Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Girl Who Was on Fire

The Girl Who was on Fire edited by Leah Wilson
5/5 stars
Smart Pop, 2012
209 pages
YA Essays

Source: Received an e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I remember falling for The Hunger Games way back in 2010 (shortly before the release of Mockingjay) and being so pleased to have the rest of the world catch on to what us bookish folk already knew when the movie came out earlier this year. I feel like The Hunger Games is definitely one of the more thought-provoking YA series and was excited to check out this collection especially as some of my favorite authors contributed pieces. One thing these essays did a great job at is making me want to reread Mockingjay which I did not enjoy the first time around and which I have never read again. So kudos!

Why So Hungry for the Hunger Games by Sarah Rees Brennan: I enjoy Brennan's writing a lot as there are always some witty remarks; this one is no exception as she touches on the popularity of this series, including the fascinating issues that series brings up, the romantic wish-fulfillment angle, and the author's insight into reality and illusion.

Team Katniss by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: Another author I enjoy tackles the fan perception of the series as solely choosing between Team Peeta and Team Gale, making some great arguments for focusing on Katniss as a person herself who is so much more than the person she chooses to love. I especially loved the discussion of her love of Prim because Katniss' love for her sister is what drew me into the books (it reminded me of my love for my younger sister-I'd try to win the Hunger Games for her).

Your Heart Is a Weapon the Size of Your Fist by Mary Borsellino: This essay, from an unfamiliar author, looks at the power of love in The Hunger Games especially as compared to one of its inspirations Nineteen Eighty-Four. What does Katniss know about love and integrity that allows her to keep going and to ultimately carve out her (scarred but) happy ending?

Smoke and Mirrors by Elizabeth M. Rees: Looks at the realities and the illusions perpetrated by the Capitol and others throughout the series and how the main characters negotiated them.

Someone to Watch Over Me by Lili Wilkinson: This examines surveillance, drawing parallels from our own world where someone is pretty much almost always watched (or could be watched) and the balance of power in Katniss' world. There are the Watchers, the Watched, and the Engineers who must be balanced and the worst that happens when that delicate balance is disrupted.

Reality Hunger by Ned Vizzini: This essay looks at media training, the kind underwent by Katniss as well as Vizzini's real-life experiences doing promotion for his writing. Some humorous stories are included in this writing as it seems that Vizzini does not have the same heroic authenticity as Katniss.

Panem et Circenses by Carrie Ryan: Ryan draws some troubling connections from the series to our own world. Namely she looks at our (well your as I eschew reality television) willingness to watch reality tv but always needing an escalation of the stakes just as in the Reaping every year. This impulse to catch eyeballs also influences the narratives given to us (such as fake romances and how moments are edited together to present one story that we then buy as truth). Very thought-provoking and one of my favorite essays!

Not So Weird Science by Cara Lockwood: Did you think the muttations were terrifying and yet totally implausible? Maybe you were wrong about that second part as Lockwood looks at what our world has been doing with genetic engineering as well as our long and troubled history with creating things with the best intentions that are quickly turned against us.

Hunger Game Theory by Diana Peterfreund: This explores game theory, something I've heard about before but was not very familiar with. Using examples from the series as well as drawing from Harry Potter and Ender's Game, she helps to illuminate the theory as well as that the best results come from human cooperation, which tends to end in refusing to play the game at all (or in other words rebelling against the gamemakers.)

Crime of Fashion by Terri Clark: I love to read about the clothes in books (I blame Ann M. Martin and the BSC's outrageous fashion statements from Claudia) so this essay was of great interest to me. How do the clothes Cinna designs for Katniss help to spark revolution? What does each outfit say that is so needed to hear at that particular moment? Another fabulous essay on a topic near and dear to my heart!

Bent, Shattered, and Mended by Blythe Woolston: This one was a little more science-y than some of the other essays have been as it looks at the brain, memory, and PTSD symptoms. Clearly all of the tributes undergo significant mental trauma due to their forced participation in the games and Woolston draws out those feelings and memories.

Did the Third Book Suck? by Brent Hartinger: This provocatively title essay kind of aligns with my initial impression of Mockingjay-it just did not meet my expectations. However after mulling the book over for going on two years and especially after reading these essays, I am willing to reassess my thinking. I still think I prefer the first two books but I don't think I fully appreciated the differences in Mockingjay and the way Collins pursued her own idea for an ending instead of trying to meet reader expectations for a traditional conclusion.

The Politics of Mockingjay by Sarah Darer Littman: Another really awesome essay, especially to me who has been thinking about a lot of these issues in anticipation of the American presidential election. Collins obviously has seriously followed and thought about the War on Terror in contrast with many of us who prefer the circus to serious consideration.

Gale: Knight. Cowboy. Badass. by Jackson Pearce: There are some hilarious moments in this essay (note watch "Firefly" and "Serenity" beforehand as she will urge you to do so over the course of the writing) as well as an exploration of Gale as an archetype. I was always a Peeta fan so this essay helped to crystallize all the reasons why.

The Inevitable Decline of Decadence by Adrienne Kress:  Kress reveals our society's predisposition toward cycling through indulgence and self-denial until inevitably we fall and seek the other as a counterbalance. She cites ancient Rome and the French Revolution in particular as examples of decadence before destruction just as in the Capitol.

Community in the Face of Tyranny by Bree Despain: I loved the hook for this, which shows how President Snow thought he had everything under control but the tiny act of a boy giving a girl bread leads to community leads to Katniss rising, becoming the Mockingjay, and sparking rebellion. That one small action leads to so much upheaval. Great conclusion.

Overall: I loved it-I'm asking for a hardcopy for Christmas because I want to reread the whole series and then contend with these essays some more. Great for fans of the series!



  1. Thanks for this breakdown of the book - I'd been umming and aahing about buying a copy for a while, but have never seen it in an actual bookshop to flick through! Now I'll definitely be ordering one. I haven't even finished the series yet (awful, I know - I'm hoping to remedy this evil during our Christmas break from work!), but it seems that these essays reflect themes and issues that I've already been pondering on as I've been reading. Cheers m'dears, your review is much appreciated!

  2. I read this when it came out and really enjoyed it!!!

  3. Wow, I love this review--what a great and detailed description of the authors and their contributions! I saw this in passing but didn't think twice about it, but your review has convinced me it may be worth a try sometime. :)

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  4. Hunger Games is definitely a though-provoking read. I couldn't go to sleep easily for weeks after reading them.
    Normally I wouldn't bother reading a book discussing another book, but it sounds very interesting and worthwhile from your breakdown. I found myself thinking about a lot of these things while I read the series.
    Love the Firefly referencing!! That alone makes me want to read these.

  5. I am excited to read this essay collection (I've read essay collections for Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings that enhanced my enjoyment of the books too). Thanks for giving the summary for each essay and your thoughts. I have a feeling this book will make me want to reread the books too. Like you, I've only read Mockingjay once.

  6. I am really looking forward to reading this one. I am so interested in reading more into the thoughts of the hunger games and I also think it might help when reviewing other books. Thanks for your review!

    Kristin @ Young Adult Book Haven

  7. I loved the Hunger Games, at least the first book. Thanks for breaking it down, it sounds like it has some interesting topics. And I'm always ready for more Katniss! Thanks for the review and hope you get your Christmas Wish!


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