Just Like Us… Only a Little Bit Different

The wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William was just over a week ago.  It was a tremendous event, reinstating the love of royalty.

Osama Bin Laden was killed just days ago, creating the perception that the world has become overnight a much safer place.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing and, living in Vancouver, it is a very exciting time.  The city is united with the constant thrill of hockey.

One of these three things has occupied the headlines of Vancouver newspapers for weeks now.  So the question is: Why are we so caught up in other people’s events?

The Royal Wedding was nothing more than your average wedding, but it cost exponentially more, and was renowned as one of the events of the century.  You would think the royal family would learn.  Lady Diana was killed because of the media.  The cheers from the death of Osama Bin Laden really don’t mean very much.  Al-Qaeda was not murdered, only the face in front of it.  The world needed a place to lay blame, so Bin Laden was killed.  The world isn’t any better off without him.  Hockey is a sport.  I am sure that many people find it fun to play, but I am unable to comprehend the hockey fan mentality.  I don’t see how it can be exciting to watch ten men push a puck around an ice rink and beat the crap out of each other.

One of the main threads throughout The Hunger Games was the country’s perspective on The Games.  It was always about the audience.  Katniss knew how to put on a show, and that was what helped her get far in The Games.  Watching the televised Games was mandatory for every citizen of the country, and, no matter how cruel or gory or tragic, many people enjoyed the show.

How different is that really from our world?  We are thrilled by the death of a man.  We create a gigantic spectacle out of something as simple and run-of-the-mill as a wedding.  We plan our schedules around a televised hockey match.

This post-apocalyptic world that Katniss lives in is really not all that different from our society today.  At first glance, we pass it off as completely fictitious.  Like Harry Potter, it seems like a whole other universe.  But then we take a closer look.  Between controlling and unfair governments, rebellions, an irrational obsession with reality television shows, and the lack of balance of resources, a lot of our world is mirrored by the world of The Hunger Games.

Fiction such as this book is, of course, just that.  Fiction.  But it is also created as a warning.

If you alter a few details in The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins could easily be describing aspects of  the world in 2011.

The Young Adult Novel

Somewhere between the sweet innocence of a children’s novel and the elegant script of an adult novel lies the bridge that is a young adult piece of fiction.  Young adult novels are known widely for having a very quick-paced plot line, a teenage protagonist, little character development, and a sense that what you read is what you get.  While there are themes, there is little underlying symbolism or hidden messages.

This kind of story is obviously ideal for adolescents because they don’t have to read through all the ‘boring adult parts’ of a novel to get to the action.  Something is always happening, making the novel a quick and easy read.  Because this helps the reader get through the book quickly, it gives a sense of accomplishment to the reader for finishing the novel.

The Hunger Games is a very obvious example of a young adult novel.

I am not saying that The Hunger Games was bad.  It was captivating and thrilling and I had a very hard time putting the book down.  You get deep into the plot of the novel within the first chapter, and the characters are very open to interpretation because there are so many gaps in the descriptions of them.

One of my favourite books that I have ever read was To Kill a Mockingbird.  Quite the opposite of The Hunger Games, which is a book for teenagers and written from a teenager’s point of view, To Kill a Mockingbird is a book for adults, told from the perspective of a child.  This change in perspective gives the book a very different feel.  A child doesn’t alter what he or she sees, and the story is defiantly not about coming of age, like most teen novels are.

I cannot argue that The Hunger Games is not a great book.  In the same sense that the work of Sarah Dessen, Scott Westerfield, and Judy Blume, Suzanne Collins write a great pieces of fiction.

But a piece such as The Hunger Games needs to be read with very different eyes than a piece such as Life of Pi, Slaughterhouse Five, or The Old Man and the Sea, where the other novel study choices for TALONS this year.

Bloody Toes, Choreography, and Learning Centres

I am lying on my bed with an ice pack behind my back.  My toes are bloody and my knees are aching.

I would say that it has been a pretty successful in-depth study.

Five months ago, I was struggling to keep up in my ballet classes, forgetting exercises, and freaking out about learning a dance for the year end recital.  Pointe was only a distant dream.  Since then, I have greatly improved my posture, gotten my Pointe shoes, and learned an entire year and recital piece, as well as learning and advanced ballet solo as an understudy for the Wizard of Oz production at Glenealge.

And now it is time for the celebration of learning, also known as In-Depth Night.

My study easily lends itself a stage performance.  I am in the process of choreographing a one minute long piece to present on the night.  I am debating whether or not I also want to have a learning centre and do demos.  I am also toying with the idea of teaching very short exercises to guests at the In-Depth Night.  As it stands right now, though, I am probably going to have a small learning centre where I do demos, and I am defiantly presenting on stage.

I am by no means a choreographer, so that alone is gone to be one hell of a challenge.  I can easily perform choreography that is given to me, but creating it on my own is a whole different story.  Because I am relatively new to Pointe work, I will be doing a piece in the classical ballet style instead.  I am not at all ready to be dancing on Pointe.  If I do decide to do demos as a learning centre, I will incorporate some Pointe work into that.

That is, if my toes ever stop hurting.  Standing on the tips of your toes for an hour cannot be good for you.

The Heart, the Brain, and the Pawn – The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen – The Girl on Fire

That is how the protagonist of The Hunger Games is described throughout the book.  The title began from a costume she wore to an event before her games, but before long became a trademark of who she was and what she brought to her country.

I personally think that is a bit of a joke.  In my opinion, Katniss didn’t really do much of anything throughout the novel on her own accord.  She had a designer who gave her clothing.  She had a mentor who provided her with supplies to survive.  She had Peeta, who ultimately ensured that she would survive the Hunger Games.  She did very little on her own.

Katniss had a few, very sporadic moments of humility that she brought upon herself, showing he reader that she really does have a heart very deep inside her.  She clearly loves her sister, Prim, dearly, and cared for Rue, her ally in the arena, because she reminded her so much of Prim.  But Prim and in turn Rue were the only people that she felt any ties to.

Between those warm, sentimental moments, she had a hard, cold shell.  Katniss pretended to love Peeta, manipulating his true emotions, so that she could save her own life.  She used Gale’s love for her as a way to ensure food for her family.  She always put her own life ahead of those who cared for her.

Throughout the novel, Katnisss is regarded as some sort of a hero.  She creates a buzz and changes peoples’ minds and ultimately begins a revolution, but she is simply just a pawn in all of this.  Her life becomes The Hunger Games.  The Capitol isn’t necessarily what is controlling her, but she is only the face of what happens in her country, not the actually brain and heart behind it.

As Peeta said, “She has no idea the effect she can have.”

The Manipulation of Syntax

I have always been terrible at finding symbolism and themes and deeper meanings.  I suppose that comes from my writer mentality.  Nobody writes a story expecting it to become a great literary classic.  It is the way others interpret it that creates the underlying substance.  I don’t know how that carries over to my reading, but I am not fabulous at finding symbols.

I wouldn’t really consider it a theme, but the thing that struck me the most in The Hunger Games was the writing style used.  Sentence fragments are used constantly, which is something that I have always been taught not to do in writing.  It works, though.  It works very well.

Sentence fragments are not complete statements.  They include only either a subject or a predicate, never both.  The use of fragments has always been something I have tried to figure out, but I am very particular when it comes to the Microsoft Word spelling and grammar check, and it is not a fan of fragments.

Mr. Jackson told us once to write out a few pages of a book that is written in a style you admire, simply to get the feel of the writing.  So I tried this experiment with the first few pages of The Hunger Games, and I achieved mixed results.

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.  My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth, but finding only the rough canvas covers of the mattress.  She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother.  Of course, she did.  This is the day of the reaping.

I prop myself up on one elbow.  There’s enough light in the bedroom to see them.  My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother’s body, their cheeks pressed together.  In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down.  Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named.  My mother was very beautiful once, too.  Or so they tell me.

Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her is the world’s ugliest cat.  Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the colour of rotting squash.  Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower.  He hates me.  Or at least distrusts me.  Even though it was years ago, I think he remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home.  Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas.  The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed.  But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay.  It turned out okay.  My mother got rid of the vermin and he’s a born mouser.  Even catches the occasional rat.  Sometimes when I clean a kill, I feed Butter cup the entrails.  He has stopped hissing at me.

Entrails.  No hissing.  This is the closest we will ever come to love.

I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots.  Supple leather that has molded to my feet.  I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long dark braid up into a cap, and grab my forage bag.  On ht table, under a wooden bowl to protect it from hunger rats and cats alike, sits a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves.  Prim’s gift to me on reaping day.  I put the cheese carefully in my pocket as I slip outside.

Our part of District 12, nicknamed the Seam, is usually crawling with coal miners heading out to the morning shift at this hour.  Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub the coal dust out of their broken nails, the lines of their sunken faces.  But today the black cinder streets are empty.  Shutters on the squat gray houses are closed.  The reaping isn’t until two.  May as well sleep in.  If you can.

Our house is almost at the edge of the Seam.  I only have to pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow.  Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all of District 12, is a high chain-linked fence topped with barbed-wire loops.  In theory, it is supposed to be electrified twenty-four hours a day as a deterrent to the predators that live in the woods – packs of wild dogs, lone cougars, bears – that used to threaten our streets.  But since we’re lucky to get two or three hours of electricity in the evenings, it is usually safe to touch.  Even so, I always take a moment to listen carefully for the hum that means the fence is live.  Right now, it’s silent as a stone.  Concealed by a clump of bushes, I flatten out on my belly and slide under the two- foot stretch that’s been loose for years.  There are several other weak spots in the fence, but this one is so close to home I almost always enter the woods from here.

In seven paragraphs, there are six sentence fragments that were picked up my spell check.  Not only that, the sentence structure used in this book is very interesting.

There is a program online called a text analyzer.  It takes a passage of text and break is down into statistics of the writing.  I compared the above passage with the first 700 words of the fairy tale that I posted on my blog last week.  I thought that this would be a reasonably fair test, seeing as neither passage contains dialogue, which changes the style of writing considerably.

This is what I found:

Out of the 641 word passage from The Hunger Games, there were only 350 unique words.  The twenty most commonly used words were all four letters or less, over half of the only two letters.

The sample from my story was 705 words, and there were only 288 unique words.  The top twenty most used words were anywhere from one letter to eight letters.

I was anticipating that the amount of unique words would indicate something very clearly, but it honestly didn’t.  It just shows that there is a lot of repetition within fifty or so consecutive sentences.

Forty percent of The Hunger Games passage consists of two or three letter words.  This is was about the same with my story, also not meaning all that much.

The one thing I did find interesting was that my story had 54 more words, and two fewer sentences than The Hunger Games.  In my story passage, the average number of words per sentence was 14.39.  In the passage from The Hunger Games, the average number of words per sentence was 12.5.  I suppose that does not seem like a huge difference, but in this context, one word makes a huge distinction.

A hard word is defined as a word with three or more syllables.  It is a statistic that is used to calculate the readability of the passage.  The passage from The Hunger Games had 2.65 percent hard words.  The passage from my story had 5.67% hard words.  I find that kind of funny because my story was written as a fairy tale and The Hunger Games is a young adult story.

Lexical density is a calculation of the number of different words in a text.  My story has a lexical density of 40 percent, which is relatively low.  The Hunger Games has a pretty average lexical density of 54 percent.  This is a better reflection of the level that this book is targeted for.

I guess there is a very different level of language used, simply because of the nature of both stories.  The length of sentences is what I found very interesting.  Short, choppy sentences, mixed in with the odd long sentence creates a very good dynamic, which is very beneficial to highlighting what is important and what needs to stand alone.

Look back at the above passage at the lines such as:

‘This is the day of the reaping.’

‘My mother was beautiful once, too.  Or so they tell me.’

‘He hates me.  Or at least distrusts me.’

‘May as well sleep in.  If you can.’

These are all quite powerful lines, and examples of good writing.  Most of them occur at the end of a paragraph, often after a longer sentence or thought.  It adds a sort of finality to an idea and creates a new basis for a thought to come from.

Pointe Shoes

I got my Pointe shoes yesterday.  Finally.  And let me tell you, they are absolutely beautiful.

I am unique in the dance world in the sense that I do not have a Dance Mom.  The Dance Mom, much like the Gymnastics Mom or Cheer Mom or Pageant Mom is where the motivation generally comes from.  They care about your costumes and dance makeup more than you do; they drive you to every rehearsal and sit outside watching.  They know your routines as well as you do and pressure you to improve.

My mother doesn’t care very much about the finer points of the dance world.  She enjoys watching me dance, but I have always had the rare Dance Dad.

So it was my father who accompanied me to purchase my first pair of Pointe Shoes.

It was a spur of the moment event.  I am going to Seattle for a dance competition next weekend, and we wanted to get the shoes before I went, so we dropped everything and drove out to Pitt Meadows when we found out they could take us for an appointment in twenty minutes.

According to my father, Pointe is barbaric, but it was quite exciting for me.  I tried on about fifteen different shoes, which were either too small, large, or just not the right shoe for my feet.  Every time, my dad would cringe as a stepped onto my toes to be fitted.

Being completely honest, I was expecting it to hurt a lot more than it did.

Now I just have to learn how to use the shoes.

And that will be a whole other  adventure.

**I’ll hopefully have a photo or video or something of my Pointe Shoes in my next post.  I don’t have my ribbons sewn on yet, so I can’t currently do that.

I Write Margin Notes

That was the main thing I noticed while I read The Hunger Games.  It is a fabulous book, by the way.  I am at a dilemma as to whether I should now read the next two books of the trilogy, or read Life of Pi, which was my next novel study choice.

I suppose I am going about this in a rather backwards way.  I don’t remember why I chose to read The Hunger Games, and by the time I began reading it, I didn’t have the willpower put the book down and blog about.  It had been recommended to me multiple times, but I dismissed it as a science fiction novel.  I read adventure, I read romance, I read depressing teenage angst crap, but I don’t read science fiction.

I guess that is what captivated me.  In the first chapter or two, I was reminded of the only other science fiction trilogy I have ever enjoyed, The Uglies by Scott Westerfield.  It has the same sort of post-apocalyptic idea to it, and in a sense the Games themselves have a sort of parallel to the themes of the Uglies books.  That is another great series, which I highly recommend.

Anyways, margin notes.  I have never really thought about it much before; it has always just been something that I have done.  But then, while reading the first chapter of The Hunger Games, I went to reach for a pencil to point out a line that I really liked.  The book, of course, did not belong to me, so I stopped myself from writing in it.

I decided that after each chapter I would go back and make notes on a separate paper about the moments in the story that meant something to me.  But, of course, I couldn’t stop after the first chapter, or the one after that, or even the one after that.  In one sitting, I read through the first entire section of the book, nine chapters in all.  By then, the task of taking notes on it was much too huge and daunting, so I didn’t bother.

And now I have no recollection of what pages meant something to me or what lines resonated in my head.

So now, being insane person that I am, I must go back through the 374 page book and record all of my margin notes.

And then I must decide whether to read Life of Pi, or say screw it to Mr. Jackson’s book list and get my hands on a copy of Catching Fire, the next book in The Hunger Games trilogy.