See what I mean about the cover having a "Nazi" feeling?
It's summer and the start of reading season. The very first book I picked up was The Hunger Games so it's the first book I'm going to review this year. I have to explain the back story of my experience with this book a little, because I'm not going to give away any of the plot here. Because I walked into this book completely blind and I walked out with the best reading experience I've had in years. So if you really want a synopsis, go google it. But try to not google it too much.
I had seen it around campus, in the hands of many of my students - from the best and the brightest to even DG, The Boy Who Would Do Nothing. The very first time I saw the cover, back in November (during DG's parent/teacher conference no less), I thought it was a historical novel about WWII - the cover seemed to have that "Nazi" feeling to it.
I put it out of my radar for the next several months. I've read enough WWII novels in my pre-teen and teenage years to know what they are generally like, at least in the YA category. If it's not a carbon copy of Anne Frank's story, it's bound to be something like Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan. It's one of the reasons why Inglorious Basterds was so interesting, because it told a different story.
It blipped back onto my radar around spring break when I saw PP (unfortunate initials, seriously bright student) lugging the book and it's sequels around. PP is the kind of kid whom teachers always keep an eye out on - you know, the one that doesn't necessarily stick out in terms of behavior or personality, but I just had to be observant of because he walked around like he belongs in another dimension. If he was older, and if his personality were less sweet, he could be described as having a stick up his butt. But he's just a kid, a really sweet kid who enjoyed my class and let me know that he enjoyed my class often, so I kept a lookout and snuffed any hint of teasing or bullying that came his way. That, and his mother turned out to be an incredible ally during a time when I was battling with some other parents over grades and whatnot.
Not that I would take special observations of a kid solely because his mother is helpful and kind and respects education and educators the way I believe education and educators should be respected. Just saying.
I asked PP how he was enjoying The Hunger Games one day. He said he was enjoying it a lot. I asked if he recommended it. He said he did.
During Open House in the spring, my school has this thing set up with the annual book faire where teachers can request books and the visitors to Open House can buy the books for us. It would only work at a school like mine: the many donations I've seen this year wouldn't have happened in the Title 1 schools I taught at before. Although, if I were a very bold admin, I would set up something like the book requests during book faire time.
Most of the books at the book faire are your usual Scholastic stuff - filler for SSR bookshelves. I knew long before I got the keys to my first classroom that I would not fill it with cheap fillers bought at yard sales and thrift stores. I wanted my shelves to be select, with the goal of quality over quantity.
So I didn't intend to request anything. But I spied The Hunger Games nestled on a top shelf when I went to peruse with some other teachers right before Open House. I remembered what PP had said about recommending it. A kid like that doesn't recommend things lightly. I listed my request, and later that night, when Open House was ending, PP and his mother came back to my room bringing The Hunger Games for me.
I thanked them, and wrote a nice note to be mailed later, and then promptly put it on my classroom bookshelf because it was the middle of May and I was going crazy with the pile up of year-end paperwork, and the only other teacher who teaches the exact same subjects as me broke her water on Open House night, and we had to scramble through a series of subs as well as a horrific grading fiasco.
Once that was all over though, and my advancement and check-out duties were over, I went straight home and plopped down with this book and a bowl of kettle chips.
I didn't let it go until 3.5 hours later when I was finished with all 374 pages. An adult flying through more than a hundred pages an hour gives you a hint as to the difficult of the language used. But oh, was this book sure dense with meaning.
I also immediately bought Catching Fire and Mockingjay on Kindle, and read one each day for the next two days.
Maybe it's because I was over saturated with anime during my college days, but its books like these that strike a match in my imagination and illuminates something I didn't know was there before. It's what all YA books should aim to do, considering the target audience. Well, it's really what all books should do when it comes right down to the heart of the matter.
I can tick off on one hand the number of authors who have hit so deeply in my imagination, and influenced so much of my writing ideology: Philip Pullman, Joan Aiken, Natsuki Takaya, and now Suzanne Collins. Coincidentally, the first four are also young adult novel writers (of sorts). They - plus J.K. Rowling, who leans more towards classical rather than unconventional themes, thus didn't quite rock my literary world in the same sense as the others - are the ones I've turned back to, over and over again in re-reads, whenever I want to escape something in the real world that I don't like.
As a kid, I really believed that poster propaganda saying "you're never without a friend when with a book." I used recess time to read, I held books clandestine-like under my desk during classes, I never leave home without one, and when I am at home, there is always one within arms reach. I didn't have much to escape from as a kid - your usual drama of course, but overall a pretty happy childhood. However, more and more in the grown up's real world, I find things I want to escape from. People I want to escape, because their words and actions infect the space around them with something gross and sticky.
The main character is described, at one point in the trilogy, as "pure." She's definitely not innocent, but I understand what he meant. Katniss, either by nature or circumstance, doesn't let other people's words and actions infect her with their gross stickiness.
And I like that.