The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

ISBN: 9781407109084

I really struggled to put this book down, and when I did I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Set in a dystopia future for the USA, the Hunger Games are a way for the Capitol to keep the people under its thumb, reminding them that they are owned.
Each year at the reaping, two young people are picked at random from each district and all are forced to fight to the death… while the whole country watches on their television screens. Collins weaves romance into the plot in a way that isn’t twee or mushy, but stark. She portrays the conflicting emotions and desires that come with being sixteen years old accurately, but with the added dimension of the need to murder your peers.
I am wary, now, when reading teen fiction surrounded by hype, for the commonest comment is ‘but it’s so badly written!’ Well I was so wrapped up in this novel that I forgot to take stock of the language at all! I devoured it how a dog wolfs down his dinner without tasting it. It was entirely satisfying, without Collins spoon-feeding us every answer. The first person present tense narrative was a bold choice, but one which highlights the claustrophobia of the Games and also the immediacy of everything when you know that death could spring upon you at any moment.
In this grim update of 1984, Collins raises questions about how we get our entertainment, how relationships develop under the most extreme pressure, and how far we are willing to go to survive.
Rating: 9/10

The Borrowers – Mary Nichols

ISBN: 978-0140364514

Over my Christmas break, I thought it necessary to relive this charming classic. In fact, I started reading it aloud to my family. However, after the first chapter nobody seemed available to listen to it… Rest assured, this is certainly due to my over-emphatic reading voice, rather than this gripping tale.
And it is gripping; the plot moves quickly which makes it highly accessible for children, and the characters are more than endearing. Despite the small scale of these heroes, they have enormous personalities which glow through the pages like a night light, reassuringly present throughout. Each of us, I’m sure will have somebody we know who is encapsulated in the character of each Borrower.
This novel is interesting from a literary standpoint too, with it’s exquisite frame narration. We are told this story by a girl, who pretends to be Kate, who is told it by Mrs. May, who was told it by her brother! This of course has interesting implications on the reliability of the plot, which is so important in a story where many of the characters feel the need to be believed. This has elements of meta fiction too, with the storyteller coming out of the tale at the end, reminding us that it is, in fact, just a story.
Rating: 8/10

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

ISBN: 9780099523994

This is the first graphic novel that I have read–and what an introduction! This book is at once poignant, moving and laugh-out-loud funny. Above all, it is intelligent. Told in two parts, this is the autobiography of a woman growing up in Iran in the 1980s: The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return.
The first section is narrated mainly by ten-year-old Satrapi, who is a witty, sharp and immensely endearing character. She is that questioning child found in every culture and every situation, asking the questions that adults don’t dare to… or don’t think of.
Though this book is highly political, it is so very real. More than anything else, this is the story of a woman becoming a woman. Satrapi shows us that humanity is humanity, no matter what the situation, that societies, and particularly children, share the same bonds and frailties across the globe.
At times I found the speech a little ‘I’m saying this so that the reader will know where we’ve got up to in the plot’, which did irritate me. However, this may be standard convention for graphic novels, given their layout and style.
Satrapi questions family, God, and identity openly, but with both precision and care, like folding together a delicate meringue. The result is glossy.
Rating: 8/10