Thursday, March 29, 2012

Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games

What is it possible to say about The Hunger Games that hasn't already been said? Everyone knows the gist of what it's about, so I'm not going to get into that, I'm just going to tell you why you should read it.

From the beginning, it's a fast-paced, exciting read. A lot of the exposition is interspersed with the action, which keeps it moving quickly. So even if you think you're going to hate it, just read it already, so the rest of us can talk to you about it! Can you believe how crazy such-and-such death was? Don't you think that so-and-so is going to turn out to secretly be a jerk? Is (narrator) Katniss secretly a jerk? Are we going to talk about how disgusting reality TV is, or could be, or are we going to rush to the theater to watch kids battle it out to the death and thank some deity that at least it's not real? (I've heard the movie doesn't glorify the actual games, but I guess we'll see.) Is society already as gross as it is in the book?

There are deeper questions to be asked when you read The Hunger Games, for sure. What happens when the government has too much power? How do people deal with that when they benefit from those inequities versus when they're held hostage by them. These questions aren't posed directly, nor are they really answered. I also think that if you're frustrated by politics but they're on your radar, (hi, that's me!), you'll probably be more apt to start drawing parallels and getting cranky. But The Hunger Games is self contained in a way that doesn't make it seem like it's trying to tackle such big issues, it saves them for later. I definitely think that's important for a YA book, to not get too serious about the issues in a way that bashes the reader over the head. (I think Collins saved that all for Mockingjay, or else just lost all her restraint there.) It's just about a girl fighting for her life and her family's future in a really fucked up system.

Also, maybe I'm overly sentimental, but isn't it a bit of a tear-jerker?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Nicole Baart - After the Leaves Fall

There is a nasty betrayal a reader feels when discovering that a work they once enjoyed is not fact but fiction. Reading “After the Leaves Fall,” I was afflicted with such a feeling and that was my own fault. Whether I read a misleading blurb somewhere or I confused a description for this book with that of another, I can’t say. I can only remember that I thought I would be reading a heartbreaking memoir with lush descriptions, which did turn out to be half true, at least. There really were amazing descriptions of surroundings and awful feelings of grief and regret, but it did start to get old. Too much of a unique thing turned weird and gimmicky by the end.

I suppose this is where I need to add the disclaimer that this is a faith-based book (aka something I would never knowingly pick up), a work of complete fiction and that my feelings of betrayal when discovering both when about three quarters of the way through the book probably did taint my opinion, but I did try to get over my instant knee-jerk reaction as I continued reading. As a Catholic-raised agnostic, it was easy to identify with the main character, Julia DeSmit’s loss of faith, but the way the book concluded was quite unbelievable. Where faith might have provided some explanation for a reader who had any, I lack that completely and found the ending quite sappy and too easily won.

Back to the actual content of the book, the first half reads like a bunch of heartbreaking but distinctly separate short stories about the loss of both of her parents (not a spoiler, I promise). Julia looks back on her life with a clear perspective that the benefit of hindsight can provide. The sort-of-omniscience made sense at the time. When that started to carry over to the second half of the book, which switched perspectives to a more-recent-past tense, telling the story as it happened, as she enrolled in college and experienced things there, it didn’t make sense. This girl was learning who she was, faltering and fumbling along, but could describe things with such clarity that it felt like the author had stepped too far into Julia’s shoes, speaking for her instead of letting her tell the story, as she had been.

In one of the final chapters, when Julia was still telling the story, yet was also able to describe the thoughts and feelings of another character, that was the last straw for me. Even if I hadn’t been frustrated by finding out I was reading a book about faith, and a fictional one at that, the inconsistency would have irked me. I don’t mind strange narrators or even all-knowing asshole characters if the story is good, it’s the inconsistency that bothered me. I want to believe that I would have kept on enjoying the book if the writing hadn’t changed, even with the annoyance of finding out that it was fictional and was about faith and religion, but you can go ahead and take that with a grain of salt.

And it turned out that this is the beginning of a series. As much as I would like to complete the series for closure’s sake, because I am a crazy closure-needing freak, I definitely won’t. In the end, I wasn’t interested in Julia or the story she began telling halfway through the book. If you are religious and find faith-centered stories fulfilling, the story might overcome the flaws in the writing for you, but I was irritated by both and I would definitely avoid this author in the future. But the beginning was so good! Gah. It just wasn't for me.