Banned Books: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

So, it basically doesn’t surprise me at all that this book has been challenged since it hit the shelves. I mean, you can look here, and here, and here for examples. I mean, come on. Violence? Death? Gruesome murder and the fact that to survive you must kill everyone around you? And all this involving teenagers? It’s bound to ruffle more than a few feathers! For those you you who haven’t gotten around to cracking the cover on THE BEST BOOK/SERIES TO HIT THE SHELVES IN WHAT FEELS LIKE FOREVER, here is a Goodreads summary for you:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

This book is basically an extended (and very, very, very good version) of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, and I think makes people uncomfortable because it kind of forces those reading it to face the truth: we may not be as far from Panem, and the world of the Hunger Games, as we like to think they are. We, as a people (here I’m speaking largely to those citizens of the developed countries), are entirely too focused on the way we look, are much to willing to ignore poverty as long as we are satisfied, and are not above using the media and military to remind us of the ‘greatness’ of our various countries, along with the ‘horribleness’ of countries that aren’t our own. These are difficult facts to face, especially when they are drawn out to such horrifying conclusions within the course of the book.

HOWEVER, I think that this book has a lot of merit for so, so many reasons (as most banned books do) – and that goes beyond the fact that I found Peeta to be SUCH a hunka-hunka-burning man-crush. First of all, Katniss is a fantastic female heroine for the YA female readers of today. Yes, more and more fantastic female heroines are flooding the market, and that’s great. But one more never hurt. Not only does Katniss not need saving, she saves more people herself than could ever save her. She volunteers to take her little sister’s place in the Hunger Games. She saves Peeta’s life after he tries to sacrifice himself for her. She (eventually through the series) ends up saving the minds and hopes of a broken group of people. Long story short, she’s totally kick ass.

Secondly, I also think this book has a really key message lying at its foundation: hope. Hope that things don’t always have to remain the way that they are. Hope that, with enough faith and power of belief, single people can move mountains, and lead a group of people to bring down entire mountain ranges. In a time of things like this and this, it’s kind of an awesome hope to have! I also think that it’s important for the YA audience of this book to be taking in that message of positive proactive change, and of personal responsibility, as I think it’s becoming all to easy for people (and I think of a lot of my past students when I say this) to point out all the things going wrong without any active steps to keep those things from happening anymore. But Katniss isn’t a sit-down kind of girl. And it requires bravery, intelligence, and most of all a sense of self-sacrifice. None of which, I don’t think, are bad qualities to possess.

Well, folks, there you have it! My first review in celebration of Banned Books Week. Don’t forget to stop by every day this week for another look at some of my own personal favorite banned books! Hope that whatever your reading, it’s being as good to you as you are to it!

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is the first in the Uglies series about two girls, Tally and Shay, who live in world where everyone is ugly until they turn 16. At sixteen, these girls and all their friends undergo an operation in which everything about them is transformed to fit the “standard” of beauty – symmetrical faces, large pupils, white teeth and smooth skin, all the “biological” markers of beauty. For the most part, everyone is happy to undergo this transformation – who would want to be “ugly” when being “beautiful” is as much a part of the aging process as the Bar Mitzvah. However, there are some who disagree – like Shay. For those who realize that perhaps there is a flaw in this “make peace by making everyone the same – and beautiful to boot”, there is a place that exists in both legend and, to the few in the know, reality. This place is nicknamed “the Smoke” because these are the people who choose to live like the “Rusties”, the name for all those who lived before the implementation of the operation. In other words, we’re the “Rusties” and the book makes a number of comments about the nature of beauty, peace, complacency, and the danger of not being aware of environmental dangers.

The book is an easy read. It’s very much so like Lowis Lowery’s The Giver or perhaps even The Hunger Games (although I cannot tell a lie – The Hunger Games was WAY, WAY better). There were a number of flaws that kept the book from being a favorite read, but it kept me more than entertained and led to a number of sneak-peaks during work while I was supposed to be…well…working. The flaws include things like the fact that the book was paced rather too quickly – within the first few chapters we have a main character rebelling against the system and trying to get others to join her, before the truly scary nature of the operation can be understood by the reader. Secondly, the plot twist that caused the downfall of the Rusties (which won’t be revealed here, for all future readers) seemed contrived and, perhaps most annoyingly – WE WEREN’T GIVEN NEARLY ENOUGH TIME TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THE LOVE-WORTHY MALE PROTAGONIST!!!!! I hate it when this happens!

To be honest, that last point is most likely because Tally, the main narrator, doesn’t realize she’s in love with David (leader of the Smoke, a nature-loving, handmade clothes wearing rebel extraordinaire) until almost the very end. But as a reader, I was in love with him from the beginning and just wanted more from him! The end of the book leaves the reader – and Tally – hanging in a way that is at once tense and yet predictable. There really is no “what happens next” cliffhanger. Rather, it’s a “this is whats going to happen, but what will happen after that” style story, which was built up just enough that I went ahead and read the second one anyway! All in all, I’d say the book was good and might be even better for those of you in more of a YA read – it’s entertaining, if nothing else!

In a more general life update, summer reading is going well, but not as well as it could. Does it ever? My niece has been staying with us for pretty much the whole month of June, and it’s meant a lot more Barbie playing and Spongebob watching than it has reading and reviewing, but as always I’m staying caught up with the Google Reader and waiting for the days when fitting in reading/reviewing is back on the regular agenda. Happy reading!