brni (brni) wrote,

Taking a poke at The Hunger Games

Okay. I may be one of the last people in the world to read this book. I remember seeing the displays when it first came out a few years back, nestled in there with all the Twilight books, and I thought, Great. Because what the world really needs now is another teen vampire book.

Yeah, okay, so I saw "Hunger" and immediately thought of David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon, and Catherine Deneuve. But really, can you blame me? I mean.... ~throws hands in air~ You know what I mean?

My first clue that The Hunger Games wasn't yet another sparkly teen vampire book was when the internet went nuts with (alleged) people freaking out because they cast one of the sympathetic characters with a black actress. Saw what actual people said about the book and movie, and decided I needed to read the book.

So. Book purchased. Book read.

First, a criticism.

Early in the book, Katniss talks about surviving in the woods, and some of the plant lore her father taught her. One of the plants that are listed as safe and edible is pokeweed.

Poke is a massively useful and wonderful plant (my spousal unit calls it Grandmother Poke), that also happens to be one of the most toxic plants in the American landscape. The young shoots can be eaten, when harvested early, and then boiled and drained three times to remove the poison. The roots are highly poisonous. Once the red moves into the stems, the entire plant is poisonous. The berries are poisonous (but used in very small doses, is a very effective herbal remedy for arthritis). The seeds are massively poisonous. If you swallow a berry you should be fine, as the seeds will just pass through; if you chew it and crack a seed, well...

There's some good information here about pokeweed and what bits are edible, and when:

As far as medical uses go - read a lot of different sources, and read with a critical eye. Consult a reputable herbalist. If you are going to use it, remember that it is a deadly toxin: start with extremely small doses, increasing conservatively until you get the results you want, or your body tells you to stop (you start getting side-effects).

So, anyway, that was what bothered me.

Outside of that one word, I'm pretty much blown away by this book. Katniss, as a first person narrator, thinks and talks believably like a girl her age in her circumstances. The language is simple and sparse. It reflects Katniss' personality - efficient and to the point, and anything that requires too much conjecture is set aside as not relevant. Descriptions are consistently utilitarian - no romantic pastoral paintings of the meadow and woods beyond District 12; it's all animal trails and where the snares should go, and what dangers to watch for. The worldbuilding is also through her eyes - it's told through her experiences, without her stopping to explain what it means. The reader's understanding of the world builds as much in what isn't said as what is.

At some point, I'd like to break down and analyze the first chapter as an example of how to do it right.

All in all, Suzanne Collins has done a masterful job with The Hunger Games (y'know, other than the Pokeweed thing), and it's as strong a book as my other favorite "non-adult" books - The Phantom Tollbooth and the Earthsea books.
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