I haven’t done a book review for awhile, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading! Dan’s kind enough to feed Lizzy her last bottle of the night, so I can escape to bed a little early and read (he’s done this from very early on, and it’s meant a lot.).
One book series that I’ve been plowing through deserves some attention because it’s certainly gaining a lot of interest from young adult readers. If you have a high schooler in your life, you’ve probably already heard of The Hunger Games.
When I first heard the premise, I thought it sounded revolting. It’s a distopian novel about a future time in North America, where children are forced to battle for their lives in an arena so their families have food. Who wants to read about kids killing each other? But apparently, lots of people do, because these books are flying off the shelves.
If you’ve read my other book reviews, you know my philosophy about reading these books. They are very popular, and therefore, to fully engage the culture, it’s worthwhile to read them. I sort of look at these as the latest fad book in line with Harry Potter and Twilight. And regardless of their entertainment value or even their moral value, these books can function as a lens from which to view our society.
You can find more extensive summaries of the book elsewhere (it’s the first in a trilogy). Here, I merely want to touch on some themes that are worthwhile to consider.
I don’t want to give any spoilers here, but people offer their lives in exchange for others. This happens a few times in the book. Some of the most climatic and key points in the book focus on these sacrifices. This is by no means a Christian story, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find elements of Truth in it. And what better way to discuss Christ’s sacrifice for our sake than to talk about it in terms of the familiar, how favorite characters willingly offer themselves for others.
2. The “haves” and “have nots”
Similar to other famous distopian novels, such as 1984 and Brave New World, the government is an all powerful entity that oppresses certain groups of people, creating a “haves” and “have nots” kind of culture. In The Hunger Games, the “haves” live in “The Capitol,” where excess characterizes their lives. The “have nots” live everywhere else, making sprockets for the Capital’s conspicuous consumption while they are starving.
Let’s not get Marxist over this, about redistribution and the proletariat and all. But let’s think about how despite a recession, we still have a heck of a lot more than most of the world. We’re the conspicuous consumers, the “haves,” benefitting from the back breaking labor in sweat shops. This isn’t a reminder to be thankful for all we have but to think about what we do with it. Are we like the folks in the Capitol, binging and purging just to taste new party foods (a book two reference, but it really hit me hard)? How do we share our bounty to bless the “have nots,” instead of inventing more ways to waste it on unnecessary things?
3. What is real?
There’s a lot of deception and strategic double dealing in The Hunger Games. The Capitol stages the games, but there’s a lot of artifice involved, from the created game area, to the way contestants are presented to the public. Those living in the Capitol, getting entertained by the games, aren’t aware of all the behind the scenes work that presents a fraud for a fact.
On the most basic level, its easy to see how this is like the “reality” TV that is so popular these days. But I also see it as very similar to what it’s like to be a Christian in this world.
We Christians are in a world that isn’t our home. The games people play here aren’t our games. Chasing after money, sex, power, and the like is the pastime of most everyone else. But we play by different rules, seek different things, serve someone else.
Katniss, the main character, sees through the artifice in these games and is a citizen of a different world. She has to hold to the very tenuous balance that we Christians have every day, to be in the world of artifice but not be of that world. And it’s not always crystal clear what that means, how to act in this strange place that makes unsavory demands of us. But in the struggle, she has companions to help her, and we have them too: our friends, our Church, God.
I’d love to hear what others think of this book. It’s due to be out as a movie in a year, meaning it will get even more widespread exposure. Why not dive in now to be ready to discuss it then?