Over Memorial Day, I spent some time reading books have been being reviewed all over the blogosphere: The Book Thief and The Hunger Games. If you’ve never heard of these two books, you’re either living under a rock or spend too much time hitting “Mark all as read” in your Google Reader 🙂
Because they’ve been so talked about, I don’t think writing full reviews of both will add a lot to the discussion, so I’m going to just do a couple of short ones and call it a day.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Summary: Liesel Meminger is a young German girl living with her foster parents in poor neighborhood at the beginning of WWII. As a child, she steals a copy of The Grave Digger’s Handbook that she finds lying on the ground. This first theft sparks a long-term love of books and words. The book is narrated by Death, which turns what could be just another WWII story into something much more complicated.
Review: Using Death as a narrator is a tricky move. Death knows what is going to happen in the story, so you get a lot of foreshadowing that something terrible is going to happen before the story is over. As I read, I felt like I was constantly waiting for the bad thing to happen and I thought I wasn’t getting attached to the characters because I knew they were in trouble.
But then I got to the big bad thing and instead of being distanced from it, I was so drawn in I started bawling. I think it’s a huge testament to how good this book is that even someone deliberately distancing herself from the characters was still emotionally attached to this story in a deep way.Truly, the characters in the story are superbly drawn-out and you can’t help love it. The book does get a little long in the middle, but it was so good that I’m sure I’ll read it again in the future.
Recommended? Unequivocally yes, this book was awesome.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Summary: In the future North America, there is a society called Panem. The Capitol city and ruling government forces obedience from its citizens through a ritual known as the Hunger Games. Each year, one boy and one girl from each of the country’s twelve districts are chosen to participate in the survivor-esque reality competition where the only way to win is to kill off all your competitors.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the games after he twelve-year-old sister Prim is drawn. Kat assumes she’s going to her death, but through the help of her sponsors and friends she becomes a contender to win. At the same time, her feelings for the male competitor from her district, Peetra, complicate the game even further. Can Kat trust someone who could be a friend or more, when in the end one of them will have to die?
Review: I’m not sure how to describe this book. The whole idea of the Hunger Games reminded me of Survivor and other reality tv mixed with “The Lottery” and Lord of the Flies. Even though the story is unfamiliar, as I read I constantly felt like I was thinking about something I’d already read — like the book is a weird mashup of a lot of already well-worn themes. But, they’re important themes about the importance of humanity versus entertainment and themes that I hope get drawn out in the sequel.
Even so, I liked reading this book a lot. The narrative kept me constantly engaged because there’s a sort of constant action and constant unknown. Katniss was a great main character who showed plenty of conflict about her decisions. She wasn’t so good at everything as to be unbelievable, but wasn’t so ordinary that she was forgettable. I liked her and was constantly rooting for her.
My only quibble was that some of the plot twists seemed sort of arbitrary without any sense that what happened was coming. Part of that comes from the nature of the Hunger Games — the games are broadcast as a reality tv show with Gamemakers manipulating the action as they see fit. The games are inherently arbitrary, so the plot should sort of follow that. Even so, some of the plot points came out of nowhere which sort of bugged me. But only bugged me a little bit — I finished the entire book in one afternoon.
Recommended? Yep, this book is an engaging read that’ll keep you thinking and guessing right along with the characters.