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.
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.
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.