Feature: The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire
This month, I am looking at a book that has gripped me and millions of others. It's also set to be a massive blockbuster when hits the big screen in November this year.
The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire is part of The Hunger Games trilogy, an awe-inspiring YA dystopian epic that has sold millions of copies and has also captured the imagination of a generation. Superbly written, the trilogy has an almost fanatical following amongst readers of almost every age and background, all of whom identify with the story and characters and often for markedly different reasons.
The Hunger Games. Set in the ruins of a future North America, the starving and brutalised citizens of Panem's twelve districts are ruled by the small, wealthy elite of the Capitol. Every year, in penance for a long-ago uprising, Panem's twelve districts must each select two children to be sent to the Capitol. There, in a televised pageant known as the Hunger Games, all twenty four must fight to the death until only a lone survivor remains. When 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her sister's place in the Games, she's sure that she won't come back alive. However, Katniss has always been a survivor, and will defy both the odds and also the Capitol itself in order to survive. However, this doesn't pass unnoticed and even as a victor, there will be a terrible price to pay.... (YouTube Trailer here)
In The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen's survival and public defiance of the Capitol have sparked unrest across the country. Katniss has become a visible symbol of resistance to the Capitol's authority but with the lives of her family hanging in the balance, she must now act exactly how the Capitol want her to. Forced to participate in the annual Victory tour, Katniss has no idea of the Capitol's plan to quell the unrest, one which will eliminate any sign or symbol of rebellion. However when the 75th annual Hunger Games are announced, their Capitol's intentions become clear. Katniss, along with the other victors, have been selected for the Games and all of them must go into the arena again... (YouTube Trailers #1 here and #2 here)
The Hunger Games Phenomenon
Many people have identified with the characters of The Hunger Games and for many different, and contrasting reasons.
16 year old Katniss Everdeen is certainly one of them. While most teenage girl heroines priorities revolved around looks and boyfriends, Katniss' are more straightforward: she has to keep her family alive. Brave, indomitable, self-reliant, Katniss is a born-survivor. Like Stieg Larsson's Lizabet Salander, Katniss is also loner but unlike Salander, one driven not by rage or bitterness but an innate humanity and a desire to protect. She is prepared to give up her life to defend others, and it is exactly this quality that makes her so compelling.
However another reason for it's popularity may be because of it makes us simply re-evaluate the world around us. The books aren't intended be allegorical but it's impossible to avoid comparing our own world with Collins' Panem. In it, we see the divide between obscenely rich and desperately poor, and with it, how both can corrode and dehumanize. We also see where the obsession with wealth and celebrity leads (in the end, to the complete absence of compassion and negation of humanity).
The need to survive, escape poverty while retaining our humanity are things that all resonate with us, especially in today's harsh economic times. And yet with it, too, there is the constant pressure to conform, and to be popular. In the Hunger Games and Catching Fire, these are taken to their logical extremes. For children selected to participate in the Games, staying alive isn't just confined to the arena but plays out in TV chat shows. In them, contestants need to attract wealthy sponsors who will help them survive, while the rest of the Capitol bet on which ones will die. In this context, being good-looking and popular, isn't just important, its literally a matter of life-or-death.
However in Catching Fire, Katniss isn't the only one who has to choose between survival and retaining her humanity. Both in the arena and out of it, all the other characters must now make their choice and decide exactly what they are willing to sacrifice. In doing so, we are propelled along with them and, so much so, that their struggle becomes our own.
I treasure this book - in fact, I treasure the whole trilogy - because it combines all three things that I really value: superb writing, a superb story that makes you think and characters one can really, truly identify with.
If you buy any books this year, my personal recommendation would be: make it The Hunger Games.