I didn’t really like YA fiction even when I was a teenager. I skipped straight from Enid Blyton to Tolkien. And I’ll admit, I find myself, unconsciously, being a bit snobbish about them. My biggest problem is that they are so emphatically WRITTEN FOR TEENAGERS that they’re full of inaccurate slang and girls mooning over the myriad choices of featureless boyfriends. Twilight, as much as I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, fell into that category (mind you, the House of Night series is exactly like this and it’s still hugely enjoyable.) They also tend to become bandwagons–and I don’t like climbing on late. To the point where I saw the film of Hunger Games before I read the book. It was the film that persuaded me to watch it–it’s a decent slice of bleak dystopian action that doesn’t pull as many punches as I expected.
So, here’s the thing. The book is bloody fantastic.
There are countless reviews all over the internet, so I’ll keep it pretty brief. It’s suspenseful, pretty much the whole way through, and dark in a way that doesn’t seem watered down for its audience. The world of Panem is drawn well without ever feeling like exposition, and the Big Brother parallels are subtle enough not to tip it into satire. Katniss is a worthy heroine — tough, likeable and not in any way simpering. Surprising that a whole generation of readers are identifying with a girl capable of shooting, skinning and eating raw rabbits. We’re not out of the realm of ‘which boy shall I pick’ but the aspect of competition-to-the-death keeps it interesting and benefits hugely from Katniss’ inability to notice her own feelings, even though the reader can see them plainly. Peeta himself is not an all-American hero that is so much more attractive for being vulnerable than any sparkly vampire/breathes-and-shirt-flies-off werewolf. I am hankering after the sequel more excitedly than I can remember any follow-up since His Dark Materials.
And as for the accusations of a ‘Battle Royale’ rip-off. Well… yes, I can see it, but you do have to reduce it to its basics. ‘Battle Royale’ is great–but it’s mostly gore-porn horror. The Hunger Games is a lot more cerebral and psychological–and I’ve concluded that there is every chance I might be one of the ‘meak and gentle until they eat the beating heart’ tributes. Maybe.