussion on the matter. It was the best I could do — I think it’s far better to be honest and open with that kind of stuff, because that makes you all the more eager and open to dispelling such demons in the first place.

      But I felt like you’d rather be irritated with me than convince me why YA was awesome, and from there it seemed like your preference was to just go over to your Livejournal and, I dunno, talk about it at your blog. That’s fine, of course, but to me it felt like the equivalent of talking behind my back, honestly. And it didn’t help that the way it seemed was: you were upset with my prejudices but you appeared to possess your own prejudices about adult literature. Such literary clannishness turned me off a little, though I’m more than willing to admit I maybe misread. The Internet is good for lost nuance and misunderstanding, and I do it all the time.

      Point is, an intense reaction to what I was hoping would be a productive discussion only served to make me think that YA wasn’t worth it. It’s a poor impulse on my part, but it’s usually the way I feel whenever I encounter any kind of genre-geek-property pushback — I see that and my response is, “Ehh, fuck it. Not worth it, then.” And I walk away. (Part of why I’ve been reading more crime fiction of late isn’t that I started out as a huge crime fiction fan — it’s that the community felt universally welcoming on that front. And in turn, I became more a fan of crime fiction than I expected. The community helped open my mind to something I hadn’t really been all that into.)

      So, again, apologies for the earlier prejudices and also for coming across as snippy.

      And yes, the Sparklepires should then be burned ON a pyre. See what I did there? Pire? Pyre? Anybody?

      — c.

  • Have you ever watched Battle Royale before? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-T7yPJVvXw)

    It may be a little hard to come by in the States, because the director said he never wanted it to be shown outside Japan for fear that we would misinterpret it, but it’s certainly worth tracking down.

    The basic premise is, Japan collapsed and was overpopulated. They got their shit together, but there was no room left for people who wouldn’t contribute to the wellbeing of the nation.

    To solve this problem, they take their “lowest ranking” students and chuck them on an island. Each student is given rations for three days, an explosive collar, and a “weapon.” At the end of three days, the last one alive earns his way back into society. If there is more than one survivor by the end of day three, then everyone gets their heads blown off remotely.

    It was a social commentary on how hard Japan pushes its younger generation to succeed, but is generally distributed as a exploitation/horror movie outside the country.

  • I’ve had Hunger Games on my to-read list FOREVER. Maybe I should move it up in the queue.

    Another YA book I really enjoyed was Beautiful Creatures. It’s from a male POV, which I love, and has a Southern gothic feel to it. I liked the 2nd book (Beautiful Darkness) even more.

    One of my plot bunnies is a YA m/m “romance.” I’ve been told GLBT YA is practically impossible to get published. Still gonna write it, though…right after I finish my NaNo story and write my zombieplotbunny(TM).

  • I’ve actually been in awe of the Bartimaeus books, by Johnathan Stroud, since I first picked them up. They’re listed as YA, but the deeper I got into the books, the more I felt they perfectly accommodated for every desire I could possibly have of an ‘adult’ novel. They are snarky, witty, possess myriad characters (with motivations, flaws, et al) and I finished every book going ‘Damn, that’s good.’ And yet each book was better than the one before it. Fucking phenomenal.

  • When I was “young adult” I didn’t read stuff for my age range either. I’d moved on to regular adult fiction (that just sounds like porn no matter how I say it!) by the time I was in sixth grade or so. In the last few years I’ve been devouring YA novels, mostly paranormal series. There is some amazing stuff out there right now.

  • If you’re looking for some more YA, I recommend Shiver and Linger by Maggie Stiefvater. I don’t like wolves at all and even less werewolves, but Shiver had me at page 1 and I was reading it at work at like 3 am and sobbing. It’s much much better than Twilight.

    YA has exploded of late and there’s a lot of good stuff out there.

    I do believe I will have to add Hunger Games to my list.

  • I usually comment here as ktbuffy, but I’m doing this under my superagent persona to say YAY! I’m so glad you enjoyed THE HUNGER GAMES! In truth, there are some great, ground-breaking stuff going on in YA right now, and I’m thrilled to be working with some amazing authors who continue to blow my mind with their words.

    The flip side of all the reading I do for work is that I don’t get too many chances to read books that I’m not considering, so I’m looking forward to the holidays to catch up on some titles I’ve heard some really great things about — like THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner, LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld, and more.

  • tl; dr. Writing a book about a goblin cotillion.

    (Kidding! Totally read. Last book that totally sucked me in and I couldn’t believe it? When You Reach Me. It’s middle-grade, and incredibly good.)

  • I read…a lot, and I have to say that some of the best writing is coming out of YA. “Hunger Games” was an excellent read, and I am with you on the YA. I read Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” in 7th grade& “Shogun” and “Tai-Pan” in 8th grade. By high school it was MacMurtry, David Eddings, Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Robin Cook. Yes, I was a nerd and got beat up…a lot. But they area all characters in my novels now and they have very small penises or embarassing female issues.

    Very good insight into an excellent book. Thanks.

  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    plot bunny: An idea for a story (usually used to refer to fanfic) that gnaws at the brain until written.

    My zombieplotbunny is not just gnawing; it is actually eating my brain. It screams “BRAAAAINS!” all day while I try to do anything else but think about it. It’s pretty much one big pain in the ass.

    It’s going to be one kick-ass book, though :)

  • It’s been mentioned before, but yeah, this does remind me a lot of Battle Royale. I definitely want to read this trilogy now!

    Also, cause I saw someone else recommend it, I also recommend the Bartimaeus Trilogy if you want to look into good YA.

    In my opinion, it’s a whole lot better and grown up than Harry Potter (it has to do with wizards too) and I LOVED Harry Potter.

    Lately I’ve been reading a lot of YA, but I was reading adult books at age 12 (Sphere by Michael Crichton was my first novel). So it is kind of weird that we’re reading backwards.

  • Chuck –
    Right now I really like Melissa Marr and Holy Black. They might be a little girl oriented, but I think they get dark and sometimes violent enough to keep a male readers attention. Alyson Noel’s Immortals series was great, but it’s a lot more of a romance than the others. In more of the Middle Grade category there is Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, which was very good and a quick read, and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. I think those are the best of what I’ve read lately.

  • Yes! You drank the Kool-Aid! :) I’m really glad–I remember contributing to the original discussion on YA a couple of months ago, and hoping that you’d at least read the Hunger Games before passing judgment on the genre! I’m so glad to see that you enjoyed it–I loved the series, for pretty much the same reasons you mentioned.

    Try Cherie Priest’s “Boneshaker”… Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother”…

    Anyway, thanks for the update. It made my day to see it.

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