Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Hunger Games: My thoughts on the movie and the books

First let me say that I really liked the books and that the movie was, not only powerful, but also one of the best screen adaptations I've seen. Most of the time when I watch a movie after reading the book, I am disappointed at best - usually I hate it. At least at first. Sometimes I can grow to like the movie as a separate thing and enjoy it for what it is rather than what it's not, but that doesn't usually happen the first time I see it. (I thought the first Harry Potter movie was also very well translated from book to movie.) That said, I appreciate that they toned down the violence in the book significantly and was impressed that they made the effort. Usually I spend the entire movie thinking, "Why did they change that? What is that person doing? That wasn't in the book!" And other things along those lines. Perhaps because I read the series a few months ago in one weekend, or perhaps because I deliberately didn't re-read the book before seeing the movie, but while I noticed some detail differences and the need to drop characters there wasn't anything that made me mad. Nothing that made me scream, "I can't believe they changed that! Why?!" And that is practically a miracle! :)

First-person novels are usually difficult to turn into movies because so much of the book is inside the person's head. But I knew when I read these books that they would translate well. The movie definitely lacked depth of's hard to know how much, because I just added that information to the movie as I was watching so I didn't notice as much as I usually do. Since they didn't change the characters, it was easy to do. The acting was very good. I thought Katniss especially was very well done. She had to walk a fine line between showing the inner terror and horror with the outward stoicism of the character in the book. That translated into seeing a lot of her fear (which in the book she just repressed and felt she had to keep off of her face so that people wouldn't think she was weak). The scene right before she enters the arena was especially terror inducing. That tick in her neck and the shakes in her hands and the wide eyes and locked Very well done and as understated as possible. I do think it made her look weaker by showing it, but I also knew that they needed to portray it somehow in the movie because they didn't have the ability to show her thoughts otherwise. I did miss some of the inner conversations she was having with Haymich, trying to figure out what she was supposed to do and what he was telling her with what he sent her, but I knew they didn't really have time to develop that - it was in there, just not much.

The violence is one of the things I keep reading about - people were disturbed that the movie had kids killing kids. Yes. That is disturbing. The amazing thing about it though is that, unlike most movies that depict violence, the violence in the movie (and in the books) was portrayed as horrible. There was never a point where you thought, "Haha! That kid really took down that other one!" Not even when Katniss shoots at the guy who's throwing a spear at her. You never think, "Yes! She finally got one." The two instances I hear the most complaints about are the 'mercy' killing and the suicide pact... Okay, major SPOILERS here - if you don't want any, please skip to the next paragraph... This is one of the places where having read the books added a depth that was missing in the movie. The 'mercy' killing in the movie was very fast and seemingly without thought. In the book the poor boy was being eaten alive over the course of the entire night. They listened to his torture all night. He was dead already, he just wasn't yet. Even when she looks down at him and he asks her to kill him, she still agonizes over it. It's still not presented as a good solution, but it's the one she feels is right. Certainly, if I were in the boys shoes, so to speak, I would want her to kill me too. The other part is the eating of the berries. In the book she truly believes that they won't let them die. They need their winner. It is the only way she can think of that she won't have to kill Peeta. She never believes that they will let her die. Only right before the berries go in her mouth does she have a moment where she thinks that maybe she was wrong. So yes, Peeta thought they were killing themselves, but he was prepared for her to shoot him and kill him just a moment before so that she could win, but Katniss never believed she was committing suicide. She was merely exerting the only power she had left over them. Otherwise she would be killing because they told her to, instead she chose to defy that order, lay down her arms so to speak, and trick them into letting them both live. Sure, it was a was a gamble with her life, but it was that or become the ruthless killer they wanted her to be.

I hated The Lord of the Flies. Hated it with a passion. I've read that it's one of Suzanne Collins' favorites. So why did I hate the first, but love the books that it (partially) inspired? There was something good in it. If you haven't been forced to read The Lord of the Flies, consider yourself lucky. I think I was in middle school, but it may have been 9th grade that I read it, and I was disgusted by it completely. It was one of only five books I had to read for school that I hated. There was one kid (and only one) who had any redeeming qualities in that story. One. And he was killed probably halfway through the book. I'm guessing on the timing because I'm not going back to read it to get that right, but it was somewhere in the middle. At that point I felt like throwing the book across the room and screaming, "You just murdered the only person in the book that was worth saving!" That's how I felt. I didn't care what happened to all those other horrible little boys. I wanted them all to die at that point. I wanted to take a shower and just keep scrubbing...I still feel that way remembering the book now. I wish I could scrub it out of my head. There are many people in The Hunger Games books that are good people. They have so many reasons to love and admire them. Sure, there are some that are completely despicable, but most are not. Katniss practically oozes sacrificial love. Who didn't see her volunteer to take her sisters place in what could only be considered a death sentence and not think of Jesus? Only those who've never heard of him. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friend." How is that not admirable? How is that not something to hold up - even if she had died - as something to emulate...if only because she was doing the very thing Christ did for us. Peeta - ah, Peeta - the sweet boy who tries his best to help others and loves Katniss from afar. Whose goal is not for himself, but someone else first. Should we not emulate a love that thinks first of the other instead of his own personal comfort - or even life?

No, there is no mention of God in the book - or the movie. It's definitely odd, as a person of faith, to have no one in the book ever turn to something higher/bigger than they are. Actually, I don't believe it's possible, but I didn't write the book. People who are suppressed and depressed as much as those in the districts were would need hope to survive. They would turn to something. I think the fact that there is nothing to turn to in the story is the most provocative thing in the entire three books. The despair and hopelessness is so prevalent and obvious the only thing for me to do is cry for those poor people who don't have Jesus. Who don't have hope. Who are lost in a world where there is no purpose and no meaning and no joy. Nothing else can satisfy. It is so plain to my eyes that it hurts to look at. To see her at the end of the series and realize that life is as good as she can make it under the circumstances and just pity her. There is still no point to anything. Perhaps that's why our world makes such a big deal of finding the perfect mate, because that is the only spot of joy possible where there is no God. Interesting thought.

Finally, it's a hard book to read. It's an even harder series to read. It gets more and more depressing and more and more people die - or worse. I'm not usually drawn to those types of books. Honestly, I would rather read something fun and easy. I would rather entertain myself with a story that makes me cry then makes me laugh, then ends happily. There are so many themes in this book that can be used as a jumping off point for so many conversations: The role of government in society (yes, politics), the absence of God and how that affects the story (yes, religion), right and wrong and situational ethics - are you consistent? (yes, morality), rich and poor - society's caste system (yes, money), and even recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses and working within the talents God has given you. These are things that we don't talk about enough. We don't talk about them because they are divisive and offensive because we each hold our beliefs strongly. That's great, but we need to learn how to have a conversation about these things without beating each other down. We need to have an open dialog and lovingly disagree. I think that's my favorite thing about fantasy stories: We have a platform to talk about so many things that are so hurtful in our society in a safe/once-removed kind of way. We can have a discussion about what we think about the government of Panem, the strengths and weaknesses, the blessings and the horrors, and not get caught up in our current political dilemmas and start bashing candidates or parties or whatever. It's a safe way to talk about issues that promotes discussion. I'm all for that.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Dark Divine Series by Bree Despain

First, I have a confession to make: I'm not much of a reader of paranormal romance. There. I've said it. Phew! Every inclination of my heart is to pass right by that entire section. Although, another confession, I enjoyed Twilight - which makes me a huge hypocrite maybe, but there it is. Well, the only reason I read Twilight in the first place is because it was recommended to me from a source I couldn't refuse. Anyway, this is about a series I just read this week and picked up all on my own. Well, it was also recommended to me, but not personally. I first heard of Bree Despain as a guest on Writing Excuses (a totally awesome podcast I listen to every week!) and I thought she was both funny and articulate. I enjoyed her so much that I put her books on my to-read list...that was probably a year or so ago. No, my list isn't that long...or, well, it is, but I could've bumped those books to the top at any point, but I hesitated. Other books took prescidence. There are so many books I wanted to read (not to mention write), and paranormal romance isn't usually my cup of tea, so I put it off. However, I didn't forget about them. I follow her on Twitter (even though I had yet to read any of her books, I was a fan) and the first two books (The Dark Divine and The Lost Saint) went on sale at Amazon last week - $1.99 each on Kindle - so I picked them up. I guess it came down to "I like her enough to spend $4 to see what she's about" (and I couldn't find them at my library). Her final book in the series, The Savage Grace, came out on Tuesday. I bought it. For $9.99. Totally worth it. And I'm actually glad I hadn't read them earlier because I got to read all three of them right in a row - so, no waiting! Bonus! :)

Okay. Short Review. Here it goes: I LOVED them! There, now that you know my bias, here's my reasoning.

Faith: It was refreshing to see a Christian protagonist and family in an honest light. While there were a couple of odd moments for me in the first book - mostly wanting a little more internal motivation from Grace (main character) along these lines because it feels sometimes like she's just a good girl who grew up in a religious family, but hasn't really made it her own - I really thought she did an excellent job honestly portraying some of the struggles and failures a person of faith encounters in life. I loved the imagery of her battling the 'monster within and without' with love and forgiveness - and how hard that can be. Now, this being paranormal, her 'monster' was a very literal werewolf, but the themes can so easily translate to the real world. The story of the Prodigal Son is such a poignant base for the series, and it is wonderfully explored.

Characters: There are so many! Each wonderfully crafted and believable. Grace, Daniel, Jude, Pastor Divine, and Gabriel would probably be considered main characters throughout the series. I want to include April and Talbot in that list, along with Katie and Pete and the Lost Boys, but they're not really main characters - they're just developed with such depth that they feel like they should be! Even Charity gets some spunk in the third book (her sister). Anyway, I love the characters. I felt they had depth and honesty. They weren't stereotypical. They had strengths and weaknesses. She gave enough information for me to understand their motivations and make their actions believable (which is not easy to do in first-person). So, yeah, I want to meet her characters - well, most of them anyway! :)

Plot: So Interesting! The first book followed mostly Grace, Daniel, and Jude. Daniel comes back to town. He used to be Jude's best friend and Grace's crush, but something happened three years ago that no one will talk about. I love the themes of growth and change - both good and bad - that the characters have undergone in the last three years and throughout the book. Why did they make the choices they did? What really happened? Why does it matter? Yeah, great questions to find out! The second book is the hardest - which is completely normal. Grace makes some frustrating choices and we have to yell at the book about how totally stupid (but extremely believable) she's being. When she finally figures some things out, she still has a stupid moment, but then she's back to being Grace and we love that! The third book is literally action-packed the entire time. Things happen so fast and furious Grace can't get everything under control. She has a difficult first part of the book before she has her strength moment and starts to make everything right. Wow. That was awesome. Bittersweet good.

Possible Spoilers (I don't think I gave anything vital away - the last one is the most questionable):

My favorite scene: This may be an odd scene to pick. I would think many would pick the basement warehouse scene near the end of the second book, or maybe the fight scene later that day... Or maybe they would pick the scene on the parish roof and afterwards in the first book...that was awesome too! Or the many other high-intensity action scenes... Or maybe some of the sweet, tender moments between Grace and Daniel. Yeah, they're all good and it's hard to choose, but I have one. It comes in the last book (The Savage Grace) after a pretty physically intense moment between Daniel and Grace, Daniel rolls away from her and puts his feet on the floor and his head down - putting distance between the two of them. He calms himself down and says that he doesn't want to do anything that would go against what they decided about staying abstinent until marriage. She, of course, loves him so much more for that statement at the same time that she wants to ignore what they decided before (very believable - great job Bree!). She moves to him and begins to kiss him again, and he stands up and walks away! THAT is love people! THAT is sacrifice! The book's themes cover so many 'I'd give up my life/soul/etc for you/yours' that this scene might fall under the radar. There are really so few times in our lives that we get the opportunity to sacrifice ourselves for another in a huge, tangible way like Grace and several others get to do somewhat often in the series, but that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities for sacrifice. That scene between Grace and Daniel happens so frequently to so many people every day except they let their passion for the moment make them forget who they are and what they want. And neither one stands up for the other and walks away. Neither one thinks much past the desires of the moment. They don't think about what the other person wants - really wants, not just physically craves in the moment - what that person decided before their mind became clouded and confused by physical intimacy. I love Daniel. He was such a good character in the series. His growth and actions and secrets and motivations and everything was so well done (and filtered through Grace's perception), but this is the scene that made me love him. This is the scene where I knew what kind of man he was. Perfect.

My favorite character: Yeah, not gonna happen. I loved so many of them! I thought I could come down definitively on this one, but no. Daniel is awesome. He really is (as per favorite scene), but as we see him through the eyes of someone who loves him, it's hard not to - so I'm going to ignore him as a candidate. I also love Jude. Again, she loves him, so how can I not? His character is fascinating in its complexity and I want to know more. If Bree had her fan fic contest now rather than a couple weeks ago, I may have had to write about him. But no, unfortunately I hadn't read any of her books two weeks ago! :) Ah well. Gabriel is another one of my favorites. He's got a whole shaolin monk thing going on that I love. However, I have to pull my favorite characters from the third book: Brent and Slade, two of the lost boys. I loved them. I loved how extremely deep she made them even though they were very side characters and didn't even enter until the last book. Perhaps I'm a little biased because I have trouble making my side characters this believable - and I'm jealous. I need to take lessons from her!  - Honestly, I was going to come down with Brent as my favorite as I started writing this paragraph, just fyi.

My favorite surprise/tension: Talbot. Hands down. No contest. Bree was brilliant in her treatment of his character. I don't know how many times I went back and forth on his character, thinking I had all the information I needed this time, but then she's toss another scrap and I'd think 'wait, maybe...' and I'd go in circles that way throughout the second and third books. I was mostly right a lot of the time, but she definitely threw some surprises at me. I still have to wonder (and it might be fun to write an alternate story about this) if Grace had handled things differently, how much difference would that have made in the end? I think a lot. The further along in book three I got, the more tension I felt because of her choices concerning him. He would be another interesting character to many motivations! Again, great job, Bree! :)

Hehehe, I tried to keep that as un-spoilery as I could.

Anyway, final thoughts: I really enjoyed the series. I basically read it like one book - back to back to back - so I would think it would be difficult to keep them separate, but she made each one distinct that it's surprisingly easy. That means a lot to me - especially since it's a trilogy. It seems that so many authors just stop the story instead of completing something in each book. She did an excellent job. At first I was annoyed at the ending of the second book because it seemed to come very abruptly, but that part of the story was completed...she just threw in something totally crazy (and new) at the end that I had to know that story too. Thankfully the last book is out now and that tension never needs to exist for you! (I had to wait two whole was torture!)  So, I recommend this series. Read it. It's good. :)