The Only Thing Better Than Reading Books Is Reading About Them: Cassie-la Delves Into “The Girl Who Was on Fire” from Leah Wilson

The Girl Who Was on Fire - Leah WilsonThe Girl Who Was On Fire (Movie Edition): Your Favorite Authors On Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy [edited] by Leah Wilson (Galley)
Release Date
: January 17, 2013
Genre
: Non-fiction, literary criticism, dystopia, young adult, let’s geek out with YA authors over other YA books
Rating
: 4.26 out of 5 stars

Summary: Sixteen young adult authors discuss the phenomena that is The Hunger Games Trilogy by exploring the fashion, the tropes, the relation to reality television, the characters and anything else that can be analyzed for your nerdy reading pleasure. Because if there’s something that’s better than reading, it’s talking about what you read. Featuring YA fan favorite authors such as Sarah Rees Brennan, Diana Peterfreund and Carrie Ryan, this if the ultimate unofficial, completely unauthorized glimpse into the mechanics of the Hunger Games.

We’ve covered The Hunger Games here on Bibliomantics before, from our thoughts about the upcoming movie (TIM GUNN FOR CINNA!), to the movie itself, ways in which to immerse yourself in the world of Panem and an in-depth review of Mockingjay, but this is the first time we’ve explored other people discussing the literary ramifications of the series. It was super interesting to see their collective thoughts on the trilogy as a whole. Not to be confused with sacred dwarf holes.

According to my research, which is vast and far reaching, this anthology is slightly different from the original collection The Girl Who Was on Fire because it contains three new essays and extra-movie related content. Nothing in particular stuck out at me in terms of movie content, but I can safely say that there are three more essays. Sadly, none of them explore the Sad Gale meme for which I will be forever disappointed.

What follows is an in-depth look at the better essays in the anthology. Apologies in advance for the disjointed nature of reviewing collections. DAMN YOU ANTHOLOGIES!

In Sarah Rees Brennan’s essay, “Why So Hungry for the Hunger Games? Or… My Sad Inability to Come Up With a Wordplay for Mockingjay“, Brennan discusses her obsession with the series and its ties to the roman Republic (see Carrie Ryan’s paragraph below for a discussion on the meaning of Panem in Latin). Initially, Brennan didn’t start the series because like many, she was under the impression that it was a Battle Royale rip-off. Thankfully, she realized that there are only seven plots in all of literature and she ended up reading the series voraciously, ignoring the needs of her family to do so. Take that family!

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ “Team Katniss” is all about girl power and explores gender roles within the series. It also delves into how the media seems to think the romance is at the forefront of the trilogy yet it is of the least concern. I.e. Katniss only falls in love out of necessity to survive. As Barnes so eloquently puts it, if the series featured a boy protagonist, “I wonder if we would all be sitting around talking about who we think he should be with rather than who we think he should be.” Gender stereotypes, you have been served.

Barnes also discusses the love of Katniss’ life: Prim, pointing out the horrible foreshadowing of her demise. In the opening of The Hunger Games, the first thing Katniss reaches for is Prim, but she comes up empty handed, hinting at the eventual loss of her sister. Read that opening again, trust me, you will feel all the feels. Barnes further ties this into the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” mythos, specifically the relationship between Buffy and her key-sister Dawn and the sacrifice she makes for her. As Buffy tells Dawn before she jumps, “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” Quick, now imagine if Joss Whedon directed The Hunger Games!’

“Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of Your Fist” by Mary Borsellino is perfect for political buffs and anyone who is a fan of the dystopic novel 1984, which is used throughout the anthology as a means of comparison. However, I bring it up here because Borsellino mentions a very interesting idea, that American novels are more optimistic about rebellion because we as a society have successfully rebelled before. Hello new wrinkle in my brain, welcome.

Ned Vizzini’s “Reality Hunger” is notable because it compares the games to reality television and the public desire for fame, bringing in examples of Kurt Cobain and Liam Gallagher to explore the self-awareness of celebrity. Real versus fake, authentic versus imaginary, and all manner of ideas that I couldn’t hope to explore without ruining his intentions.

In “Panem et Circenses”, Carrie Ryan explores reality television through its audience, and also brings in a discussion of the Latin phrase panem et circenses or bread and circuses. You may recall from Mockingjay that Panem’s name is confirmed to come from this phrase, which is a metaphor for the superficial appeasement of the society. In essence, the government creates public approval by distracting the masses with entertainment. In our world, this is reality television and in Panem, societal domination takes the place of Nielsen ratings, which explains why each new game must be worse than the last. We as readers, enjoying the series are in essence the audience. We are the citizens of the Capital, taking enjoyment in the pain of others. Not quite schadenfreude, but it’s close.

Cara Lockwood’s “Not So Weird Science: Why Tracker Jackers and Other Mutts Might Be Coming Soon to a Lab Near You” is all about genetic engineering and great for any science lovers. For example, currently scientists are splicing spiders and silk worms together to create spider silk, which is so strong it can repel bullets. ::weeps softly inside at the thought of silk spiders:: Bonus points for Lockwood’s references to Deep Blue Sea and Hot Tub Time Machine and for her inventive sub-titles such as: “It’s a Mad, Mad… Scientist” and “The Path to Muttdom is Paved With Good Intentions”.

“Hunger Game Theory” by Diana Peterfreund focuses on game theory or the “study of decision-making” and strategy. I.e. the districts with career tributes are playing the Hunger Games using this theory. And while it would seem that the games are meant to be solo endeavors, Katniss changes the rules when she works in a team. This is one of the reasons survival is easier in Catching Fire. As game theory states, the best bet in these circumstances is through cooperation because everyone is fighting a 3rd outside source: the game makers. Specifically, Seneca Crane’s beard.

The essay “Crime of Fashion” is a good look into how clothing plays a part in the revolution through the machinations of Cinna and is worth a read if you can get past author Terri Clark constantly referring to Katniss as Kat.

Finally, the anthology closes with Brent Hartinger’s polarizing, “Did the Third Book Suck?”. Hartinger explores both sides of the argument and if anything can be construed from the final book, it’s that it was different from the first two. Obviously. On the side of the third book sucks are the arguments that the Mockingjay metaphor is too literal, Katniss is unrealistically worshiped, she whines too much and everyone is evil, even the good guys. There is no real grey area like there should be. On the other side of President Coin the coin, Katniss is in essence propaganda and she realizes she has no power (see Mockingjay metaphor), she is whining because she has PTSD and in the end of the series she evolves into something new (see Mockingjay metaphor again). I myself am Team the Third Book Didn’t Suck.

THE GOOD:
-A great anthology to read about reading
-Get to explore the world of The Hunger Games from other viewpoints
-Humorous, touching, thought provoking (depending on the essay)
-Jennifer Lynn Barnes sold me by comparing by Katniss to Buffy
-Diana Peterfreund saying Quidditch should be renamed Find the Snitch is the best ever

THE BAD:
-Not every essay is a masterpiece brimming with amazing new ideas

For novels from the essay writers themselves, the Bibliomantics and I highly recommend the hilarious vampire novel Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier, the zombie tale Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan and the post-apocalyptic re-imagining of Persuasian, Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars. Cara Lockwood’s Bard High series about a reform school haunted by authors and their fictional creations sounds promising, but as amusing as the titles Wuthering High and Moby Clique sound, we can’t speak for the content.

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