THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins [Book 1 of 2011]

I’ve been meaning to read THE HUNGER GAMES for a while now. Not only is Ms. Collins a fellow screenwriter-turned-novelist, but also everybody’s talking about this series, including our own Amy Brown and Gudrun Cram-Drach. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on a little book called THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins.

Why I Decided To Read It: I’m not a bandwagon sort of gal — except when it comes to reading. If everybody’s talking about a novel, sooner or later I’m going to read it. That’s just how I roll. But in this case, I’m glad I managed to resist THE HUNGER GAMES for as long as I did. I can’t imagine being an early adopter and actually having to wait for the next book.

What’s It About: THE HUNGER GAMES can basically be summed up as LORD OF THE FLIES meets AMERICAN IDOL meets THE LOTTERY, except with a fantastic heroine named Katniss. In a dystopian future, there are 12 districts, from which the names of 24 ¬†twelve to eighteen-year-olds boys and girls are randomly drawn to compete in a to-the-death match called THE HUNGER GAMES every year. When our main character’s sister is called, she volunteers to take her place. Complications arise, however, when her fellow District 12 “tribute” Peeta, starts playing games with her heart — dangerous stuff, since they’re supposed to you know, kill each other and all that.

What Makes It Different: Unlike TWILIGHT’s Bella Swan, there is much to be admired about this main character. She’s plucky yet grim, a complete realization of her back story. And not once did I think she was being an idiot. That’s an almost unfamiliar feeling for me when it comes to way girls (especially white ones) are depicted in YA literature.

What I Loved: The writing was spare, to-the-point, yet poetic. I had to control the urge not to throw my own laptop across the room in a fit of jealousy, since that’s technically what I’m aiming for (but rarely achieve) with my own writing. Plus, talk about suspense. I stayed on the edge of my seat from page one. Also, I greatly admired Collins ability to make us think without shoving politics down our throats (ala Jonathan Franzen). I bet everyone who reads this book will have trouble watching AMERICAN IDOL or even a football game without a twinge of guilt from now on. Oh, and the world building was just seamless. I’m still trying to figure out how she pulled it off. Seriously, if this book doesn’t get added to middle and high-school syllabuses across the nation, we’re doing our youth a huge disservice.

Two more things: The audiobook narrator, Carolyn McCormick, is the em-effin bizness — and weirdly enough sounds a lot like my agent, Sarah Jane Freymann. Go figure. Also, unlike another fan favorites (like TWILIGHT and THE PASSAGE), you can get THE HUNGER GAMES for the usual 1 credit (as opposed to two) on Audible.com.

What I Didn’t Like: Well, this is not so much about the writing, and more about THE HUNGER GAMES movie that’s in development right now. I cannot see Hollywood not effing this up. First of all, you’re not going to find a Katniss among our Disney-trained stable of teen actresses. I’d recommend expanding the search to England, but I doubt that will happen. Also, I just know that an American studio is going to do a lot of things that just pisses me off, like keep the actresses hair at full-gloss despite the fact that she only takes like one bath during the entirety of the Hunger Games … or give her perfect capped white teeth, although she’s supposedly been malnourished since childhood. On one hand, I think America’s teens need a main character like this in their lives after a 21st century with only a gloomy Bella Swan and underappreciated Hermione to represent for the teen girls at the movies. On the other hand, I wonder why THE HUNGER GAMES can’t just remain what it is: a darn near-perfect book.

Writing Lessons Learned:

If your story is compelling, your language doesn’t have to do much stunt work. A lot of writers think that you have to write beautifully to be a great writer, but in actuality all you have to do is know how to tell a good story without getting in your own way. So the next time you get caught up with saying the perfect thing in the perfect way, go back to telling your story. Seriously, story first, writing second.

Movie structure rocks. Like I said earlier, Collins was a screenwriter before she turned her hand to novel-writing. And the structure of this book is on movie point. If you’re struggling with a sagging middle, you’ll be doing yourself and your readers all sorts of favors by picking up a book on screenwriting structure.

Make your characters make choices. One of the really interesting things Collins does in THE HUNGER GAME is present her main character with choices at every turn. Katniss isn’t chosen for the lottery, she has to choose to volunteer in place of her sister. She isn’t at the mercy of her drunkard mentor, she has to choose whether to trust him at every turn. It’s a great device and ensures that Katniss drives the story at all times. Are your characters making choices are being dragged along with the story? Both methods have their pluses, but if you want to build a strong character, consider having her or him making strong choices.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Book: Anyone Who Is Or Has Ever Been On A Reality Show, LORD OF THE FLIES Fans, AMERICAN IDOL Fans, Sports Fans, Teenage Girls, Amy Robinson and Survivalists (this entire book makes a good case for archery skills, and I’m seriously thinking about going back to my Girl Scout Camp roots and picking up the bow and arrow again).