Oh, Saturday. I’ve been weirdly exhausted all week, even to the point of sick a couple mornings, even enough to make the painful decision to skip out on a free John Mark McMillan concert last night. Good thing too… I started crashing early (might’ve been earlier if I hadn’t been engrossed in a book), and looked forward to a good sleep-in.
Um, nope. Woke up at 7am. Seven! Stupid brain wired to wake up early no matter what.
But this isn’t about my sleeping habits… but rather the thing that ruined them the past several nights. Yes, a book. I am talking about The Hunger Games.
This morning, after my failed attempts to go back to sleep, I grabbed it off my bedside table and plowed through the entire last third until I hit End of Book One. I picked up the paperback a few weeks ago, since the last book was releasing soon and it got a lot of love from YA fans, but a part of me was skeptical. (As much as I love YA, I’ve been getting… kind of burned by this genre lately.) Fortunately, it turned out to be an engaging read that left me thinking long after I turned the last page and stumbled out of bed.
The story, in short, is set in Panem, a post-Apocalyptic shell of what used to be America where once a year, the people are compelled to watch a televised event where kids fight to the death. A boy and a girl from each of the 12 districts is chosen by lottery and shipped off to the Capitol to be primed for a twisted futuristic vision of reality TV. When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen’s little sister is chosen, she volunteers to step in, and when the Games begin, the only thing that matters is surviving.
Sounds horrible? It is. And yet… not as horrible as I felt it could’ve been.
The reason this book left me thinking so long and hard isn’t so much the subject matter as much as how I reacted to it. I wanted to feel Katniss’ pain… feel shocked and horrified, shed a few tears even. But I didn’t. That puzzles me.
The entire story is told from Katniss’ point of view, but there’s something clinical about it, so matter-of-fact. While the arena experience is reported in vivid detail (though, mercifully, some of the more brutal deaths are kept “off screen”), it still feels less than real. Even in the tragic death of a minor character, one that I wanted to feel sad for, it still felt so much like a game.
The most disturbing thing is that I wasn’t more disturbed. Normally, I’d think this were a problem, but in a story about a desensitized future world that glories in death — the death of children! — it actually seems appropriate. Why wouldn’t the narrative voice of a girl who’s spent her whole life in the throes of poverty, already fighting to survive every day of her life, tell her story in such a way? Maybe the whole point is to feel revolted and riveted all at once. It’s kind of brilliant, actually.
There’s a scene where Katniss is squeamishly treating another character’s injury, and he asks her how she can handle hunting. “Killing things is much easier than this,” she replies. It’s a telling scene about her weaknesses, and perhaps, how we handle suffering. We’re surrounded by the idea of pain and injustice… what happens when we meet it face to face? (Ceridwen, a Goodreads user, puts this idea way more eloquently in her review.)
It’s a gripping story, and I realized after it was done I wanted to get the next two books, like, right now. (In fact, I’m already pricing hardcover box sets for my next Borders coupon!) I want to know how the story ends and see the Capitol brought down. That makes for a successful story, I’d say.