The Hunger GamesCurrently, I’m in the middle of a few books: Our Mutual Friend (Dickens), Five Thousand Days Like This One (Jane Brox), Still Alice (Lisa Genova), A Fountain Filled With Blood (Julia Spencer Fleming). But I had to give The Hunger Games a try.

The novel is “in the wind” because the movie will be released soon, but it was an article in TIME Magazine about YA dystopian novels that got me to mosey over to the bookcase and pluck it out. (That article is behind a paywall, but here’s a story from NPR with a similar flavor.)

I think the chief pleasure of the dystopian genre is discovering what’s the same and what’s different in the world after the apocalypse (nuclear fallout, devastating disease, etc.). In The Hunger Games, the country has been divided into twelve districts following a crippling war. (I’ve already guessed that the supposedly annihilated District 13 is still out there.) Each district concentrates on a separate industry, each has no contact with other districts—a “divide and conquer” gambit overseen by the Capitol (which is set in the Rockies). In District 12—the coal mining district—Katniss feeds her little sister and mother by hunting in the forbidden forest beyond the boundary fence. Poverty, starvation, mutants, lack of electricity, dangerous jobs, black market activity, fear of the brutal State: this is our heroine’s world until she volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Games. Then she travels to the shining capital, where food and technological wizardry abound (only briefly, of course, if you’re one of the Game’s contestants, or “tributes”).

The chapters about the games themselves were less riveting. Tributes killing or being killed, manipulation of the arena by the Gamekeepers to prevent their TV audiences from getting bored, gifts parachuted in from benefactors. We can guess who’s going to win (since she’s narrating). The only strong bit, I thought, was the touching sub-plot with Rue and Thresher.

The Hunger Games is a novel for youngsters, after all, so I can’t judge it by adult standards; yet it doesn’t match the Harry Potter series for breadth and depth of complexity, cleverness, and compassion. But it’s certainly been another winner for Scholastic!