Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Hunger Games

So I think I've blogged about The Hunger Games multiple times on this site, but each time I read it, I get a new-found appreciation for it. This read through was specifically for a class that I am taking this semester called the Heroic Tradition in Children's Literature. So far, we have read The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Hobbit, The 101 Dalmatians, and Rilla of Ingleside. It has been an interesting class so far, and the rest of the semester proves to be the same.

Now, The Hunger Games. I think by now, most people know what this book is about, but I will give a very brief synopsis. Every year, Panem puts on the Hunger Games, a competition where children between the ages of 12 and 17 fight to the death in an arena like setting, for the "entertainment" of the rest of the country. Katniss Everdeen has grown up in this society and only worries about one thing: keeping her younger sister, Prim, out of the Hunger Games.

With the third movie coming out in November, The Hunger Games is a hot topic at the moment, though I would argue that it has been a hot topic since it first came out in 2008. And for good reason. The Hunger Games is fast-paced, and always keeps the readers turning the pages. In high school, when I first read the book, I was in a book club called BBYA, where our librarians would get galley copies of books, and we would read them, and then meet on a regular basis to discuss these books. I remember when they got a copy of The Hunger Games and told everyone they absolutely had to read it. And everyone did. And we were all obsessed. While the subject of The Hunger Games is gruesome and at parts, difficult to read, Katniss Everdeen is such a riveting character that we're all drawn to her, to find out what happens. How will the story pan out?

The Hunger Games can't be read without getting any of the social commentary, which I think is more present in this book than most other YA dystopian novels (like Divergent or The Maze Runner for example). With the way Suzanne Collins has set up the Districts in the novel, it can be considered representative of our own class system in the United States. The upper class lives in luxury, in safety, while the lower classes struggle to survive day to day. Personally, I think this is one of the things that draws me to this book every time. The Hunger Games sends a powerful message, and it is so eerily similar to our own society that it isn't hard to picture this happening to us as well. While our society is steadily falling apart (just look at the news on any given day), we read dystopian novels to remind ourselves that it could be worse, that it hasn't gotten quite that bad yet. The government is sending kids to kill each other. The sun hasn't scorched the Earth. There aren't zombies running around trying to kill us. We're still surviving, and dystopian novels give us the hope that if something did happen, we would still have the chance to survive.

But back to The Hunger Games. Writing wise, Suzanne Collins does a good job of setting the scene, and creating a realistic picture of the society she's created. By narrating it in first person from Katniss's point of view, the reader can feel like he/she is really in the story, experience Katniss's experiences firsthand. And why wouldn't they want to be Katniss? She's brave, selfless, and doesn't take anything from anyone. She's willing to do anything for her sister, Prim, who's sweet and kind and the type of little sister anyone would want. Peeta and Gale (while creating that ever present love triangle) are fleshed out, foils of each other. The novel is well-crafted, and hints at things to come in later novels, things that will allow Collins to bring the story full circle.

I could probably go on and on about The Hunger Games, so I will stop here. But if you haven't read it yet, I would highly recommend it. You'll finish it in one night, I almost guarantee it. I don't think we have any reading for this class for a few weeks, so I'm sure what I'll be reading next. I'll pull something off my bookshelf for sure. Until next time, happy reading! :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Giver

Because the movie came out a few months ago, I figured it was time that I re-read The Giver, since I generally like to read the book before I see the movie, and I haven't read this particular book since I was in 5th grade. I remembered liking it then, so I figured that much probably hasn't changed since I read it all those years ago.

The Giver follows the story of Jonas, who lives in an apparently perfect Community. Everything is assigned to its citizens, there are no conflicts, and if there are, they are taken care of quickly. At the age of 12, residents are assigned their career. On Jonas's 12th birthday, he is assigned the role of The Giver, who holds all the memories of the past. Through The Giver, Jonas will learn the truth about the society he lives in.

In 5th grade, my teacher read this book out loud to us, and I remember the whole class being appalled at the end of the book. It's an open ending, one that 5th graders don't respond well to. However, now that I'm older, I've come to appreciate open endings, because it represents life. Life doesn't end perfectly, so why should the stories that we read? This is why I appreciated the ending of the book, because it leaves it up to the reader. What really happened to Jonas? What will happen to the Community he left? These questions aren't answered for us, we must answer them for ourselves.

Other than the ending, The Giver is a short read, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. I think it can be considered one of the first young adult dystopian novels, but don't quote me on that. Jonas was very well characterized throughout the novel, I sympathized with him and wanted him to make it. I also thought that the society was very well constructed, and honestly, one that I could see happening to our own society. Jonas's Community is very controlling, and with all of the restrictions being placed in our own society, this makes Jonas's present a very real future for us. I think that's the thing that keeps people reading dystopian novels. Yes, the state of our future is scary, but we read these stories to know that somehow, we can make it out. That somehow, we'd survive if any of these things happen to us, because the characters in the stories we read did. These stories give us hope.

Overall, The Giver is a fast-paced, quick read, one that would supplement a busy semester perfectly. If you're looking for something to read for enjoyment, I would definitely recommend this book. Next, I'll likely be reading something for class, I think The Hunger Games is next? Perfect timing, with the movie coming out in a month. :) Until next time, happy reading!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Because the trailer just released, and the movie comes out in November, I decided to re-read Mockingjay, just because. I'm the type of person who likes to re-read books anyway, and this just seemed like the perfect excuse. And let me tell you, it's still just as good the third (or fourth?) time you read it.

For those of you that don't know (which I doubt is many, The Hunger Games series is very popular), Mockingjay is the final installment, thought I don't think I can give much of a summary without giving away anything from the last two books. Basically, Katniss has sparked a rebellion (which I would guess you would expect) and this book really sees that escalate.

Side note: I can't guarantee that I won't include any spoilers from here on out. So continue at your own risk if you have not read the book.

When Mockingjay originally came out, I feel that it was met with a lot of negativity, at least from the fan base. And I feel like a major reason for that is it isn't quite a happy ending. Everyone loves happy endings, I guess it's because it's what everyone wants in their own life. For everything to work out, to end up happily ever after. Why wouldn't people want that for their favorite characters? But the thing you have to remember is that in a war, there really aren't any happy endings. And that's what Mockingjay is, essentially, a war. People suffer. And I think Suzanne Collins does an excellent job of that. In a war, no one is the winner, really. Both sides suffer losses, both sides experience pain. And that can clearly be seen through this particular rebellion. Even though we as readers hate everything that the Capitol does, you can't deny that there are innocents in the Capitol, who didn't really deserve to die. They didn't have anything to do with the conflict, and yet they still perished in the war.

Next, I shall move onto Katniss. Katniss, who is probably one of my favorite characters, is so completely broken at the beginning of this book. And for good reason. She's been through two Hunger Games, more than anyone should ever have to bear, and believes she's lost the one person who could ever understand, Peeta. Peeta and Katniss's relationship really transformed in Catching Fire, in my opinion. In The Hunger Games, it was clearly and obviously something for show, so Katniss could survive and make it back to her family. But in Catching Fire, Katniss realizes that Peeta is the only one who can ever really understand what she's been through. Peeta is the only one who can comfort her, and she realizes she really does care for him, perhaps more so than anyone else does. So the loss of Peeta is something that sets her over the edge. And something that Gale can't really understand. Which brings me to the other point of contention between fans. Peeta or Gale? I believe by the time you get to Mockingjay, it's clear who's good for Katniss and who isn't. Though, in my opinion, that's completely missing point. This series isn't about the romance (no matter what the media makes it out to be), and Katniss even believes that she doesn't need either of them. She's perfectly happy on her own. But anyway. Back to Gale. What I think makes it so obvious that they're not compatible in this book is the way they both react to the rebellion. Gale has a fire in him, a fire that Katniss has known her whole life. He doesn't care about people getting hurt, as long as the Capitol is brought down. And while Katniss agrees with bringing down the Capitol, she doesn't agree with Gale's tactics. Despite her icy manner, Katniss doesn't want more people to get hurt. And I think that shows why they could never work in a romantic relationship. And especially after the end of Mockingjay...she could never forgive him for what happened.

In thinking about the way this book will be transferred to film, I think it will be slightly difficult, because a lot of the book takes place in Katniss's head (which I suppose is a lot like the others, but since she has so much PTSD and other trauma, that will be difficult to portray on screen). But given the way Catching Fire was done, I have faith in this movie. The only thing I fear with the whole film franchise is that we're acting almost the same way, at least the media is, that the Capitol does in the series. With The Hunger Games, there was potential in creating conversation about some things that are seriously wrong with our society. Because The Hunger Games brings a lot of those things to light (which I'm sure you can find all over the internet. This post is already long enough, haha). However, instead, the advertising surrounding Mockingjay and this whole franchise is centered around fashion. There's maeup lines, clothing lines, etc. Not to mention, the characters were white-washed, and all people do is focus on whether Katniss will end up with Peeta or Gale. This is problematic. The Hunger Games points out a lot of things that are wrong with out society, socioeconomic discrimination, violence in children, controlling governments, etc. And we're not having conversations about them. We're trivializing them. Which is sad. This book series is so powerful, in my opinion, and I think it deserves so much conversation. Maybe we can spark something with the last movie release. After all, everything starts with a spark, doesn't it?

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Dose of Dystopia

I guess I've been on a bit of a dystopia kick lately, given that is one of my favorite genres, probably. The first, Legend, I've been wanting to read for a while, and the second, The Testing, was recommended to me by a friend. Both very different visions, yet probably just as scary and probable. I think that's why I love dystopia so much. I like seeing the different ways people envision the way our world is going, even if it's in a horrible disaster.

Legend by Marie Lu follows the story of two different 15 year-olds, set in the distant future of the United States. The US is now known as The Republic, and at the age of 10 (I think? If I remember correctly), everyone has to take a test, which basically determines where you fall within society. Day failed the test. June is the only one to get a perfect score. Day is a known criminal, stealing from the wealthy and giving to the poor, while June is known as a prodigy. Their worlds collide when Day is the only suspect in the murder of June's brother. However, through the chase, June quickly learns that he world isn't as perfect as she originally thought. Which makes her question everything she's ever known.

At first, I had a difficult time getting into this book, because the author jumps right in with all of the new language and new vocabulary for this future world, and it took me a bit to get into it, to learn what everything meant. However, once I got it down, the book was very fast paced. Things just kept happening, making me want to keep reading, to find out what happens to Day and June. While there were a few plot points that I found predictable, for the most part, I rather enjoyed the book. It was a quick and easy read, definitely one that is fitting for the summer. And I'm left wanting to read the next book, which will just get added to my ever growing list of books to read.

Another thing I liked about the book was how well the characters were developed. I thought Day and June were good mirrors of each other, one coming from privilege and one coming from wealth. It also reminded me somewhat of an Aladdin story, with Day having to steal to survive, colliding with a girl who's never known that kind of life. The book was also written in two different colors of ink, gold for Day and black for June. I found that gave the book a unique edge, and really helped me to keep the two characters straight.

The Testing by Joelle Charboneau follows the story of 16-year-old Marcia (Cia) Vale, who is just about to graduate, and have her fate decided for her. As the entire Five Lakes Colony celebrates, all Cia can think about is getting chosen for the testing, the highest honor that can be endowed. When Cia gets chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmares from The Testing, warning her of the dangers in come. With this in mind, heading off to Tosu City, away from her friends and family forever, and forced to face the danger of The Testing on her own.

Like I said, this book was recommended to me by a friend, so I picked it up from the library. I hadn't really heard anything about it until she read it, and then I saw the third book in Barnes and Noble, a place that I frequent (surprised that it's a trilogy? I can't say that I was). I wasn't disappointed. This reminds me of a combination of Divergent and The Hunger Games, with the test that everyone has to take, and the survival aspects that are in The Testing. There's never really a dull moment in the book, either. It's fast paced and suspenseful, leaving me to not really want to put it down. I also thought that Cia was a very well-developed character, and very likeable. While not everyone would do what she did in her situation, I think she was well-rounded, and this made me want to keep reading. I wanted to know what happened to her. I can't wait to pick up the next book.

Next, I will be reading Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron. Until next time, happy reading! :)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Leonard Peacock and Love Letters to the Dead

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick follows the story of Leonard Peacock, who has plans for his 18th birthday. He plans to kill Asher Beal and then commit suicide. Leonard has always been an outcast, where Asher has always been the popular one, the jock, the one that everyone likes. Something happened when they were kids that Leonard can't forget. And he doesn't have anyone to confide in, his father is gone and his mother seems to forget that she has a son. He goes through and gives the four people he cares the most about presents, and no one seems to pick up on the signs. No one seems to care about Leonard Peacock. And he knows about it.

I don't really have anything but good things to say about this book. First, Matthew Quick is known for the way he handles mental illness in his novels, and I don't think this one is any different. The way he deals with depression, and suicide, is very realistic and believable. And he writes about it beautifully. There really are some absolutely gorgeous moments in this novel, and I just couldn't put it down. Not to mention, I think Leonard Peacock is a very complex, well-crafted character. He is relatable, and throughout the novel, you can't help but feel for him. Not to mention the footnotes. Throughout the novel, Leonard interjects his thoughts, or history about some event or person, throughout the novel. I think this was a clever way to provide background information without really bogging down the reader too much. Overall, I think this novel was well-crafted, and definitely one that I would read again.

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira follows the story of Laurel, who falls into a school assignment of "Write a letter to someone who is dead." It becomes a sort of comfort for Laurel, who writes to people like Kurt Cobain, Amelia Earhart, Judy Garland, and River Phoenix, all people whose lives ended as abruptly as her sister's. The letters are a way for Laurel to work through her emotions as she begins high school, makes new friends, falls in love for the first time, deals with family issues, and grieves for her sister. The letters allow her to find some common ground, and eventually work through her issues. 

While I was reading this book, I couldn't help but think of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. While it's not exactly the same story line, and doesn't deal with quite the same issues, Ava Dellaira writes with a similar quality to Chbosky. Not to mention, the novel is formatted like letters. Love Letters to the Dead is beautifully written, and Laurel is a character that a lot of teens could relate to. She deals with depression, her first love, making new friends, not wanting to be completely alone in high school. Once I got into the novel, I couldn't put it down. It was unique, and definitely one worth taking a look at. 

Next, I will be reading Legend by Marie Lu. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Elizabeth has always known that he was a guy, and once he gets through graduation, he can finally live his life as Gabe. He's trying to transition, but without acknowledgment from his family and with all of the harassment from his peers, the transition is difficult. He only gets support from his friend Paige, who he incidentally has a crush on, but can't act on it without the risk of losing their friendship. So all Gabe is really left with is his music, his radio show, "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children," and his neighbor, John. But is that enough to get him through the end of high school and onto the next step in his life?

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills is probably one of the best novels I've read this summer, so far. The story was engaging, as were the characters. Gabe was probably my favorite. And what I liked was that he is a trans* character who was complex, who worried about transitioning, but worried about other things as well. I think it's important to have characters like this in the young adult genre, because teens need to be able to see themselves in the literature, no matter what.

I don't normally comment on the cover art, or the design of the book, but the design of this book particularly stood out to me. The cover is visually pleasing, and that element of design can be seen throughout the rest of the book. It really drew everything together. I really think this is a powerful book, one that everyone should read. And teachers, I think this is one to keep on your shelves. :)

Next, I will be reading Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. Until next time, happy reading!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Eve & Adam

Eve & Adam by Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant follows the story of Evening (Eve) Striker who ends up in a horrible car accident, and is rushed to the hospital with terrible injuries. Before anything can be done, a strange boy named Solo whisks her away to her mom's lab. While recovering from her injuries, Eve's mom gives her a task. To create the perfect boy. Through the technology from her mom's company, Eve builds a boy from the ground up. But will he be the perfect boyfriend?

I originally picked up the book because I've read stuff by Michael Grant before, and the story concept sounded interesting to me. And I wasn't necessarily disappointed. The story pulled me in from the beginning, and kept me interested right up until the end, especially with Solo's story intertwined with Eve's. I almost think I liked his story line better, because it was less predictable than Eve's. I also felt his motives made for a better story than Eve's.

I think I was also a little put off by Eve's character. Don't get me wrong, I thought she was interesting. And a good, strong character. But the fact that even though she often talked about not needing or wanting a boy in her life, and then still ended up with one seemed like the easy way out. There was potential here to actually make a story without a romance, without the main character ending up with someone at the end. And for a moment at the beginning, I truly thought that was where it was going. But alas, it followed the conventions of most young adult novels. And while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, I was hoping this would be the exception to the rule. Perhaps another book in the future.

So overall, while there were some things I didn't necessarily like about the book, I think it was a decent book. I probably won't read it again, but I would recommend it if you are looking for a fun summer read that's fairly fast paced and doesn't require much thinking.

I guess that's it for now. Next I will be reading Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Conn-Mills. Until next time, happy reading! :)