Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don’t live to see the morning? 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.
Okay, you’ve all read this one before. Some of you are Team Gale and some (like me) are Team Peeta, some of you hated it, some of you (like me) loved it. Have you seen the official trailer? I have to admit, I was leery of three people: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Lenny Kravitz. Lawrence sold me on her Katniss when she starts screaming for Prim during the reaping. Hutcherson sold me on his Peeta during that scene on the roof. Lenny Kravitz…I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. When Katniss salutes the people, I started to cry. When they all run from their platforms at the end, I sobbed so loud I scared my boyfriend. In fact, the trailer whipped me into such a frenzy that I just had to reread the series. I’m working on Catching Fire right now, and I forgot what glorious angst that book contains. The first in the series is no better on the angst front, but that’s why I loved it. This stuff is real. There’s no sparkly vampire showing up to whisk away a silly girl and be in love, this is death, destruction, manipulation, terror. There is a love story, sure, but it’s not even close to typical. I loved that the trailer didn’t even give you a hint of a love triangle. You wouldn’t even know there’s romance if you’d never read the books.
I’m not going to recap, I’m just going to give you a feel for how this book affected me, and the parts I think about the most. In Panem, there was once an uprising, and it was crushed by the Capitol. For revenge, and to keep the Districts in check, the Capitol invents The Hunger Games. Two children from each District are chosen in the reaping, and the results are heavily skewed toward the poor. The children are shipped to the Capitol and their parents are forced to watch as they’re waxed, plucked, changed, and then killed in the arena. And I mean forced. It is mandatory to watch the Games. If you survive, you’re given a nice house, but you’re also forced to mentor the new children from your District, train them, and then watch them die. That is also mandatory. That is so gloriously messed up, there isn’t even anything I can add. Did I mention that even if you’re a victor, your children are still eligible for the Games? And Katniss even mentions that the victor’s children are chosen too often for it to be a coincidence. So, to recap, you get chosen in the reaping, you go to the arena, you win, you come home, mentor doomed children until you die, and quite possibly watch your own get killed as well. Awesome.
In my boyfriend’s words, “That’s considered YA?” Yes! The very best kind of YA, the kind that makes you think, the kind that shows you the economic factors of being poor in the poorest District in Panem, instead of just focusing on some love story. I didn’t even back a ship until Mockingjay, because how can you, really? Katniss is in the arena, forced to pretend she’s in love with Peeta, and then she’s in Twelve, forced to face her feelings for Gale. This is no time for romance! People are dying because of the decisions Katniss made, and she knows it. Her feelings for Peeta are complex and a world away from her feelings for Gale, but those feelings are no less important. The post-traumatic stress that Katniss probably feels is so apparent to me here. Does she understand now why Haymitch drinks himself into oblivion? I do.
I had forgotten about the end, about the scene with Cato and how utterly horrifying that scene was to read. I’m not sure I can stomach watching it on the big screen. This book tears me apart. It’s got almost no happy moments, but that doesn’t matter, because it’s not full of banal platitudes about romance and love and forever. There is no forever in Panem. There is only now.