I’m just finishing up reading The Hunger Games my pop-culture fix for the week. Honestly, I’d never heard of it until I saw a young lady on the subway reading it a few weeks ago and googled the title. I do that sometimes: see what a stranger is reading and look it up.
Definitely a page turner and definitely a quick read. But, from very early on I was overwhelmed with the thought, “This is nothing but a pastiche of Heinlein’s juvenile novels, particularly Citizen of the Galaxy and Podkayne of Mars.” Thankfully, Heinlein’s predilection for incestuous paedophilia is absent, but everything else is pure Heinlein: a strong resourceful and most emphatically beautiful young lady (with special emphasis on her hair), nasty government, children wise and strong beyond their years thrust into an unthinkable no-win situation . . . The Hunger Games is every bit as well written and entertaining as any of Heinlein’s teen sci-fi adventures.
And, Romeo and Juliet of course. I was amused by the unexplained four note phrase at the end of the trailers for the film version, immediately recognizable as the recurrent bar of “What is a Youth?” the infinitely popular “love theme” from Zeffirelli’s 1968 film.
One thing I was surprised by was the low level of violence compared to some of the online parental moaning I’d noticed in the run up to the film version. Yes, there is killing and blood and even a little pus (I was surprised that, despite the mention of the moon’s phases, there is no mention of Katness’ “little visitor” during her month or so in the Arena), but it’s not overblown and, thankfully, it’s realistic in a very cautionary way. Katness feels (good or ill) for the victims, her own and others. The violence is not gratuitous, desensitizing or unnecessarily graphic. Playing ten minutes of most computer games will provide more violence than The Hunger Games displays in 374 pages.
All in all, The Hunger Games is a competently crafted piece of popular youth fiction, a very entertaining read, and, as such a runaway best-seller, perhaps a worthy contribution/starting point for the discussion of violence that so many societies (and families) should be having. What is a youth, after all, but an incomplete person finding out about the world and their place in it? There is violence in the world. Would we rather our children learn about violence through experience? or vicariously, through a sympathetic, (fairly) well-written character who shows us the lasting horror of perpetrating it?
No parent should worry if they see their kids’ noses stuck in The Hunger Games. Very many adults would possibly benefit from reading it as well, particularly if it led to a discussion of violence and its effects.
On another note, I am sadly waiting for the anti-vacination loonies to take The Hunger Games up as a metaphor of childhood vaccination (“lethal lottery” might be catch-phrase).
(Update: I’m not surprised that I’m not the only or the first to notice the musical reference to Zeffirelli’s film in Rue’s whistle song [the four tone phrase I mention as being at the end of the trailers]: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/whistle+song )
(Update May 8, 2012: those like me who have positive feelings about The Hunger Games are in good Company. It seems Stanley Fish likes the books as well.)