– If you didn’t get a chance to visit The Eclectic Artist’s Cave last week, I’ve posted my Writer Wednesday piece (less than 1000 words), I Spy, with My Little Eye, here on my website under “Free Fiction by Paul.” Love to hear your thoughts.
What does the future hold?
After rave reviews of my first author interview with Carole Gill, I’m pleased to announce that next Friday I will be posting my interview with Hunter Shea, author of the recently released novel Forest of Shadows. He has some great answers to my first six questions, and I switched up the seventh this time for Halloween with nice results.
But without further ado…
I heard about The Hunger Games from my stepdaughter. Which is a good thing on many levels. For as long as I’ve known her (just over seven years), she has always been a 4.0 student. But one thing I was saddened to see in the early years was that she wasn’t a big reader. Her mother and I had recommended a few books, but she never really picked anything up.
Until Twilight came along. And lemme tell ya, she burned through the whole series and went on to read Meyers’ The Host, as well. Now, before any booing and hissing, let me just say that I have heard all the criticisms (including from my wife who read the first book after her daughter’s show of enthusiasm), but as far as I was concerned, who cares? She was reading. And with a passion. Not necessarily passion for Team Edward (fortunately, she’s not one of those boy-crazy teens), but just for an interesting story that was written with her age bracket in mind.
I guess this is really what YA fiction is, so before I go much further, I’ll just pose a question (which I’m forming into a longer post for the future). Do we evaluate YA literature with the same critical eye with which we evaluate adult literature?
(update: For more on this, see comments from “gerb” (author Linda Gerber) and my response below)
Because for me, even if there were some serious flaws in Twilight, my stepdaughter was finding a love for reading. I just had to hope that as she read more, she would become more discerning (And as a bit of post script, she has made it through Stephen King’s It, which is no small feat).
And this will segue nicely into my overall feelings for The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
From Amazon.com (if you didn’t already know):
In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch.
When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.
My overall opinion on The Hunger Games is that while there were some things I wasn’t crazy about as a reader or a writer, I believe it will survive the test of time for a good bit longer than Twilight will (as a high school teacher, I’ve already noted how less often I’ve seen kids reading Twilight than even last year). Will it have the lasting power of Harry Potter? Only time will tell.
My likes and dislikes (which often go hand-in-hand):
1- My biggest gripe deals with point of view.
The point of view was first person, present tense. Right off the bat, I was a little disappointed. While I recognized that it was a YA novel, the author had just given up the fact that the main character is going to survive.
If the narrator dies in the end, how the hell are we getting the story? The movie American Beauty comes to mind as pulling this off, but that movie was brilliant on multiple levels (and they tell you from the very beginning why it’s going to work).
Next, there’s the fact that Collins chose present tense verb usage (as opposed to most stories being told using past tense).
Let me say that as a writer, using present tense for a whole novel is a bold choice.
Writers (including myself) like to use present tense because it gives a story a sense of urgency and immediacy (even though the weird thing is that as readers, we feel just as much a part of the action in a story told using past tense). However, as a reader, present tense can get exhausting. So stretching it out for a full novel is a gamble.
2- But Collins combined these two things to her advantage.
For one, while present tense is often clunky or disjointed in the hands of… well, most of us writers, I’d say… there were only a few points in the story where it felt awkward to me. That’s a skill.
But more importantly, maybe if you combine first person with present tense, you can have narrator who dies in the end. And it can be even more powerful because the reader essentially dies with the character.
I wasn’t guessing this to be the case with The Hunger Games, but at least there was now more of a technical, writerly possibility.
3- Name choice was interesting.
Two of the characters in a book with already unique names were Cinna and Portia, Essentially, these two characters were the designers of Katniss’s new look and warrior personality.
Both of these names are also characters in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. I don’t know if this is intentional or not. While there is definitely a Roman Empire feel to Capitol City (whether in its glory or its decline), I didn’t see any other reason there should be this allusion. But who knows? I still need to read the next two books.
On a side note (but still kind of important I think), I wasn’t crazy about the main characters’ names. But I would say to watch in the next 5-8 years for an increase in girls named Katniss.
4- I also struggled with Katniss as a character.
SPOILER ALERT… MAYBE.
So the two main characters are supposed to be carrying on this charade of being attracted to each other, but practically up to the very end, Katniss wonders if Peeta is actually interested in her. I struggled with this. She seems relatively intelligent and savvy in most other cases regarding people and survival in general, yet she seems obtuse in relation to what seems very obvious to the reader… at least by the end of the book.
Now again, with two more books, maybe it will be revealed that Peeta has been acting this whole time, but again, probably not. So while I may have wondered along with her toward the beginning, I started to get annoyed as she kept up the same oblivious doubts by the end.
5- There was enough good horrific content to keep the horror writer in me entertained.
There is some great content throughout reminiscent of stories by Stephen King and the real life tales of Ancient Roman entertainment, but to top all of that…
DEFINITE SPOILER ALERT.
In the end when they discover that the game makers had turned the dead kids into some sort of freakish wolf-thing… well, that was a brilliant little horrific way to wrap up the first book.
So there it is. While I wasn’t so taken by it that I immediately picked up the second in the series, I definitely will at some point.
What do I want from you?
What are your thoughts on The Hunger Games? Or the state of YA literature in general?
As a side note, can you think of any successful stories where a first person narrator doesn’t make it to the end of the story?
And don’t forget to check back next week for “Seven Questions with Hunter Shea.”
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