Sunday, September 13, 2009

Don't Play Their Game!

[This post won't be of much interest to you unless you've already read The Hunger Games. If you'd like to know more about it, here's my review. The following is more of a personal rant than a helpful review. Just know that I highly recommend both books.]

I picked up Catching Fire (sequel to Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games) yesterday morning and completed it this afternoon. My eyes are tired and adrenaline is coursing through my veins. What can I say? It was very like THG in quality and theme. It picks up six months after the end of the games with more star-crossed loves, more wretchedness from those Capitol despots, more fights to the death, and a heap of political unrest. There is, as I expected, an agonizing cliffhanger ending, and I have no idea when the third novel of the trilogy will be published. Sorry. Aaagh.

Katniss's character is so damaged to begin with that she isn't much changed, aside from new nightmares reminiscent of the games. She struggles to protect her loved ones, not knowing whether she ought to play the government's game or rebel against it. I'm a little impatient with her slowness to rebel within the hunger games, to be quite honest. I understand that she's just a teenage girl, and technically she has been rebelling from the start of the series by trespassing and hunting. But there are all these obvious little hints that the oppressed people from multiple districts are looking to Katniss for leadership and inspiration, and she's clueless. So I'm sympathetic to her frustration that she is being used against her will and knowledge (by more than one faction), but I want her to grab control of the situation and do something really risky and smart and effective! Perhaps my expectations are too high for a 17-year-old girl. She's done amazing things already, and she spends a lot of time admirably questioning whether her motives are selfish and/or for the good. I'm too quick to compare her to Gregor from Collins's Underland Chronicles, who is younger yet wiser and more decisive. In a comparable war situation, he aims to avoid violence, choose mercy, and urges others to do the same. But of course, my critique of Gregor is that he is too young, at 11, to be a sword fighting warrior who petitions for peace.

Herein lies the value of Collins's novels. They fill me with excitement, revulsion, pity, and inspiration to the point of utter confusion. I am frustrated with protagonists on the basis of flaws which only make them more human, and yet they are fantastic, symbolic heroes. I struggle to put my impressions into stilted prose and am just going to give it up because, once again, fiction has done the job for me. However, if there's one relatable message I take from Collins's writing, it's that children can survive a lot; they're weak and strong and surprisingly resilient and thoughtful. With Free-Range Kids fresh on my mind, I'm convinced we don't give children enough credit for their intelligence and abilities at a very young age.

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