will the REAL hunger games please stand up?

when i was a young thing there was the catcher in the rye, which was squarely ‘teen’, and the bell jar which might just have been *me* (if you know what i mean). there was no such thing as Young Adult fiction. as i left my teens behind, paul zindel came onto the horizon, and i read him avidly. but then i grew up, and had no reason to follow the story arc of how YA fiction plumped itself out into becoming a whole genre. i did read one harry potter book to see what all the fuss was about, and watched the first film. that was easily enough for me. then his dark materials came out, and i considered that a proper read, but i was still not really aware of the YA phenomena.

so, fast forward, then, to the hunger games trilogy. i enjoyed the spare writing style, which i imagine might be common to the genre, and the story itself was so strong it really didn’t need gilding. and i know i am not the only person who thinks that the first book should have been the end of the story. it leaves the future to the imagination, and a sense of ambiguity which would have been a good – this is what adulthood is like. of course, i greedily wanted to consume the other two books, and i did enjoy them, but i still think that in terms of literary merit and story arc she should have left us hanging and left books two and three on the cutting room floor.

and that, gentle reader, is ALL i have to say about the formal characteristics of the books. what became apparent during the read was that there was going to be a lot more to say about the politics in the book than the story itself.

while i was reading the first book i found myself thinking about kazuo ishiguro’s never let me go and the remains of the day. both of which have been made into excellent feature films.

the trailer for never let me go

the trailer for the remains of the day

and it’s not as if the politics of reproduction were off the agenda either here in the UK or in the USA, of late. abortion is a stand alone issue, for the time being, in the uk, whereas the recent arguments in the usa have even broader implications to do with cancer screening and access to contraception. by the way, i thought this article was particularly good.

however, it was not this set of issues that got attention in the mainstream media. no. it was something that isn’t even directly addressed in the book. it was the issue of race – specifically, the casting of rue in the feature film.


this kind of sideblinded me, since i hadn’t seen the film, and the book simply describes the skin/hair/eyes rather than ascribing them to a ‘race’ as such. it would seem pretty obvious, that if the population of panem is what is left of the USA, then unless race itself were the cause of the uprising, then whoever is left would be broadly the same racial mix as in today’s society. mind you, much as i have loved watching the walking dead, the one black character in that series gets roughly zero storylines, so i couldn’t stay surprised. the transparency of race in the book rather highlights how far society has to go, in it’s realization into a visual media.

i was warned by a fellow reader that i might find books two and three a bit extra to requirements, and it doesn’t help that it takes a while for the storyline to take off in the second book. i was listening to them as audio books, and at some point i found myself scrolling through tumblr while i listened. this led me to my next thematic interest. after i had exhausted my usual feed of art and animal pictures i went to ‘explore tumblr’ and started scrolling through an infinity of #fashion tagged posts.

the parade of waifs in insane outfits started to work on me. and from time to time there would be posts about anorexia and model’s deaths due to suicide and heart attack. i started to view the images i was looking at through the lens of the book.

the commodification of women’s bodies in late capitalism tipped over into a real hunger games story, for me. skinny girls wearing immobilizing clothes and accessories that their peers could never afford. and epitomizing a visual ideal which most people cannot achieve. i read this article in teen vogue which opens with;

“When I heard about the $34,000 alligator backpack that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen created for their label The Row, my first thought was, Are they insane? A few days later I clicked on a fashion news website only to read that the pricey bag had flown off the shelves. After that, I couldn’t get that elusive backpack out of my mind. Who was the lucky girl who could afford such an indulgence?”

so, anyway, this is hardly news. but the books are threaded with themes that could take the reader’s thoughts anywhere. and it is rare enough for popular fiction to be so openly political and critical.

just after i had finished reading i read this piece by my friend charlie bertch. it’s a better review than mine, and, heroically, manages to stick to the theme of the politics of hunger.

/end serious book review. back soon with more rubbish about dogs and everyday life.


24 thoughts on “will the REAL hunger games please stand up?

    1. really? that’s interesting. she does use the present tense a lot, which feels alright on the ear, but i can imagine it grating on the eye – was that what you found odd?

            1. yes. i am not sure why she chose to do that, exactly.

              i scooted through to your blog – i’ve never read fan fiction before, i’d be interested if you did write some hunger games stuff. funny you should mention scripts, i was thinking i’d like to write a stage play based on it, which is an idea i don’t often get from reading a book. i guess i’d like to see how it could be staged more than how it could be filmed. now that we have such good cgi it’s not hard to imagine a film, but a play would be quite tricky to do. the limitations would be interesting.

                1. wouldn’t there be copyright issues?

                  as i think about it, i find myself less interested in the idea of writing and more interested in the staging issues. i have an actor neighbour, it’d be fun to write with him.

                  1. Fan fics? Nah.. as long as I dont make money for it. I write them as practice.

                    My originals shouldnt have copyright issues.. unless i have a split personality. LOL

                    Stage directing? Cool! Its always good to have actor friends… though, most stage actors dont really have a clue on what goes down behind the stage.

                    1. happily, he is part of an actor’s collective, and they all take turns in being director or stage manager as well as acting. he’s had a lot of broader theatrical experience, so he’s interested in the whole staging of something, not just playing a part. our conversations are wide and rambling. he has a little recording booth at home and he encouraged me to record this meditation http://soundcloud.com/elaine4queen/elaine-guidedmeditation-01 and edited it for me.
                      it’s great having a creative neighbour. i think we get a lot from each other.

                    2. well, especially for me to have one NEXT DOOR since i don’t get out and about like i used to.

                      most of my friends are pretty creative, but BUSY.

  1. Hee! Was I the reader that encouraged you to stop?

    Regardless, I liked the way the first one ended, and believed that it was by far the strongest in the series.

    I felt that by continuing the story, it kind of devolved into this BIZARRE YA LOVE TRIANGLE, which is all too common, and that brought the whole series down (for me).

    Anyway, I’m glad you liked them, but also glad you had the same reservations about the sequels as I did.

    1. why yes, i believe it may have been you – if i’d have been sure i’d have namechecked you. i really think that the ending of the first one was strong and the third WEAK WEAK WEAK.

      i didn’t know the love triangle was big in the YA world. it was by far the dullest element to the story.

  2. I love all the big, important themes you got out of these. I think I glossed over them. I don’t know why! I usually read more into things. I guess I was broken this time around.

    The Rue race thing infuriated me. Even more so – imagine being the poor actress who played Rue, and wanting to enjoy your 15 minutes of fame – and then the vitriol comes out over your skin color ruining the movie. I’m embarrassed for us as a human race, sometimes, you know? How about we concentrate on her acting. How was her ACTING? Did THAT ruin the movie? Because I read the book, and I don’t remember the author saying that Rue was a blonde, blue-eyed farmgirl from Iowa, or something. USE YOUR IMAGINATION, VIEWERS.

    1. i know. i didn’t really think about it that much, but you are right. poor girl. and she’s so young, too. she must be feeling quite confused. i hope her parents and agent or whoever are able to handle it well for her, i expect they were sideblinded too by this.

  3. I haven’t read The Hunger Games, but your comments on it remind me of my mother’s maxim that series always go one book too many (or, the last book in a series is always a dud).

    1. makes me wonder whether she originally intended to write a trilogy or whether she just did it because the first book was popular.

      as an avid completist i often watch tv series to the bitter end, and they very often ‘jump the shark’ way before curtain.

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