Friday, September 24, 2010
A Review of Sorts: Bulletwisdom Goes Hungry
I don't know if this is so much a review as it is me reminiscing about the mixed feelings I have about Suzanne Collins impressive YA series, The Hunger Games. First, I need to say thanks to author of the upcoming Newsoul series, Jodi Meadows, and her agent from the Strothman Agency, Lauren MacLeod. On Twitter, one comment led to another, and when the two were interested in my opinion on the series, I felt obligated to take up the challenge. Since I had not reviewed a book, let alone a series, in years, it made for an interesting experience.
***Stop here if you don't want any spoilers. I address specifics across all three novels***
The Hunger Games is a complex, dystopian YA series that well represents the best themes from a long list of dystopian/sci-fi works: Ender's Game, The Most Dangerous Game, The Running Man, and Brave New World. Okay, that's a heady list, and maybe I'm overstating, but at the end of the series (particularly the first entry) I couldn't help but be a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of the themes. If you're an author and you're picking and choosing your inspiration, those are some of the all time greats.
I'll play loose here. A young girl lives is thrown into an arena and forced to hunt other children (The Most Dangerous Game). In the Hunger Games, the audience revels in the killing while even the victors are portrayed as losers (The Running Man). The people of the ruling district, the Capitol, are extremely detached from the society they're oppressing (Brave New World). And the main character finds herself at the end of her victorious struggles haunted and depressed, wondering, 'What was it worth?' (Ender's Game) I could probably throw in themes from Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies for good measure, but needless to say, I really enjoyed reading Collin's series.
But that's not why I'm here. On Twitter, I became involved in a discussion surrounding the violence presented in The Hunger Games. Was it excessive? Is it appropriate for a Young Adult audience. I'm a Soldier, I've been to war, and my life experiences force me to look at things with a slightly different perspective than most.
So to answer the questions: Yes, the violence is excessive. And yes, it's appropriate.
Now, I don't think I'll be passing Catching Fire and Mockingjay to my ten year old anytime soon, but my field-worn, water-damaged copy of The Hunger Games is already in her hand. To point out something about the list of novels I referenced earlier, they all were considered controversial or at the least, avant-garde, and they all contained a considerable amount of violence.
Oh, and by the age of sixteen, I read them all. The Hunger Games is no more inappropriate a literary work for tweens than anything else on a banned high school reading list.
It's necessary to take a moment to comment Collin's handling of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It's all over The Hunger Games. All the games' former victors portray significant degrees of PTSD. All the tell-tale symptoms are there: flashback, nightmares, alcoholism, drug addiction, hallucinations, etc... the list goes on and on.
I see PTSD everyday. I have a friend who will randomly streams tears while he sits in meetings or at his desk. There are Soldiers in my command suffering from chronic insomnia and night terrors. One time in my house, I actually dove for the tile at the sound of a backfiring car. It's real. It's affecting our Soldiers, and it's not something you can wish away.
By the third book, there's a PTSD scene every other page. Maybe it's a bit overdone, but by the end the effects on the main character are permanent and lingering. Good triumphs over Evil and there's no happy ending, just a quiet torment tempered by drugs, counseling and the passage of time. The characters find a tepid happiness, and like many Soldiers from today's ten-year War on Terror, a return to true normalcy after experiencing the horrors of war is all but impossible.
Some of the concepts weren't all that well done. I laughed when one of the engineers lamented about their inability to reproduce high-altitude aircraft, this coming from a dude with invisible hovercraft. Uh-huh. And their combat tactics weren't all that smart. I felt it was like two insurgencies fighting each rather that a bunch rebels versus an actual nation. And in Mockingjay, the defense of the Capital hinges around a city-scale version of the X-Men's Danger Room. That would look great for the movie adaptation, but for battlefield tactics, it's just silly.
I guess also lost along with representative democracy and the 'advanced' technologies from the old United States were simple fundamentals of war like Mass, Maneuver, Economy of Force, Security, Surprise.... and Tanks! Oh, how this story made me long for good ole' days of war where civilized men slugged it out with mechanized armor and artillery (that's a poke at today's counterinsurgency warriors). The war in this book is what I imagine would happen if ten-year old politicians staged a fight with legos, army men, and toy dinosaurs. I digress. What I enjoyed about this book weren't the technologies and tactics.
Maybe the takeaway from The Hunger Games isn't just the simple the 'war is hell' theme from Red Badge of Courage or Saving Private Ryan. Maybe, when you experience something that traumatic, that horrific, the effects last a lifetime. Time will not heal all wounds. Some injuries never go away.
Should my two children ever face going to war, and I pray they never do, it's a lesson I want them to learn.
The Hunger Games, highly recommended.