I read many books for work and pleasure. Most of them I enjoy and put down, when I'm finished, with a pleasant little sigh--as in, "Hmm. That was nice."
But sometimes--sadly not that often as of late--I practically want to jump up and down because a book is so great.
That's how I felt when I finally finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (no relation!). I say "finally" because I read it in a marathon sitting--I stayed up virtually all night, reading.
I closed the book at 4 a.m. and immediately said to my husband, "You have to read this!" I thought frantically about who I could get to read this book. Everyone has to read this book.
One of my creative writing students told me I had to read it. Was she ever right.
It's not that The Hunger Games contains some profound message about humanity--though, come to think of it, it very well might--but it's so well crafted and plotted, with the roundest, most memorable characters I can recall in ages. Even the most minor, peripheral characters come vividly to life on the page.
The Hunger Games is one of those novels you can see perfectly in your mind. Every novelist hopes his or her novel will get made into a film (for the movie rights money, basically), but The Hunger Games (like Harry Potter) simply MUST make it to the big screen.
As a former actress, I read the main character's, Katniss Everdeen's, part with longing. What young actor would not kill (pardon the pun) to play this amazing, complex role? And what a role model Katniss is for young women! Talk about an inspirational strong young woman (yes, I realize she does not actually exist).
The Hunger Games (and I am heading out to the bookstore right now to pick up the sequel, Catching Fire--I guess the benefit to my being slow to read The Hunger Games is that the sequel is already out. No waiting!) is a futuristic story about dystopia, but not in the typical abject-horror way.
It is also a national bestseller, which I think is why I was slow to read it. Having worked in publishing, I understand what usually makes a bestseller: marketing money. Many of the books on bestseller lists are not our finest examples of literature. Yes, some are wonderful, all are generally entertaining, but Pulitzer-Prize winning examples of fine writing? Generally, they are not (and not that I would personally mind having written a bestseller. This is not a dig at bestselling authors).
Anyway--the dystopia depicted in The Hunger Games is a bit more subtle, a bit harder to gauge in terms of black and white, good and evil. This futuristic, totalitarian dystopia actually seems far more realistic, less fantastic.
I've written before on this blog about dystopia. It really captures my imagination, as it does most people's. (Another of my favorite, most-recommended books is Cormac McCarthy's The Road.)
Incorporating bits of reality television and survivalism within its larger tale of a young woman who is trying to provide for her family in difficult times--while coping with first glimmers of love and mourning the death of her beloved father--The Hunger Games teaches us what it means to take charge and do the best one can--to sacrifice oneself, if need be, for the good of others.
It is also filled with action, which will certainly help it appeal to any young reader with attention issues, I expect. It contains warnings about governmental control that bring to mind Brave New World and 1984 (two classic novels I always tell my teenage students to read).
Getting teenagers to read is a big part of who I am, actually. I believe in the importance of the YA genre because I know its purpose (and I write YA) is noble: be entertaining while also inspiring.
The YA novelist needs to write something catchy enough to make even reluctant readers want to, need to, read. If it is powerful enough, it can last--just like J.D. Salinger's work. If it is sophisticated enough, witty, prescient or just well crafted, it can crossover to adult readers, too.
We all remember the books that really captured our hearts and imaginations.
I can't wait to share The Hunger Games with my daughters. I am putting the book away carefully--until next week or so, when I know I'll have to read it again.
Wow. Wow. Yes, The Hunger Games is just that good.