I just finished reading The Hunger Games…

And I’m not going to waste time telling you how good it is (they are?).

The perpetual holds list that’s lasted for three years and followed me across two library systems should be enough.

But y’all… I have to. I have to rant and rave about this amazing series just like every other blogger and reviewer and New York Times journalist has.

I understand if they’re not your speed. Someone has to read Twilight. But I haven’t been this life-alteringly sucked into a series since Percy Jackson, nay, Harry Potter. Yeah, I read The Books of Ember, and they were good, don’t get me wrong, but Ember is child’s play compared to what Panem offers. Panem literally has guts; Ember, not so much.The Hunger Games rattle the insides a little harder than the trials of The Olympians. Maybe because the characters are quoteunquote real people. Percy and his gang had the advantage of being demigods. Katniss and Peeta are just teenagers born into an unfortunate time and sucked into a considerably unfortunate game. Strikingly similar to another concocted teenager and his friends, without the game, but with, oddly enough, the same snake like adversary. Katniss has a bow and arrow where Harry had a wand.

And I realize I’m drawing parallels between Juv/YA high fantasy and YA sci-fi adventure. There is nothing fantastical about The Hunger Games. It is as rooted in the real world as one can be. The real world of a few hundred years from now, but a real and startlingly accurate world nonetheless. It’s where we’re headed if we’re not careful.

While I’m never getting into Hogwarts (and I mourn that knowledge with every breath of my being), I could at one time have been reaped as Tribute for District Four. I’d like to avoid ruminating on why this series of books speaks to ages twelve and older so profoundly because it’s been done. Picked and dissected and disintegrated to determine the magically formula that makes the tween/teen tick, speaks to the population in a way an adult never could. But maybe that’s it. Maybe because, like it or not, these books could so very, very easily be real, we gravitate to their story. Maybe because we are the country that existed to serve a Capitol with which we didn’t not agree, and from which we subsequently fought tooth and nail to be free. And I really hate how those two sentences rhyme so well. But, the sentiment’s accurate.

Stylistically, the story is delivered first person present tense, a form that’s irked me in the past. But through Katniss, it works. It flows. It sucks the reader into the Seam, into Panem, into the arena. And I’m sure that’s why I couldn’t put them down. I wasn’t reading the story or being told the story so much as I was experiencing the story. The prose is simple to read, but not simple, if that makes any sense. It’s a problem I run into with other Juv/YA lit. Dumbed down language, extreme avoidance of more adult themes to almost unbearably childish comprehension. Not a single curse word appears through the pages of The Hunger Games trilogy. Oh, people curse. People spit fire. But it’s left to the reader’s imagination to determine which words echo around the walls. The older and more experienced the reader, the more colorful the language, I assume. No one has sex either. Children are born by the end of Mockingjay, so obviously someone, somewhere got nekkid. But, again, it’s left to the imagination, with veiled exception. But, unless the reader has actually experienced the “hunger” to which Katniss refers as she makes out with Peeta, the veil might as well be an iron door. It’s always kissing, light or deep, but never euphemized. They kiss. They don’t make out (despite what you just read), they don’t French kiss, there’s no colored description of the tongue, off or otherwise. They simply kiss. the reader is left to draw upon his or her own experience with such romantic devices to decide what kind of kiss. As such, younger and less mature audiences will take away from the encounter a younger and less mature picture of what occurred.

Unfortunately there’s not glossing over the guts and gore. These books start as children trying to kill each other in a perverse government game for the entertainment of high society, and end with a war where people die horrible, horrible deaths. There’s no escaping it, and there’s no way to skirt around it, nor should there be. People being melted, people being julienned, people being gnawed to death by wild mutated dogs. These all happen in graphic detail, and as such, may not be the best choice for younger tweens or the overly sensitive. But really, it’s no different than what a kid could see on the news, and the brutality, while a pronounced and necessary part of the narrative, is not exploitative by any means. It all happens with a sense of dread, the way violence should happen.

I have a high opinion of good Juv/YA literature. There are books in this category I would go so far as to say should be required reading for continued citizenship in the human race. Certain titles must be read by a certain age or your parents failed you, and you have subsequently failed as a kid of any intellectual value. And I mean that. If you’re an American girl born after 1957 and you haven’t read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by age twelve, you’ve failed at being a girl and a woman in every conceivable sense. I include my own mother in this statement. Stop failing and go buy a copy of this Judy Blume classic right this very instant. Same goes for boys who haven’t read Hatchet by age eleven, or anyone who doesn’t read A Wrinkle in Time before age sixteen. Unfortunately for Wrinkle, it does not age well, and if you missed that precious, precious window of opportunity between the ages of nine and sixteen to devour this book whole with a flashlight under the covers, then I’m sorry, but you’ve missed the boat. Enjoy living the rest of your half a life having never known the wonder and excitement traveling through a tesseract. I mean, sure, you could go pick up a copy now, but it just won’t be the same. Obviously, my good friend Harry must be introduced by age eleven, if not earlier, but wait just a bit before diving into books three through seven. They require for comprehension a kind of worldly knowledge that only comes with age.

And as of today, the adventures of Katniss Everdeen sit squarely on my list of in-no-particular-order books that mush be read before reaching adulthood, or, at the very least, deathbed. Read them more than once. If, by some chance, you’re reading this pathetic attempt at a book review as a tween/teen of twelve or older, read them RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND and then read them again in a few years, after your first kiss, and again, as an adult, after you better comprehend the atrocities of the world. I’ll bet my right eye they age very, very well.


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