Monday, August 30, 2010

Mockingjay & How Guys Read

So I finished Mockingjay last Thursday, right after we discussed how teen guys read, when they stop, if they ever start reading again and why.

It's possible these two topics are related, because while I reacted one way to Mockingjay, based on our discussion, I suspect the guys reacted completely differently...

My nonspoiler review.

Two weeks ago I read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire and loved them. The plot was disturbing and the descriptions brutal, yet the characters were sympathetic and the relationships so well-drawn that it was easy to be pulled into the story.

Catching Fire ends with a cliffhanger, so naturally, I couldn't wait to grab Mockingjay, the third and final installment, as soon as it was released last Tuesday. I started reading right away, but by page 107, I was concerned.

If you read my other two reviews, you know the parts I found tiresome in those books. So at first I thought, "OK. This one's just frontloaded with those bits. It'll pass."

It didn't.

Mockingjay is pages and pages of misery. Around Part 2, it starts to get a little better, but as quickly as our reason to care appears, it disappears. And it's right back to bad things happening... bad things happening... more bad things... and just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it does.

And then it's over.

The violence is significantly amped up--far beyond the previous two books--so much so that it spawned a big discussion over violence in Kidlit.

That did play a role in my diminished enthusiasm for Mockingjay. But my primary disappointment was the loss of what I felt made the books relatable and the resolution of the Gale-Katniss-Peeta love triangle.

Collins shows no compassion for her characters in this book--not that she ever did. But in the first two installments, she gave us a break and allowed them moments of joy or at least humanity. In Mockingjay the only peace comes on morphling and even then not so much.

As for the love triangle, I found the interactions between the three leads awkward and forced, and at times unbelieveable. (Two scenes in particular I wish I could share...)

It felt like Collins lost interest in that aspect of her story or was just trying to wrap it up. The book's conclusion in particular was inconsistent and irritating.

I keep reading that the message of Mockingjay is "war is hell." To that I say, "Perhaps."

The message I read was that everyone is evil and everyone will let you down. I suppose that's real life, but I felt like these brave, heroic characters deserved a better ending--reality notwithstanding. (This is fiction after all...)

It's an extremely cynical book. Some might argue it's the book we deserve, but I don't believe that. At least not yet.

My grade for Mockingjay: B-  Because despite my reaction, Collins's writing is strong, and her ability to maintain the tone and keep you biting your nails at the horror of it all is masterful.

If your favorite parts of the trilogy are the battles and the brutality of the games, you will enjoy Mockingjay. If your favorite parts were the character development, the relationships and the love, you probably won't.

On to How Guys Read~

So last Monday I mentioned the discussion about how there's no market for YA male books. Or agents report asking for boy books only to find editors have one (1) slot for them. And often it's filled.

Several male readers left comments on what they read or Moms reported what their teen sons were reading, and based on all those comments I spotted a trend.

First, teen guys DO read! But often they jump straight from MG to the adult aisle. Specifically, adult fantasy, sci fi, thrillers, crime or nonfiction.

Four commenters (Matt, DL, Angie, and Ellie) noted guys sometimes take a reading break in their late teens/early 20s. Follow-up questioning revealed other extracurricular activities (e.g., parties, video games, girls, etc.) as the culprit, but these guys ultimately did start reading again.

Now I'm wondering: Can the YA guy market be created (or expanded)? If not, why? YA is working great with the girls.

And how did you guys feel about Mockingjay?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Restarting the Train

That last post generated such great feedback, I'll go through it and put up our "findings" on Monday along with my nonspoilerish review of Mockingjay!

Uh huh. That's right. I got it. I'm reading it... It's actually taking longer than I expected to finish. More on that Monday.

But a big THANK YOU to everyone who dove in and commented on our last discussion. It's great to observe trends and hypothesize, but it's even more fun to get out there and ask real people why they're behaving in a particular way. Yes?

As for my previously scheduled post, I read this article in last week's Entertainment Weekly about how screenwriter James L. Brooks wanted Reese Witherspoon for this movie he was writing in 2005 (How Do You Know). Witherspoon was incredibly flattered and agreed at once to do it.

Brooks was just getting started on it and then got sidetracked writing the Simpsons movie. Five years later he went back to the Witherspoon script, and the article quoted him as saying he "felt like he was reading something a stranger had written." (paraphrase)

Ergh... I'm having the same response to the two WiPs I left in May when school let out for the summer.

I was 15,000 words into both of them, had really good momentum going, and then my two sweet little angels were suddenly home with me 24-7.

Now I've heard some writers can write while listening to music. I imagine those guys would also have no problem writing with two (very precious) little girls running and playing and asking for snacks and wanting to know when we're going to the pool and complaining that they're bored and you're always on the computer and she hit me...

I unfortunately am challenged that way. My writing train stopped this summer.

So it was back to school last week and the day came that I had dreamed about for three months--the day when I would ship my little dears off to the classroom and dive back into the cave to bust Prentiss out of her alien prison-farm and to help Ashley realize that handsome new guy was leading her down a dangerous, self-destructive path.

Problem: It hasn't happened.

I read that article, and I felt Brooks's pain. Who wrote these 15,000 words? What was she thinking would happen next? Why didn't she make better notes???

I'm trying to re-start the train and it's difficult.

JRM is so encouraging. He tells me to hang in there, school's just gotten back in, it takes a little bit to get the wheels turning again.

I'm feeling frightened and a touch of despair. I was so engrossed in both those WiPs last May. I could literally see these characters and I knew exactly what they were planning to do next...

Will I ever get them going again?

This is all simply Newton's laws, right? Inertia and all that. I mean, I know it's still in there. I can feel that fist of pent up words just waiting to come bursting out...

So until Monday, reader and writer friends~  Maybe the song would help.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Teen Male Readers and the Train

Thursday's post nudged at a debate raging in the writing world: What are older male teens reading?

It seems guys are happy, engaged readers up until they hit about 15 or so (younger?), and then in the same way our young ladies stop pursuing math and science, our young men stop pursuing literature.

Not being a MOB (mother of boys), I can't speak to this issue. And I don't have any older teen guys near me to quiz. I would go grab one on the street, but, well, school's back in...

So I ask anyone who might know: What are your young men reading?

If you have a male aged 13-19 in your house, grab his PSX and run behind the couch. Don't give it back until he answers one/two question(s):
  1. What type of book(s) would you read if you had to (or wanted to)? 
  2. What's the last book you read and liked?
  3. Why aren't you reading???
OK, that's three questions, but inquiring minds need answers...

Is there a YA male audience? Or do our boys go straight from MG to the adult section. If so, can that be changed?

Older male readers please weigh in--Did you stop reading at this age? Why or why not? What drew you to a book? What made you toss it out the window? (Ladies, quiz your men...)

And what's all this business about Trains?

I've decided to save that for Thursday, so come on back and we'll chat more then.

Mockingjay drops tomorrow... woot-woo! :o)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why Adults Read YA & A Book Review - Stargirl

So the NY Times had an essay about all the adults reading young adult literature earlier this month. Big discussion. Why is this happening?

Personally, I took a break from reading altogether a few years back. But I'd also had two babies less than a year apart (brill!) and I rarely stopped moving.

Before then, I'd made a steady diet of Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amy Tan, Anchee Min ... ZERO young adult.

I vividly recall the year 2000 when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out and that 600+ page YA novel made the news. I remember my graduate assistant was SO excited--she told me she and her physician Dad had been reading the series together.

I was astonished. "Really?" I asked. "But aren't those... kid books?"

These days I'm not just reading YA, I'm also writing it. So I'm doubly astonished.

Seriously, though. I think there are two very good reasons adults are flocking to the YA aisles in bookstores and online.

Reason #1: YA has just gotten really, really good!

I mean, when I was a YA, we had Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and Francine Pascal. I'm just going to be honest with you. I loved all those books, but only one of the authors wrote fiction that would captivate an adult.

Which brings me to today's impromptu book review for Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl.  I'm very late reading Stargirl. It also came out in 2000, and I can tell you, there's only one thing wrong with this tiny, 192-page novel.

The cover.

What's wrong with it? Well, the book's written by a man from the POV of a 16 year-old boy and I can't imagine a teenage boy (or any age boy) walking around carrying this. (PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong. I'd like to be wrong...)

Stargirl tells the story of a sweet, free-spirited girl who transfers from homeschool to public school in Arizona during her sophomore year. The main character, Leo, observes her throughout the story and ultimately develops a crush on her.

In the beginning, the student body is fascinated with her zany antics--Stargirl (aka, Susan Caraway) plays the ukelele, she sings happy birthday to students in the cafeteria, she has a pet mouse, she joins the cheerleading squad and cheers for both teams...

But as the story progresses, the students turn on her. And eventually she's shunned. Leo as her boyfriend is shunned as well and he sets about trying to change her to help her be accepted.

What transpires is absolutely heartbreaking to read, but ultimately it's not sad. The ending is actually positive. I give it a solid A, and I bet even male teenagers would like this book. But that's another topic for discussion.

Now I'm willing to bet most teen readers will have a different reaction to Stargirl than I did. They'll probaby view it the same way I did The Chocolate War--disturb the universe my butt. You can't act that way in high school and not expect a backlash.

Adult me read it and got the message of the retired professor in the book--every now and then someone comes along who's really special. Try not to miss it.

But that's my whole point with Reason #1. There's so much Kidlit now that's captivating for all ages. (It's gotten really, really good.)

There's also Reason #2: Escapism.

I'll admit, Stargirl isn't the type of YA book I immediately reach for. My 8 year-old wanted to read it, so I actually read it as a preview for her. (It's totally safe, Moms. There's no language or situations, but it is emotional.)

The young adult books I most enjoy reading are romantic, fast-paced and plot driven, and the stakes aren't too high. Which is what led me to my theory about escapism.

My sweet, book-devouring husband got a Barnes & Noble gift card recently. He went out last weekend and bought two books by Norman Mailer and Phillip Roth, and then he came at me with American Pastoral again.

Now I know JRM looks at me the way Alvy looked at Annie Hall with her cat book... But I read The Human Stain. I get it.

My adult life is complex and frustrating. It's also happy! But it's filled with enough difficulty that the last thing I want to do in my free time is sit around reading about some other adult's miserable life and poor choices.

I mean seriously.

It's far more relaxing (and entertaining) to grab Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side or Geek Charming and be swept away or giggle at silly stuff for a few hours. And I don't think that makes me any less deep or intelligent.

On that note, anyone who would argue adults reading The Hunger Games books are shallow or ignorant just isn't paying attention.

That's my two cents. I wonder if anyone else has a theory on this topic. I'd love to hear it.

Otherwise, have a great weekend, reader-writer friends. Remember, readers are leaders! So grab whatever style book you prefer and get lost~

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book review - Take Me There and the Truth

Slang in dialogue is a tricky tool. I try to avoid it for two reasons: 1-It changes so fast and publishing moves so slow; and 2-If you don't write it well, well... it's just painful.

But that's the first thing that struck me in Susane Colasanti's Take Me There. Colasanti is a master of using slang in her teenage characters' dialogue, and not just slang. References to movies like Memento and Serendipity...

And even though it's a little dated, it works because the characters are so engaging. TMT is focused on three high school kids, Rhiannon, Nicole, and James, who are friends living in New York City, and one significant week in their lives.

Rhiannon's boyfriend has just dumped her, James and Rhiannon have been friends for years and James has a big crush on her, and Nicole is dealing with some heavy-duty life issues she's been supressing.

Without giving away too much, Rhiannon's character has a nice arc from making lists of how her life was better when she was with ex-boyfriend, to taking charge of her destiny, to sharing an earbud and dance with James... Awww...

And Nicole's love interest is a charmer. I think readers will like him. James also is an engaging male character, and it's fun being in his head. (The book is written from three different POVs, so you get each lead's internal monologue.)

Colasanti draws the reader right in their NYC neighborhood very well. It's been a while since I've visited New York, but it felt very much like a presence in the book.

I remember thinking the whole time I was reading "this is a gentle read," but I can't explain what I mean by that. Nicole's issues are not gentle in the least, and they're all dealing with stuff...

Maybe because the story opens with these guys on the edge of their conflicts, and then leads us smoothly through the resolutions in a satisfactory way that doesn't feel too tidy. I also liked the musicality of the writing.

The entire book has a nice rhythm to it. You can feel the beat of the conversations, down to Colasanti's use of "And like" to start paragraphs or "And so I go" to introduce dialogue. It feels very authentic.

There's some language in the book, but it's not jarring. There are no adult situations, although adult things have occurred before the story opens.

TMT is romantic and angsty, and justice is served. I give it a nice, solid B+. I felt an emotional connection to the characters, I wanted to see how their problems were solved, and I think readers will dig it.

And now for the moment of Truth...

Continued from Friday, the truth of my statements revealed~

1. FALSE. At my elementary school, they never even had a contest for collecting postcards from different cities. But a friend of mine's little boy had to do this, so I stole the idea...

2. TRUE! I graduated from a coffee cupping class in college. It was a six-week course put on by a gourmet coffee house in Baton Rouge, and being a coffeeholic, I LOVED it. (Fyi, "cupping" is what folks "in the biz" call coffee "tasting." It's very similar to wine tasting. You should watch them do it sometimes... fascinating.)

3. FALSE. My brother and best friend both had summer jobs working in snowball stands, and while I kept them company and made myself sick eating snowballs, I was never an employee.

4. FALSE. I only lost half my left front tooth after I fell off the handle bars of my brother's bike at the age of 12... Yep. I'm Jim Carrey.

5. FALSE. I don't really have a nickname, but JRM and I like to call people "Magee" preceded by either an obtrusive body part or personality tic. For example, my blogging buddy Rayna would be "Drabbles Magee." Pam Anderson would be... well.... Nevermind. It's silly, I know.

6. FALSE. I toyed with the idea of being a biology major until I barely earned a C in freshman biology at LSU. Then I realized I'd better stick to English. (I got my *master's* in journalism... and that's when the writing career began for real.)

7. FALSE. My first attempt at creative writing was a graphic novel titled Fury Woman. (I actually referenced this in my blog recently.)

So there you go! School's back in, so I'll be writing away til Thursday. See ya then, reader/writer friends...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Meet the Teacher and a Truth Award

It's Meet the Teacher day at the girls' school, which means... Monday's it!

Truth: I've never really liked the girls going back to school. I feel like they're taking those first little steps away from me, starting their own little lives. Then I feel like time is passing too fast, and my throat gets tight...

OK, more truth, I also like not having a schedule or using an alarm clock in the mornings.

This year, the sad truth is I'm a little glad school's starting back. I'll be able to go back in the writing cave and not feel guilty about it.

(But I never left the writing cave, you argue? No, I did. This summer my only writing was for work and on this here blog.)

My primary focus on the ole novelist career this summer was networking, joining crit groups, and revisions. All very important, just not writing.

Still, I met so many amazing writer friends. If you missed it Monday, one of those is Carolyn Abiad whose Burnt Amber blog is absolutely fascinating.

Her paranormal romance of the same name is set in Turkey and filled with all kinds of legends and locations. She chronicles and explains them all on her blog. (Click her name above to visit.)

Fun truth: I'm a sucker for all things exotic.

So a brief post today. WriteOnCon is still going strong, and if you're a writer, get over there and check out all the great information.

Sadly, I haven't been able to participate in the critique forums. My window was Wednesday, and the site was down half the day. And it's not right to post if you can't give feedback.

But there is so much good stuff there. And it's completely free.

Now for the Award:

This award was given to me by Cruella at Giraffability of Digressions. The Bold Face Liar Creative Writer award requires you to:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link to them. (THANK YOU, CC! And you can visit her beautiful giraffe-laden blog by clicking on her name above.)

2. Add the award to your blog.  (DONE!)

3. Tell six outrageous lies about yourself and one truth. (Another variant: Tell six truths and one outrageous lie.)

4. Nominate six creative liars–I mean writers–and post links to them.

5. Let your nominees know that they have been nominated.

OK! So to start, sigh... I know so many bold face liars, er, creative writers. But I'll tag some of my new blogging friends who weren't mentioned on Monday.

I happily pass this award to the following friends who have amazing and/or helpful blogs:

Holly, the Supermom who Writes
RaShelle, who needs a No. 2 Pencil, Stat!
K.M. Weiland over at Wordplay
Karen, who's Coming Down the Mountain
Ezmirelda, who has Dreamz

and my precious cousin Alison who recently started her blog: Pure Imagination! Run check it out and give her some love~

Now, you funny reader-friends time to guess the Truth amidst all these... creative statements. (Lie is such an ugly word.) Which of the following is TRUE:

1. I won a contest in elementary school for collecting the most postcards from different cities.

2. I graduated from a coffee cupping class in college.

3. My first job was at a snowball stand in front of a used car dealership.

4. My two front teeth are fake as the result of a bicycle accident in childhood.

5. My nickname is "Curls Magee."

6. I was going to major in Marine Biology in college, but ultimately switched to Journalism.

7. My first attempt at creative writing was a graphic novel titled Zombie Woman.

That's easy enough, right?

The TRUTH and a Book review on Monday! This time the one I was going to review when The Hunger Games swept in and derailed everything. Until then, have a great weekend, reader friends~

Monday, August 9, 2010

Origins & the Passage of Awards

First, why are cats so adorable? This is one of my faves (stolen from the Tart):

I've decided to be the cat at WriteOnCon. It's a mistake I'm sure since 1,400 people have registered, but I want to conceal my identity.

Only now I've just told it to you, so you know. But it's OK if my friends know it's me--I'm actually hoping that will generate friendly input.

No, I'm on the lam from the professionals there. You know, in case they're feeling overwhelmed and mistakenly think they don't like one of my samples...

I mean, I can only imagine these online conferences combined with their already bursting email inboxes make these guys want to go postal. So perhaps if they don't know it's me, once they cool off a bit, I can dupe them into looking at my stuff again.

It's a strategy. It might even be a good one...

I also got a partial request Friday (whoot!) that asked me to include a short bio. It's happened before but this time it got me thinking about when I knew I wanted to be a writer.

There was never that one moment where I said out loud, "This is what I will do." I just always did it, and by the time I was graduating high school I was filling in the blank for "What you want to be when you grow up?" with "Writer."

Hmm... I guess this means I've grown up! Wow. When did that happen?

So DL's doing his high drama blogfest. I'm not really doing a festival or tour, but I wonder when did YOU realize you wanted to be a writer?

Or going past that because I've got all sorts of professions reading this. When did you decide you wanted to be a doctor? A chef? A business owner?

What was the first thing you did (that you can remember) in your chosen profession? For me, it was Fury Woman.

Fury Woman was a "graphic novel" I penned (literally with a ballpoint) as an elementary school kid. She was a scientist who spilled acid on her face. The result was giant eyebrows and a huge mole.

Fury Woman was only ever depicted in profile in my drawings, and sadly I don't remember much of her story. But I do remember the drawings and all the ink I wasted making those eyebrows...

My next book was a romance novel. I wrote it, my BF Dara did the illustrations. (She's actually a professional artist/art teacher now and very accomplished.)

I remember us tossing around for a name. I liked the sound of Pride and Prejudice, so we grabbed the ole Thesaurus and came up with Dignity and Detriment.

I think Dara still has that spiral-bound noteook...

So that's my origin story. Now you share. Scarlett, I want to hear about your first baking experience, and writers, that first book. Engineers, what was your first building, and doctors, your first patient. Hopefully it wasn't the little girl down the street... Hello!


And now for the Awards show!

Blogging is tough. Agents tell us reclusive writers we have to "network," so we start these little sites and then it's just one more thing to keep up with... For a while.

Then you start meeting people. Then you start making friends, and before long, you're exchanging little gifts...

Well, it's my turn to hand out the gifts. And I put it off because, heck! This is hard. I'd give everyone who regularly reads and comments here an award--maybe I'll invent that one. Visit here, get an award.

But to get going on what I have. First, the Supportive Commenter award. This award can go to so many people. Here's a few of my most supportive commenters who also have blogs (NOTE: Names are links to their blogs):


(Non blogging supportive commenters include Pam, Jenni, Carey, Stacey, JRM, Becca, Charla, Suzie Q.--!...)

I figured out how to do this next award. It goes to some of my new superstar blogging buddies who are great supportive commenters, but who are up to their ears in bling already. I'm throwing you guys a curve-ball.

The Mayan "End of Days" award. The way this one works is you have to say what three things you'll do if the Mayans are right and the world is going to end on Dec. 21, 2012. I mean, before that.

It goes to:

Katie (CQG)
Candace (MiC)

And finally, my newbie bestie award. (Awww...) This one goes to new friends who have become close friends just through the process of blogging. Imagine.

It goes to:


Now as Candy would say, come get your crap. And remember to keep passing the love! See you back here Thursday. Remember to look for Miss Kitty at WriteOnCon~

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review - Catching Fire & another Award

So if you're counting, yes, that's right. I went out and bought it, and then read it in three days. Do I need to grade it for you? A+ again! And August 27 can't get here fast enough...

If you're totally lost, I'm talking about Book 2 in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

On Monday I reviewed Book 1, The Hunger Games, which I'd been hearing about but hadn't been terribly motivated to pick up because I didn't think I'd like it.

I was wrong.

So tell you about Catching Fire? OK!

It's either the French or the Russian revolution (or both) that teaches the political lesson of "never let the poor get too poor." That's the overall tone of Catching Fire. The poor districts have lost so much, they're just looking for someone to challenge the Capitol.

That someone turned out to be main character Katniss Everdeen in her resolution of the Hunger Games that were the basis of the first book.

Uprisings are breaking out and during their "victory tour," Katniss and Peeta see how close everything is to collapse. And Katiness finds out how much trouble she's in for it.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot and spoil any of the excitement, so I'll just say I read the first 12 chapters in one sitting right after I got the book. It's that good.

Collins does a great job pulling the reader into the desperation of the district residents via Katniss, and I liked how in this book Katniss wasn't always having to rescue Peeta.

The post-traumatic stress both former tributes are struggling with is nicly portrayed and naturally Peeta's the only one Katniss can turn to for comfort, the only one who shares her nightmares.

CF is another emotional story, and Collins has a lot of fun manipulating the reader through the whole Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle. That's the difference from THG--the relationships take center stage much more than the games.

The mid-season Quarterly Quell (mini-games) in CF are even more treacherous with additional animals and physical elements for the tributes to face. But surprisingly, this book had far less graphic violence than THG.

Again, I started to get bored when they returned to the Capitol for training and presentation of the tributes to the Gamemakers. But this time it was just one chapter and we were out of there and into the arena. And back to flying.

CF is 100-percent bad-language and adult-situation free (Moms), and sensitive readers need be less wary of this installment.

These would make great book club books because they lend themselves to lengthy discussion. Collins smoothly pulls in current trends and makes them dark and sinister in her post-apocalyptic world. I mean, this is a world where kids fight to the death for the amusement of the general population. It would be unbelieveable if there weren't historical precedent. (Christians v. Lions anyone?)

Personally, I think it's cool that as writers we have the ability to touch on so many issues and themes and get people talking about them. That's an element of writing that drew me into journalism--shaking people up and getting them talking about what's happening. I'll be curious to see if these books become modern classics.

* * *

And now for the blog blinga-ding-ding:

One of my supercool fellow bloggers, Tami "Hart" Johnson a.k.a., "The Watery Tart," gave me the Mayan "End of Days" Award yesterday.
Let me just say, I would expect nothing less from the leading proponent of Naked World Domination.

Tami-Hart is also a soon to be published author (penname Alyse Carlson), and I cannot wait to read her untitled cozy mystery the second it's off the presses. (Review soon to follow here.)

So the way this award works, I have to say what I'd do if the Mayans are right and the world ends Dec. 21, 2012. I've always been a skeptic when it comes to end of the world predictions, but perhaps we'll discuss that later.

OK, so if the Mayans are right, and the world ends in a little over two years, what would I do between now and then...

#1-I know it's corny and predictable, but spend as much time with my family, friends, children, etc., as possible. (I know--do that now! And I do, but I'd do it MORE.)

#2-Take those trips to Europe I've been putting off "til I can afford it." To heck w/affording it! My passport's up to date--European friends, you're on alert~

#3-Pull the kids out of school, buy an RV and take all those trips to North American spots I'd like to see--the Grand Canyon (again, because seeing it at five doesn't count), Niagra Falls, Canada, Maine, Alaska, Hawaii... (uh... huh?) 

Now, I'm supposed to pass this, I guess. It's an odd award to pass... I also need to pass my Supportive Commenter award. I'm very remiss. And I just discovered that Jen over at Unedited gave me the "Newbie Bestie" award.

Awww! I'll need to be passing this one along as well.

Tell you what, that'll be Monday's post. In the meantime, have a great weekend, reader friends!

Lose yourself in a book~

Monday, August 2, 2010

Book review - The Hunger Games

So I was originally going to review a different book today, but I lost an afternoon Saturday finishing Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games, and I'm still recovering.

All I can say is Wow.

Here's the cover:

Let me preface this--I've been hearing so much about this book, I feel like the last person to read it. But just in case...

What's The Hunger Games, you ask?

Well, take Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game," mix it with Reality Television, throw in a tinge of romance, target it to the young adult audience, and out comes the first book in Suzanne Collins's post-apocalyptic trilogy.

THG is set in a time where western civilization is gone, and all that's left is a Roman Empire-style nation called Panem with a main Capitol surrounded by 12 districts. (There were 13 until #13 was destroyed by the Capitol for rebellion.)

Residents of the Capitol are very rich, well-fed and bored. So every year they hold a big, nationally televised, death match called "The Hunger Games."

The games are also used to reinforce the Capitol's power over the districts because each district is required to send two "tributes" to the games who must fight to the death--only one tribute out of all 24 is allowed to win (i.e., live).

Tributes are chosen via lottery where all the kids aged 12-18 have their names put in a drawing. Your chance of getting picked increases each year because the number of times your name is entered doubles every year.

And if you're poor, your chances of getting picked are even further increased because you can trade putting your name in the hat an additional time for food.

That brings us to the main character, 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen and her little family.

Katniss lost her father in a mine explosion when she was eleven, and she's been the sole supporter of her mom and her little sister Primrose ("Prim") ever since. She's a hunter and she's smart, but she's also had to trade her name for food more than once, so the odds are against her.

Katniss has a hunting partner Gale, another impoverished fellow, who she's been hunting with since she was about 12. The two make a great team, and Collins hints at a romance between them. But they're very focused on their mission: finding food and taking care of their families. (Gale has three little brothers and no dad also.)

So here comes the lottery, and since she's 12, it's also Prim's first year to be in the draw. I won't spoil the drama for you, but ultimately Katniss is the female tribute for District 12. The male tribute is a baker's son named Peeta.

Peeta and Katniss have a history because after Katniss's father died, she almost starved to death until Peeta took a beating to give her two loaves of bread. They haven't really spoken since then--Peeta's from the privileged class--but neither of them have forgotten it.

Now's the part where I get honest.

All that takes place in the first chapter and a half. The next several chapters are focused on traveling to the Capitol, describing the Capitol, describing the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the interviews, the training... mer mer mer...

Then the games start and the first chapter of that part is spent on Katniss with no weapons, hiding and nearly dying of dehydration.

Now I know all that's "tension building," and I also know I'm risking having tomatoes thrown at me by saying this, but at that point in the book I was BORED.

I lamented to a friend that I was starting to think I was the only nerd who didn't get The Hunger Games. Seriously. I was like "When's something going to happen?"

And right then it did.

AND I've got to hand it to Collins. There's this Big Event during the games that's orchestrated by the Capitol because any time the games get "boring" the Gamemakers step in and make something happen.

Ouch! Did you see what she just did there? She made Me, the Reader, identify with the barbaric Capitol. My hat's off to her. Nicely done.

So back to the story, from there to the end, the book literally soars. That's how I lost a Saturday afternoon. You can't put it down.

Don't get me wrong, it's a tough read at times. Tears were on my cheeks more than once. Katniss is an excellent MC. She's a survivor and she's tough, but she's also relatable. And more than once she's put in the position of having to choose whether to protect or kill another tribute.

Her relationship with Peeta is also difficult. He's a sweet boy, and she owes him her life from when she nearly starved to death. But this is a death match, and she's determined to get back to her family.

The story takes some unexpected twists, and I don't want to spoil anything, but for those who've read the book, I understand there's a bit of a "Team" debate. I'm on Team Gale, and I liked how Collins maintained his presence throughout the story. It was subtle, but it was there.

To me, Katniss's life experience has been so harsh. Someone like Gale is really the only person she could take seriously. And yet how could she not form a bond with Peeta under such extreme circumstances?

But I want Katniss to have someone who can take care of her sometimes, too. Although if the need to be taken care of is suddenly removed, how does that change her relationship with her old hunting partner? It's an interesting dilemma.

In case you haven't already guessed, this book gets a big A+ from me. It is so well-executed and Collins covers all the bases. I can't think of a time while reading where I was like, "There's no way that could happen."

There is zero bad language (Moms) or "adult situations," and while it's violent, the nice thing about book violence is you can control it by how much you choose to envision.

The second book in the series Catching Fire is available in bookstores now, and later this month the last book Mockingjay is set to be released.

I do not have time, I have to work, I have things to take care of, I have responsibilities... and if I go off the radar, well... at least you know what I'm doing.

On Thursday, I'll post my previously scheduled review.