Tag Archives: The Hunger Games

Why You Should Always Read the Book First

the giver bookWhen I was in elementary and middle school I was the level reader snob that competed in an annual competition called “Battle of the Books.” For thos unfamiliar, BoB as we affectionately called it, was a competition where students had the entire school year to read a list of 20 or so books, or as many of them as they could. Then they would compete in a team against other schools in their district by answering questions that always began with “In which book…” Three points if you could correctly identify which of the 20 books and the author the questioned event came from. Two points if you only got the title correct or answered the question after the first team didn’t give the right answer. The team with the highest cumulative total of points at the end of the day wins. It’s basically a wet dream for library rats who have a penchant for trivia.

Battle of the Books is responsible for me discovering many of my childhood favorite books, some of which are sitting on the book shelf next to me because I couldn’t bear to part with them even during a 3,000 mile move away from my parents’ house. Ella Enchanted, Lily’s Crossing, Trumpet of the Swan all top the list. And then there was The Giver. The Giver is a book by Lois Lowry (Number the Stars) set in the future when humans have created a way to eliminate suffering by basically suppressing all basic human emotion. People are assigned their role in the Community when they are 12 years old and are to accept it without question. When Tobias is assigned to be the Receiver of Memory he learns the truth about human history and how to feel – and it begins to make him question things in the Community. Soon his probing begins to unravel the very fabric of the existence he’s known his entire life.

I was in 4th grade when it was first put on the list. It’s insane now to think about reading that book at 9 years old considering how it grapples with death, sex and that bit at the end (spoiler alert) about forced abortions. I read it again in middle school when my ability to comprehend the underlying messages of the book was a little more advanced. I re-purchased it recently when I heard they were turning it into a film. The trailer for that film premiered today:

And it concerns me. It’s not just a feeling of “Oh god, the movie is never going to live up to the book.” (Please see: The DaVinci Code, most Stephen King novels etc). I know why The Giver was finally produced now despite being around for a couple decades. The time is ripe for dystopian young adult literature. ‘Sup The Hunger Games and Divergent. I see you hanging out over there too, The Maze Runner. The difference is that TGH, Divergent and The Maze Runner work on a broader scope – their worlds are so large they demanded cinematic attention. And, not to put any of them down because they are all great series (Okay, The Maze Runner has some sexism issues but that’s another blog entirely), but their messages are pretty direct. The Hunger Games is separate but equal isn’t equal with a bit of commentary on the inevitable corruption of oligarchies (There could also be another blog on the essential facts that were left out of the first film that dulled Suzanne Collins brilliant writing, but again that’s another blog). Divergent is about finding your identity and the freedom to be more than one thing. The Maze Runner focuses on the importance of working together and finding yourself in the face of adversity.

The Giver’s message is more opaque though. It’s hidden in the memories that Tobias receives from his mentor. The fact that the first half of the film isn’t shot in black and white and then transitions to color as Tobias learns more about the Community’s shared history is a big red flag. That’s a huge part of the novel – that being emotionless may lead to a more colorful life but also a grey one. As Tobias starts to fill in the colors, that’s also how he begins to find the truth. The trailer seems to focus more on the adventure aspect of the book – which is really only the last couple of chapters. Can you really show Eric from True Blood killing babies to a young adult audience and maintain a PG-13 rating? Are you going to be able to do it in a way the depravity of this way of life despite it being founded in the name of human preservation? Despite my high hopes with actors like Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep backing this, the fact there’s an alien like space ship chasing Tobias to close out the trailer doesn’t make me that optimistic anymore. (Did I mention that Taylor Swift is making a cameo in this movie? Yeah, that’s a thing.) It seems to me that film companies were just trying to cash in on the Young Adult angst craze making crazy tons of money at the box office these days at the sake of great literary works of art.

The movie junkie in me is hoping that they do it right. The cautious book nerd is saying don’t take any chances – read the book first.

Thursday Morning Melody: I Want You Back (Cover)

The first cassette tape I ever listened to was by the Jackson 5. My dad would drive us around in his 1992 Toyota Corolla and we’d sing all the classics. The first song on the tape was “I Want You Back” and it was my favorite. It was the first of the Jackson 5 four consecutive Number 1s on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching the summit in 1968. That song had a foundational impact on my childhood and will forever hold a spot in my heart.

You should know how important the song was to me before I introduce this video so you know exactly what it means when I say this cover is even better than the original. That isn’t said lightly (I don’t say anything about Michael Jackson lightly). You’ve probably heard of The Civil Wars from their song “Poison & Wine” or “Safe & Sound” from The Hunger Games soundtrack. They are a folk/country western duo comprised of guitarist John Paul White and singer Joy Williams. Their harmonies are downright haunting, and John’s stripped down, acoustic take of this classic will give you goosebumps. The original was an upbeat pop anthem, but The Civil Wars transformed it into a compelling, melancholy break up tribute that will break your heart.

You can watch a live version of the cover here:

I apologize if this is your first introduction to The Civil Wars since they recently broke up over creative differences. Their debut album “Barton Hollow” is worth a serious listen though.

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Have a song that inspires or moves you? Submit it to our Thursday Morning Melody column in the comments below!

3 Young Adult Books that Will Make You a Better Grown Up

The third week of October is annually celebrated as “Teen Read Week.” Since young adult fiction is in a golden age and having a large impact on our mainstream media (see: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, etc) we thought we’d take a look at the section of the book store you normally leave to teenage girls.

NYT Best-selling author John Green says he has no interest in writing about adults because they are too cautious with their emotions. By writing stories about teenagers Green is able to ask and answer the tough questions directly without having to duck around the bush – teenagers go all in when it comes to their hearts and their curiosity. Through those qualities we as adults are able to be more honest with ourselves as to the questions we have about life, love, and the world we live in. Hence the reason for this list. Actually, speaking of John Green, let’s start with him.

 

1.) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.faultinourstarsbookcover

Story:  Hazel Grace Lancaster has terminal cancer. Though doctors have miraculously found a way to stop the disease from spreading she knows she only has a limited time left and her life is defined by being a cancer patient. That’s until she meets Augustus Waters. They fall in love, go on an adventure and break your heart in every conceivable way. Obvious warning: keep a box of Kleenex with you at all times while reading this book.

Why you should read it: If you think about it, we all have the same death sentence as Hazel, hers is just sooner than most of ours. Still, Hazel’s decision to live her life to her fullest capability no matter if she has a few months, days or weeks left is inspiring. TFiOS isn’t about cancer, it’s about life. It’s about lowering our defenses to allow the important people in our lives to <i>really</i> matter. It’s about letting yourself to feel – the good, the bad, all of it – because if you don’t it doesn’t matter when your terminal date is, you’re not living anyway.

Similar reads: “Looking for Alaska” – John Green, “Everyday” – David Levithan  & “You Know Where to Find Me” – Rachel Cohn

 

the-hunger-games-wallpaper-logo-2560x16002.) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Story: To pay for the sins of uprisers 74 years before them, the citizens of the Panem districts must nominate one boy and one girl every year to participate in the Hunger Games – a sadistic, caged battle to the death for those unlucky enough to be chosen until only one “victor” remains. Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute for District 12 to save her sister Primrose from having to go in. As Katniss does everything she can to survive, she unknowingly sparks a revolution that could bring her entire system of life to its knees.

Why you should read it:  There is the obvious argument that by not reading these books (seeing the movies isn’t the same!) you are literally living under a rock. There is more to it than being pop-culturally relevant though. “The Hunger Games” is a story of human nature – how if we go unchecked humans have a disgusting habit of letting our egos destroy ourselves. By sparking the revolution Katniss has an inside look at how societies corrupt themselves, and has to find the strength within herself to stop the cycle from repeating. Most of us can’t relate to toppling governments or taking down dictators, but we can all learn something from breaking negative patterns and making choices to provide ourselves, and those we care about, with a better life.

Similar reads: “Divergent” – Veronica Roth & “The Maze Runner” – James Dashner

 

3.) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellEleanorPark_thumb

Story: Eleanor is invited back to live with her mother after being kicked out by her abusive step-father for over a year. Every day she has to struggle to stay under the radar from his rage, while protecting her younger siblings and begging their mother to leave. Her life at home and her family’s complete lack of budget make it difficult for her to fit in at school – to the point Eleanor just wants to be invisible. Instead, she meets Park who shares his seat with her on the bus. It starts as a casual sharing of comic books so neither of them has to talk but inevitably they fall in love, and so starts the mission to save Eleanor from her hell at home and for Park to truly find himself.

Why you should read it:  It’s easy to be cynical of teenage love stories. They are too young to know better, right? “Eleanor & Park” proves that teenage naivety actually allows teenagers to fall deep enough into love to find strength and change the world, or at least the world around them. The beautiful thing about Eleanor and Park as characters is that they aren’t perfect. She isn’t a shy and clumsy, but strikingly beautiful damsel in distress. Park isn’t the smarter-than-he-wants-everyone-to-know athlete who gives a chance to the new girl. They have flaws, large ones. They have problems that are even bigger. There’s a quote that says “Love isn’t finding the perfect person, it’s seeing an imperfect person perfectly.” And these kids nail it on the first try. “Eleanor & Park” teaches us to love as deep as we can, no matter how scary it is. It’s a book about trust and inner strength and you find the people who will matter the most to you by being yourself.  By falling in love Eleanor and Park stop trying to blend in and allow themselves to really be seen for the first time.

Similar reads: “The Spectacular Now” – Tim Tharp & “Paper Towns” –  John Green

This is by no means a definitive list. What are your favorite young adult books? Was it “Catcher in the Rye” or something newer? Tell us in the comments below!

Oh, Mockingjay, Why Doth Thou Mock Me? A (Slightly Snarky) Book Review.

Seriously, Suzanne Collins? Seriously? 

Like any other warm blooded, YA-loving, post-apocalyptic girl, I was waiting all summer with my finger poised over my amazon.com "order" button for your book. All June and July, I was dreaming of your take-no-prisoners, arrow slinging teenage heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and her two possible suitors: the stalwart miner-by-day hunter-by-night Gale, and the gentle croissant maker turned scary reality show contestant Peeta.

I shot a couple of arrows at a fair and for about half a second, felt very Katniss-like. My (adult) friends and I engaged in all sorts of ridiculous SAT style word games on your characters’ behalf: Gale is to Peeta as Han Solo is to blank? (Luke Skywalker, of course. See this hilarious post from Forever Young Adult for more similar silliness.)

I was all aquiver (pun intended) with anticipation, imagining what delightful reality TV-inspired machinations you might create in your spookily possible futuristic world of ‘the hunger games’ – where the downtrodden districts willingly send their children off to an all televised gladiator-style fight to the death for the amusement of the ruling Capitol. Your final book was in my mind no less than a documentation of a social justice movement – the downtrodden rising up against their overly plastic surgeried oppressors, Katniss taking her place as the Mockingjay, a symbol of rebellion and freedom. (I even hummed a few bars of Do you hear the people sing from Les Miserables as I wrote this)

So what the heck happened? Agreed, Mockingjay is chock full of accessible writing and fastpaced action. I see glimmers of my belovedHunger Games and Catching Fire – that fine balance you are able to strike between teenage angst and morbid homicidal detail. But here are some of the bones I have to pick with you, dear Sue: 

1. A whole lotta angry and crazy: Without giving any spoilers, many of the main (and even not so main) characters of Mockingjay are either a. angry, b. crazy, or c. angry AND crazy for a lot of the bookWhile I admit, they have a lot to be both crazy and angry about – what with a civil war and food shortages and all — the fury and insanity got a little tedious. It was as if Mockingjay needed a mood makeover from some of the frothyover the top television producers and stylists from the previous books – I bet Cinna or Effie could pretty up all that dark lunacy.

2. A lack of snark: Speaking of those frothy television personalities, part of the reason the first two books of the series work so well is that they are in fact snarky, tongue in cheek re-imaginings of current day reality television. Without that snark factor, this is just a story about teenagers getting their limbs chopped off. And that never made for good prime-time.

3. A lack of arena: Part of the charm of your previous books was the incredible detail you give to your gaming ‘arenas’. The dead victors faces projected in the night sky, the hallucination-inducing insects, the cornucopia full of weapons, etc. Without such a ‘center’ I felt lost in Mockingjay – your descriptions of The Capitol-as-arena fell short for me, too superficial, too lacking in detail, too quickly glossed over.

4. The mom is such a weenie: I suspended my disbelief as I read your other books, accepting that parents of the oppressed districts would somehow allow their children to enter a televised killing field – created for the amusement of the ruling Capitol. (You can find a similar argument here at League of Extraordinary Writers). But in your third book, the two dimensionality of the adult characters has reached an all time high. I understand the mom had to be a serious weenie for the readers to buy that she would allow her daughter to enter the games to begin with; yet, the maternal weenie-dom of Mockingjay is almost too much for this reader mom to bear. 

5. The Deus Ex Machina factor: Ok, again, don’t want to give a major spoiler, but let me say this. A long ago writing teacher of mine once told me that at some point in the writing process, all writers get bored of their own characters. At this time, it suddenly seems like a good idea to conclude that all of the book was in fact a dream, or to have a space ship come in and sweep everyone off to some other planet. He urged me to avoid the delectable temptation of sticking all my characters in a plane, and, say, making the plane go down in a fiery ball just because I couldn’t think of another way to end the misery of my own story. Now, do I think that Suzanne Collins has succumbed to this urge? Uh, do parties at the Capitol serve purgatives in fancy glasses? (the answer is yes.. and the airplane thing is just a metaphor, for those who haven’t read the book yet)

[And I won’t even get into the issues of race and class – Mitali Perkins wrote a lovely blog post last year about how ‘postracial’ these books try to be and yet, everyone is blonde (Peeta, Prim) or at least grey/light eyed (Katniss). Have there been a central people of color in the series since Rue and Thresh?]

 

So, Mockingjay fans, go at it. Tell me I’m wrong. Convince me that rage and lunacy do make a good story. I for one could do with more froth, snark, and fun.

 


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