Category Archives: Fiction

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Considering that ninety-percent of young adult fiction these days is hardly worth the cost of the paper it’s printed on, I was thoroughly shocked when I finished The Hunger Games Trilogy and found myself concluding that it was one of the best things I’d ever read.

Stephen E. Ambrose – author of such classics as Band Of Brothers and Undaunted Courage – once observed that reading for pleasure usually gave him an escape from work and on rare occasions something to remember and on a very few occasions a book that he couldn’t put down until he’d finished it and one that he could never forget. And without a doubt, The Hunger Games Trilogy falls into the latter category. Well-conceived and written, gripping, poignant, and sometimes downright brutal, it offered me one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in a while.

Among the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. 74 years before the narrative begins, there were thirteen districts. These districts rose in rebellion against the Capitol, but were crushed. District 13 was completely obliterated; the other twelve were forced back into servitude. And to make sure that no such rebellion happens again, the Capitol requires that each district contribute one boy and one girl to the yearly Hunger Games, a type of futuristic gladiatorial contest, where the combatants fight each other on live TV. Only one of them will make it out alive.

In the first book of the trilogy, The Hunger Games, 16-year old Katniss Everdeen, an inhabitant of District 12, volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the Games. She regards it as a death sentence. Then again, Katniss has had near-death experiences before. For her, survival, is second-nature, and soon she becomes a serious contender. But to win, she’ll have to start making decisions that pit survival against humanity, and life against love.

Catching Fire is the second installment, and Collins dutifully ratchets things up a notch, creating one of the most intense atmospheres I’ve ever had encountered. And the final book, Mockingjay, is simply phenomenal. To call it a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy is an understatement. I won’t spoil these for you. You can read them for yourself and see what I mean.

Collins’ achievement is no small matter. She has succeeded in creating a true trilogy, one where the books mesh flawlessly with each other to form a cohesive, breathtaking whole. Her writing style is entirely lucid and engaging, her pacing is perfect, and she has an astounding knack for unleashing twists and turns that her readers never see coming. Reading the final half of Mockingjay was probably one of the most jarring experiences I’ve had while reading a book. The sheer emotional impact of it was nearly overwhelming.

As far as content goes, these books are pretty clean, though I wouldn’t recommend them for audiences under 15. The themes are dark, intense, and very mature. The violence, though not gratuitous, is quite brutal at times (particularly in Mockingjay), and there are some disturbing scenes of torture, mutilation, and death. There is also some incidental nudity (related to the Games) in the first two books, as well as some mildly suggestive dialogue. And though a love story is woven throughout the trilogy, Collins doesn’t go overboard with it; it actually adds an interesting facet to the story.

Collins, to my knowledge, does not profess to be a Christian, but there’s plenty for Christians to think about as they read The Hunger Games Trilogy. Just how far would you go to survive? Is it right to meet brutality with brutality? How does society glorify violence and death in its entertainment? Is murdering children in an arena really any different from killing them in the womb? In what ways is the depraved President Snow – the one who smells of “blood and roses” – like Satan? How do his tactics against the people of Panem resemble Satan’s tactics against our souls? And how often do the very safeguards designed to protect liberty only endanger it?

Do yourself a favor and read these books. Collins’ blend of thoughtful science fiction, suspense, romance and political intrigue won’t disappoint you. Like another critic said, “Whereas Katniss kills with finesse, Collins writes with raw power.”

 

Book Review: House

While perusing the bookstore the other day, I happened to pick up a copy of House a novel collaboratively written by best-selling Christian authors Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. I was intrigued by the description on the back cover, which dubbed the book a mind-bending supernatural thriller”. I had read and enjoyed other “thrillers” before. So, why not check this one out? After all, I’ve always been one for complex stories that mess with your head.

Needless to say, I took the book home with me and started reading eagerly. It was my first headlong dive into the world of Peretti and Dekker. And it will probably be my last. House is dark and dismal – and it’s authors do poorly what others have done well.

The premise, in a nutshell, is this: Seven people – four men, three women – end up trapped inside an abandoned house out in the middle of nowhere. No lights. No phones. No way to get out. And to make things worse, the entire set-up has been engineered by a criminal – a demonic psychopath who wants them to play a little game: he wants one dead body… or everybody dies. One game. Seven players. Time’s up at dawn.

First off, let me say that this book is better classified in the horror genre than in that of suspense. Indeed, the Peretti/Dekker team appears to derive an uncanny pleasure in creating a consistently sadistic atmosphere that virtually never lets up. And with that said, what do we have on our hands? A “Christian horror” novel? Does anybody else smell an oxymoron?

There is a fine – a very fine – line between the genres of suspense and horror. I’m all for
suspense. Don’t get me wrong. It can add incredible new dimensions to a story. But horror is a different matter altogether. Horror is nightmares on steroids. Evil and darkness and sin are held up, and we gape at them in a sort of depraved awe and wonder, egged on by a sense of perverted curiosity. Instead of exalting God as the sole object of our fear and awe and wonder, we exalt darkness and tremble at the deeds of darkness.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8

I am all for claiming every area of life for Christ. But the genre of horror is – by very definition – evil. It is anti-Christian. And it should be left alone.

I’m sure there are those who’d argue that the Salvation message at the end of House is what ultimately redeems it. I would contend otherwise. To be sure, the book manages to score a few points about the depravity of man and the need for redemption: but to get to these points, one must wade through a lot of filth. Is it really worth it?

No. Not when there’s a plethora of other fiction that explores these same themes in a much fuller, deeper, better way. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a prime example. Or C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Or Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Why mess with House when you can delve into treasures like these?