52 in 52: The Girl Who Was on Fire, Edited by Leah Wilson


[This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) digital edition published by the Smart Pop imprint of BenBella Books in 2012, and provided by NetGalley.]

Here’s the deal:
In honor of Catching Fire‘s DVD release (which was AH-mazing, by the way!), I’ve chosen to review The Girl Who Was on Fire this week. The book is a collection of essays by well-known YA authors that take a closer look as some of the aspects of the Hunger Games trilogy, from the intense interest in the series itself to the Team Peeta vs. Team Gale conundrum (go, Team Katniss!) and from the connection between the Hunger Games and reality television to the politics of Mockingjay. Each essay runs between 10 and 15 pages, packing a ton of information and humor into manageable pieces.

My thoughts:
The last time I read any kind of literary criticism was when I was a college undergrad studying for my English degree. That course was, hands down, the most boring one I took; with that knowledge, I approached The Girl Who Was on Fire with more than little weariness, but also with real curiosity because the Hunger Games trilogy is among the best YA literature I’ve ever read — and that includes the YA books I read when I was actually part of that demographic as well. My opening thought was this: “Dear Leah Wilson, please don’t put me to sleep.”

She did a pretty good job of not only keeping me awake, but of holding my interest. Full disclosure: there were some essays that I enjoyed so much I wanted to reread, and then there were a few that I read a bit of and passed over due to lack of connection. (I only skipped two essays, Reality Hunger, about the I only skipped two essays, Reality Hunger, about the parallels between the Games themselves and our ridiculous obsession with reality TV, and Hunger Game Theory, which is based in mathematical principles that, after caring for a two-year-old all day, gave me a headache.) Normally, I’d be shaming myself for not reading the *whole* book, but I think it’s purposefully set up that way; you can read the parts that draw your attention and skip over the ones that don’t without worrying about missing out on huge chunks of a story. That’s the nice thing about anthologies of essays — I know I couldn’t have read a novel this way, or else I’d be completely lost after glossing over whole sections.

Of the fourteen essays I did read, Team Katniss, Did the Third Book Suck?, and The Inevitable Decline of Decadence were the ones that really stuck with me. Team Katniss argues that the heroine herself is not solely a match for Peeta or Gale, but instead her own person whose best self is drawn out by one of the two boys — such a refreshing way to look at the love triangle (if you could even call it that after reading the essay from start to finish). There was a great deal of infighting among the Tributes, as the trilogy fandom calls itself, over the quality of Mockingjay‘s narrative, so the author of Did the Third Book Suck? argues both sides of that question; I can’t imagine that debating with himself could have been easy! (His final answer, by the way, I’ll leave to you to find out for yourself.)

The Inevitable Decline of Decadence gets its own paragraph simply because it’s the essay that hit me the hardest. Not only is it well-written, but while reading I felt as though Adrienne Kress was speaking to me personally. I felt like I was being scolded! It’s exactly what it sounds like: people have been spending, spending, spending for so long and now we have no money left and we’re being forced to save; some of us, however, are having problems with holding on to money because we’re used to living a life of decadence. So, many people are working for the benefit of a few people (read: the middle and lower classes doing all the work while the upper class sees all the benefits). I personally also saw it as a warning to curb my spending, which I’ve been trying hard to do.

And that’s just the beginning. There’s a whole collection of essays in here to read and relate to and agree or disagree with!

So would I recommend this book?
The Girl Who Was on Fire is aimed directly at YA fans who enjoy analyzing books (in this case, the Hunger Games trilogy). If you like asking lots of questions about what you read and debating plot points and characters’ actions, you’ll really enjoy this book!

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