Back in December one of my daughter’s fourth grade classmates, her “Secret Santa”, gave her a copy of The Hunger Games as a Christmas gift. Leela started reading the book immediately and finished it within a week, pronouncing it to be “better than Harry Potter.” She then insisted that I read it as well so we could have intelligent discussions about it. In case you missed it, The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic America, a totalitarian state with 12 districts that are each required to supply two “tributes” as combatants in the annual “Hunger Games”—a battle to the death of the 24 teenage participants, televised live, and required viewing in all the districts. I’m a little amazed and at a loss to explain what it is about this bleak and violent book that has made such a huge impression on my daughter’s delicate psyche, and the psyche’s of so many other teens and tweens. (The Hunger Games has now sold 2.9 million copies and is the first “children’s” book to sell a million Kindle copies) The book’s author, Suzanne Collins, came up with the idea for the book one evening when she was watching television, channel surfing between “Survivor” and coverage of the Iraq War—seeing the two things morph into one spectacle. The book offers a glimpse at a potential future for America, if our country continues to be more and more obsessed with voyeurism and violence—pretty heavy stuff for teens and tweens.
Soon after finishing The Hunger Games Leela bought the second book in the series, Catching Fire, and quickly finished it as well. (I dutifully read it also) In January we went to Barnes and Noble to buy the third and final book in the series, Mocking Jay. By this time there was a whole table devoted to the three books in the series and an advertisement for the upcoming film version of The Hunger Games, scheduled for release on March 23rd. We bought the third book and Leela finished it on the plane to Cancun at the end of January. (I finally finished it myself a couple of weeks ago) Regarding the three books in the series, Leela and I agree that we like the first book the best and the third book the least.
Leela has been counting down the days until the release of the movie, and I have been very curious myself about how the book is adapted. On Saturday Leela, Carol (my wife), and I went to see The Hunger Games, contributing to the opening weekend gross of $155,000,000. (by comparison, the next nine most popular films grossed $50 million combined) I was concerned that the film would end up being just another outlet for our violent and voyeuristic tendencies, but was pleasantly surprised at how delicately and intelligently the subject matter was treated. There was violence, of course, but it was never gratuitous violence. The contrast between the bleak existence of the inhabitants of District 12 (a coal mining region of Appalachia where are heroine, Katniss Everdeen lives) and the unrestrained opulence, decadence, and conspicuous consumption of the Capitol, home of the ruling elite, is quite effective. All of the main characters were well cast (Donald Sutherland is particularly creepy as the President), the production values are excellent, and the emotional impact of the film is quite powerful from beginning to end. Leela asked me afterwards if I cried—“Yes I did, “ I admitted, “several times.” “Me too, Dad”, she said. It’s not so rare for me to cry at a movie, but it is rare when Leela does. It was one of those rare cases where I thought that the movie was actually much better than the book. Leela went to see it again the next day with a friend—I’ll probably see it again too.