Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy

i just finished reading these three books by Suzanne Collins, and they were thoroughly enjoyable. The first book is the most solid because it felt closest to the main character; the second and third books spend too much time explaining the world and its political situation. The sense of suspense drops off too, perhaps because by the time the first book ends the hero has gotten herself out of so many dangerous situations relatively unscathed: sure she gets injured, but there are no real consequences from those injuries. It becomes predictable.

The Hunger Games takes place in a kind of post-apocalyptic North America, where people from 12 districts are slaves laboring in poverty. Each district specializes in a product: Katniss comes from district 12 where the majority of people mine coal. Every year, each district must send 2 tributes between the ages of 12 and 18, one male and one female, to participate in a battle to the death. The winner gets lifetime luxury, and his or her district receives extra goods for a year. Kind of Battle Royale, except the tributes in The Hunger Games aren't thrown in to battle unexpectedly. Everyone knows about the Hunger Games and there's even an enforced celebratory atmosphere. Tributes get to live in the Capitol for a week, eating and training. The citizens of the Capitol, who give no tribute and live off of the work of the 12 districts, anticipate the games and bet on the outcomes. They love the entertainment

Katniss volunteers as a tribute to protect her younger sister. Katniss is driven by her will to survive and to protect her family. The last book is perhaps the best at bringing out her self-doubt and uncertainty about the necessity for violence and toughness by bringing her two romantic interests together under very strained circumstances. Katniss is rough, she succeeds at most things she tries, and people take a liking to her (in some cases because of her PR, in some cases in spite of it). i appreciate her as a strong female protagonist because she's allowed a brutality not often found in girls in literature. Even Tamora Pierce's warrior women are rarely quite as ruthless.

It might be interesting to look at The Hunger Games alongside, or as an alternative to Lord of the Flies in high school classrooms. Similar situation, but much less essentialist. And, in my opinion, more fun to read.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Layout Update

i've been feeling lately that the blog is perhaps a bit unreadable (or perhaps it is my own worsening eyesight that finds bright colours blurring) and certainly looks dated. So i've updated to a look & colour scheme that is hopefully easier on the eyes. Suggestions & comments are welcome.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Not Really A Review: Monoceros

Alright, i'm supposed to be getting down to serious business, but my supervisor's out of town! Which means I can spare a few minutes to talk about Suzette Mayr's new book Monoceros.

i wish i could mail a copy of Monoceros back in time to give to teenaged me, though i think i appreciate the book much more since i've worked in a high school. Monoceros deals with the impact of the suicide of a gay teenager on his community: the closeted principal and guidance counselor, the wistful girl obsessed with unicorns, his secret boyfriend, and his boyfriend's jealous girlfriend. Mayr takes a tragic subject and teases out humour; who knew a book about teen suicide could be so wickedly funny? And the Catholic high school -- well that could have been my school. The weird disjunction between what the church says and what teachers might actually believe or do . . . official policy versus real life . . . the inability to talk openly or directly to students looking for advice or guidance on sexual issues. This book gets it so right.

i've written before about the bullying i experienced in high school because i looked gay. i've written about the attempts of the Halton Roman Catholic District School Board to ban Gay-Straight Alliances (and the comparison Alice Anne LeMay made between GSA clubs and Neo-Nazis). i don't think i mentioned that the year i spent in a Calgarian high school involved an incident where my model UN team nearly got pulled from competition because ABORTION might be discussed. Or the time my Teacher Adviser outright denied that George W. Bush might restrict where health care aid funds could be distributed based on abortion provision.

Reviewers have suggested that high school students need to read this book. i think even more than that, this book needs to be given to teachers, to parents, to priests, to school librarians. To board of education members. To the people who influence and control the environment, and therefore the lives, of students.

And yes, to teenagers too. Because teenagers especially need unicorns.