Catching Fire and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

I’ve just emerged from the world of the Hunger Games, after having read all three books over about 2 weeks.  The level of immersion I experienced can only be compared to the Harry Potter series and no doubt the two have been compared many times.  Beyond a doubt I enjoyed Harry Potter more.  But there is something very compelling about the Hunger Games and after I finished the last book, the story really weighed on me.  After pondering this for awhile I decided that the reason I liked Harry Potter more is that it is a better escape: you are taken to a magical wizarding world where there is an evil force to be destroyed.  The weightiness I experienced from the Hunger Games stems from the story being a bit too real.  In Harry Potter there is absolute good (embodied by Harry) and absolute evil (Voldemort); Snape definitely helps us challenge that abject dualism but in the end it is all resolved.  This is not the case in the Hunger Games.  Katniss is not absolutely good; the Capitol is not absolutely bad and there are various states of in between amongst all the characters.  Horrific things happen in the Hunger Games (I actually had some very bad dreams involving some of the events) and good does not always win over evil.  Through these books, Suzanne Collins is making some very powerful (if not subtle) observations about modern life, including selfishness, repression (i.e. First Nations reservations in Canada or the relationship between rich and poor countries), and perhaps even the unquestioning, robotic way in which we live our lives.  Above all she critiques spectacle: watching other people suffer as a form of entertainment, as in reality TV.  I am still astonished that this is a book written for young adults as Collins presents an extremely pessimistic view of the world, not to mention the highly disturbing subject matter and events that take place throughout the series.  But between all the fast-paced action, the story does make you think.  You wonder about the actions of the character and begin to see how violence affects the character’s mental state.  I think this book could have been written for adults with some language change – near the end I will admit to being fairly irritated with Katniss’s near-constant self-pitying first-person narration.  I’m glad Collins kept it to a trilogy.  But in the end I think this is a must-read series of books for adults in particular.

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