Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reading Recommendations...

I have a lot of friends that like to read. Since I also loves to read, this makes sense. We often befriend those that have things in common with us. It makes for a bonding experience, something shared.

I love that I have friends that love to read. It means at any given time, I can seek them out via email, on the phone or even in person and ask them what they’ve read lately that they’ve loved. It’s a great way of finding books to read without having to read reviews. What better way than to ask someone who has actually read a book and whose opinion you trust?

Of course, sometimes, you find you disagree with their taste. Hence the fact that I did read the Twilight saga without knowing the full-scale assault it was going to have on the literary world as well as the assault it was going to do on my poor brain as I tried to see what the fuss was about. As I’ve said, I’m backing off it now because there’s no point. Granted, I still dislike the books but, well, let’s just say that having good friends who really like the books and can argue their value in escapism (Thank you, Lady Aero), I will respect the fact that some people like them. I never will.

So, a wee bit tainted from being told that I’d love Twilight and not liking it at all, I was just a little hesitant when another good friend told me about two books I had to read in the same fictional series. The books were The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins.

I tried repeatedly to get the books from the library with no luck. It seems there are some teens out there reading other books betweens the Stephanie Meyer collection; I salute that. So, I ended up borrowing my friends copy. I started the books a little hesitantly: When anything comes that highly recommended, it’s always a little intimidating to start reading just in case you don’t like them.

The premise of the book is deceptively simple. It’s the future. The U.S. does not exist but has been divided into 12 Districts, each producing one essential item necessary to life. The districts are ruled from the Capitol, a city set in what used to be the Rocky Mountains and in which the people live luxuriously and excessively, ignorant of the plight of the people in the districts. The Capitol is strict and firm, allowing nothing that it does not approve. The people are oppressed because the Capitol does not want an uprising in the Districts and thus it rules with an iron fist. Every year, they stage The Hunger Games. A barbaric pastime in which children from age 12 to 18 are ‘reaped’- their names thrown into a giant lottery. From each district, a boy and girl is chosen annually from this lottery and must compete in the Games, a fight to the death in which only one victor will survive. The winner receives food and money for life.

The heroine of the tale is Katniss Everdeen, a tomboy who bears the weight of her family on her shoulders. Katniss hunts illegally in her district, trading in a black market to both survive and to get enough food to feed her family. When Katniss’ sister is reaped for the games, Katniss steps in and volunteers to take her place, placing her in a competition that makes her question everything she knows.

The thing about the The Hunger Games is it sounds like a familiar premise. When my friend described it to me, it reminded me of some Stephen King stories: The Long Walk and The Running Man. Yet there is nothing in The Hunger Games that is unoriginal. It is a well-written piece of young adult fiction that deserves as much, if not more, acclaim than the Twilight series.
For one thing, take Katniss Everdeen. She’s a girl who is plucky, smart and a survivor. Even though there’s a love triangle in The Hunger Games reminiscent of the Bella/Edward/Jacob mess in Meyer’s novels, never once do you question it. Katniss is the same age as Bella Swann yet because she’s faced hardship, she puts everything above love rather than making it the only thing worth living for. Katniss has two men in her life: Peeta, the male representative from their district in the Games. Peeta has loved Katniss for years. She’s wonderfully oblivious, believing his acclamations of love to be a strategy for winning the games even though it’s quite clear to the reader that he means them. Peeta is sweet, devoted, kind and nice. He wants nothing more than to see Katniss survive the games. Then there’s Gale: Katniss’ hunting partner from District 12. Never more than a friend, Katniss clearly feels more for him and as the books proceed, it is obvious Gale feels the same way. Gale is brooding, strong and opinionated. He’s a good match for Katniss as the two find a natural rhythm in just being together.

Yet, even with a love triangle, there is so much more to the books. The story is one of growing rebellion and questioning of authority. It is the movement from sad acceptance to awareness and action. The other characters are rich and defined. My favourite is probably Cinna, the stylist who takes on Katniss’ case for the games and turns her from a wild tomboy into a symbol of unity. He’s quietly rebellious in his own way without taking a more active role than helping Katniss discover who she is. One of the most disturbing things about the books is the dramatic and unpredictable ends that befall characters who lend their hearts and souls to Katniss' quest. Cinna is an example of that; for his rebellion, he is punished but the stories leave you wondering and desperately hoping that he's ok, even if he took a stand in a place where doing such a thing is forbidden.

Catching Fire is a disturbing book. It’s not full of sparkles and cottages in the woods, perfect honeymoons and disturbing birth-scenes. It’s dark and twisted and bad things happen to a lot of good people. It’s the type of sequel that climbs into your head and haunts your dreams because you can’t stop thinking about it, wondering what will happen and having your heart break just a little for some of the amazing characters who sacrifice themselves to try to save others.

I think it’s obvious I enjoyed these books. Thus, I am recommending them to anyone that challenged me to tell them what’s better than Twilight. These books are better. These are books in which something actually happens besides love but still allows love and feelings to be a huge part of the story. They’re books with characters that make me care without having to do much at all, although no one in these books is idle. The writing is good enough that you don’t even notice it as you’re turning the pages to see what happens.

The books are part of a bigger series. The next book isn’t out yet and I don’t know when it’s going to be. I do know that until it is, I have a feeling that Katniss and her world are going to pop into my mind quite a lot as I wonder what will happen to her, Peeta, Gale and the other characters in the story. What I don’t care about is if she ends up with either of the men and who it might be because that’s incidental. It’s a nice change of pace. If you're looking for something to read, I highly recommend it. And, even if you're not...I still recommend it.

Happy Tuesday!


Cindy K said...

The third book comes out August 24, 2010 but I don't know the title yet.

Ladyaero said...

I had a B&N gift card to use, so I went to buy myself a copy of The Hunger Games and it was SOLD OUT. Bummer. I'm putting myself on the library wait list instead...

Ladyaero said...

Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh...I should have read more carefully the part about "Last book not out yet" I have read the first two and have to wait SIX MONTHS (I looked- it's due Aug. 24th, according to the site I saw) to read the last cruel.

Captain Monkeypants said...

Lady Aero, I know. When I got to the end of "Catching Fire," I REALLY wanted the next book. However, it just means I have something to look forward to- probably the first time since "Harry Potter" that I've wanted a book on the day it came out. It's also going to be called "Mockingjay," which is perfect :) Glad you liked the books though!

Ladyaero said...

For those interested, Amazon has it for pre-purchase at only about $8.50 for the hardcover- a pretty good deal and they usually ship to arrive on the release date...