Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Special Review! The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Released: Book 1 - 2008, Book 2 - 2009, Book 3 - 2010.
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: Book 1 - 374, Book 2 - 391, Book 3 - 390.
Buy The Books: Amazon

"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, I resisted for a while, thinking that maybe for once I'd watch a film trilogy before I read the books, to see how that works out. But the intrigue got too much for me and I bought the Hunger Games trilogy. It took me four days to get through all three books and, as I read them so quickly, I have trouble distinguishing where one finished and the other began, so I'm going to do a joint review. 

Before I get carried away in discussing the politics or the plot or the fantastic world created by Suzanne Collins, I'd just like to say how much of a relief it is to find a book with such an absolutely kick-ass heroine. There are quotes attributed to Stephenie Meyer on all three covers of my copies; it must have been hard for her to read what is essentially a masterclass in creating a flawed, likeable, exciting, believable lead female for a book series. Katniss is everything a leading lady should be, in my opinion.

I'll forego the plot synopsis, it would take me hours to do it justice, and just get straight down to the nitty-gritty. Suzanne Collins' dystopian vision of the future is realistic and terrifying, mostly because it doesn't need much suspension of belief to consider that the world could really end up like this. When I wasn't reading the books, I was thinking about them. The first book never lets up in terms of action, and never compromises - I would say it's not really for younger readers because some of the death scenes and themes touched upon are fairly traumatic. But the first book's parting shot reveals a much bigger story, bigger than Katniss ever anticipated, and then we are sucked into a full-on war.

Taking into account the non-stop adventure of the first book, I expected much of the same in the second, Catching Fire. However, what I found was an incredibly intelligent account of war propaganda and an unmatched unpredictability I have rarely come across in teen novels. The emotional complexity of the situations Katniss faces is never played down and the second book is more intense than the first. And then comes the cliffhanger...!

I won't give it away. Now we come to the third book, the big finale. I'm still struggling with how I felt about it, to be honest. Again, it was intense and unpredictable and everything a great action novel should be, but the ending... it's hard trying to say how I felt about it without spoilers but the ending wasn't the ending I wanted, or the ending I'd have chosen if I was Suzanne Collins. However, I strangely felt it was the right ending for the characters.

This review isn't to say that the trilogy is all action, action, action. Oh, no. There is a love triangle right at the centre of the plot, and unlike the majority of love triangles in novels, I genuinely couldn't predict who would end up with who. While there were no long, steamy romance scenes, you get more of a sense that the characters care for one another, which is sometimes lacking in books aimed at this age group. 

I'm still working out how I feel about the novels, but isn't it the mark of a great book that you're left thinking about it long after you've put it down? I would recommend The Hunger Games Trilogy to absolutely anyone and I would defy them not to be entranced and enthralled.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Released: 2nd March 2010
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 470
Buy The Book: Amazon

"What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life? Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last. Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing."

This book is a surprising, heart-wrenching mixture of Groundhog Day, The Lovely Bones and every girly teen movie you've ever seen. I wasn't sure what to expect on picking it up, and don't get me wrong, the first half wasn't exactly riveting. When it got to day three or four, the format of the novel started to get a little bit stale. Until this point, characters seem like overblown cliches of typical high school stereotypes and the plot doesn't seem to have any direction.

When the storyline really kicks in, however, and the main character, Sam, realises what she must do, the book really comes into it's own. The rest of the supporting characters become more believable as we delve into their secrets and it becomes more obvious what Sam is going to have to do to put things right and cross over into whatever afterlife she might be in for. 

Parts of the dialogue were cringeworthy, with terrible attempts at banter between the four girls, but then I realised - weren't we all like that in high school? A little bit embarrassing, trying to act older than we really were, coming out with sentences we wouldn't dream of saying now? Lauren Oliver got this down to a tee, getting right into the teenage mindset and reminding me vividly of my own school days. The last section of the book, days six and seven, really saved it from being purely average and I couldn't put it down by this point (even when experiencing extreme travel-sickness on a coach through Albania... yes, really!).

I'd like to read more of Lauren Oliver's material, maybe something aimed at an older audience. I'd recommend this book to anyone in or just leaving high school, although tissues may be required towards the end!