Saturday, December 8, 2012
Book Review: The Panem Companion by V. Arrow
The Panem Companion gives fresh insight into Suzanne Collins’ trilogy by looking at the world of the Hunger Games and the forces that kept its citizens divided since the First Rebellion. With a blend of academic insight and true fan passion, V. Arrow explores how Panem could have evolved from the America we know today and uses textual clues to piece together Panem’s beliefs about class, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, and more. (From Smart Pop Books)
Aptly titled, V. takes us on a journey into Panem, as our knowledgeable, discerning, and pragmatic guide. She helps us navigate the world of Panem, and the characters that litter the books' pages. Panem and its customs are dissected, including the concept of the tesserae (with statistics), the impact of media television (exploitation), even the recurrence of music in the novels (likening them to spirituals). One significant talking point for me in this book is V. Arrow's discussion of race, ethnicity, and culture––something that I never really considered, deeply or at all, when I read the books. She makes an interesting argument about the underlying importance of race and ethnicity, when Suzanne Collins never directly mentions it in the text. V. also dedicates specific chapters to Districts 4 and 11. Again, V. delves into seemingly unimportant details about the districts, but ultimately enrich our understanding of the characters that hail from those regions. The various subjects that are covered in this book makes one realize just how many layers of complexity The Hunger Games actually contains. V. Arrow's appreciation for this complexity lends itself to her analysis of the many discussion points she wades through.
Two things that tickle me about this book: I enjoy the map that V. Arrow attempts to construct, based on geographical, sociological, and canonical evidence. In my personal reading of the novels, I've often wondered about the existence of Panem as leftovers of the former United States, both topographically and regionally. The map brings together a good understanding of the probable landscape of Panem. The other section of this book that I thoroughly enjoy is the Lexicon, which contains a pretty exhaustive list of the names of HG characters and their etymologies. Major characters are covered (like Katniss, Peeta, etc.), of course, but there are also extensive entries on minor characters (such as Delly, Portia, and Rooba). I've personally always been fascinated with name etymologies in literature because they are usually lend themselves to characterization or contradiction. More importantly, this information certainly enriches our understanding of the characters, and V. has done no less than breathe new and different lives to the characters she has extensively researched and written about. V. Arrow's passion for The Hunger Games is so evident throughout the book, and even more so in these pages.
Reading this book leaves me with a sense that I've uncovered the secret lives of the characters we've come to love. The Panem Companion, may be an unofficial guide to The Hunger Games, but the pages themselves read like they could come from Suzanne Collins's notes, and even further than what she conceived of. What this book does best is go beyond The Hunger Games as a mere YA trilogy. As an author, V. Arrow understands the HG phenomenon not just as a literary study, but like all great pieces of literature, it is a sociological study. She views the trilogy as a reflection of and into the 21st century human experience: with our concepts of media, race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, culture, morality, and most importantly, a concept of ourselves. This book truly is meant for the passionate Hunger Games fan, and once you read it, you will fall in love with the series all over again.
Smart Pop Books | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound
I'd like to thank H.B. from Smart Pop Books for the advance review copy, and LMM for letting me write this review on behalf of the blog. Also, to V. Arrow, for sharing her wonderful book with us.