Friday, October 22, 2010

Visit the country of Panem - and be grateful you can leave!

Every summer, I try and read as many of the Young Hoosier Book Award Nominees as I can. There are always 20 of them, and they are usually entertaining, sometimes thought-provoking books. I read them to try and stay at least somewhat current with what my students are reading.

This year, THE HUNGER GAMES is on the list. Published in 2008, I'd never heard of it until I saw it on the list. I didn't get to it over the summer. I might not have gotten to it at all - shame on me! - if my teacher's assistant (who's a freshman) hadn't raved about it and told me I HAD to read it. She was right.

THE HUNGER GAMES is the first in a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy that is so well-written, and so feasible that I didn't want to put any of them down once I'd started them. The concept behind them is so original, the characters so well drawn, the suspense palpable enough to turn the pages itself, that I seriously cannot recommend these books highly enough.

The gist of the story is this: At some point in the not-so-distant future, North America is ravaged by storms, droughts, and fires, and the oceans steal much of our coastal regions. Wars erupt in an effort to survive, and out of the wars comes Panem, a country of thirteen districts ruled by the Capitol. For a while, there is peace, until the Dark Days come and the districts rebel against the Capital. District 13 is destroyed in the rebellion, which the Capitol eventually squashes, and the remaining twelve districts exist at the mercy of the Capitol.

As a reminder to the districts that they must never try and rebel again, the Capitol institutes the annual Hunger Games. For these games, each district must offer up one girl and one boy, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, as tributes. The 24 tributes are taken to an arena chosen by the Capitol - it could be a desert, or a glacier, or a mountain range, or anything else imaginable - and there, they fight to the death. The one tribute who survives is the winner.

Suzanne Collins created not only action-packed, suspenseful stories, she created psychological studies of us as humans. What would you do to survive? What would you do to keep those you love alive? And how do you live with yourself when it's all over?

I've told my classes about the books, but I decided that wasn't enough. I'm reading THE HUNGER GAMES to them. Some of them can't wait on me to finish. They're clamoring to the library for copies of their own. Our librarian is stopping at Barnes & Noble this weekend to buy more copies.

Yes, those books are really that good. Read them.

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