I make no secret of my obsession with The Hunger Games trilogy. In fact, I take enormous pride in wearing my Mockingjay pin on my sleeve. While I enjoyed most of the first film adaptation by director Gary Ross, I’m a hardcore geek, so for me, nothing will ever surpass the unfiltered, uncut experience of Suzanne Collins’ brilliant and powerful novels. Katniss Everdeen and her epic, brutal, and bizarrely sci-fi, yet disturbingly familiar, tale of war and rebellion hit me like an arrow to the heart and kept me enthralled until the very last word. Despite the insistence of movie studios to expand the story from a trilogy to a quartet (a common trend these days), I knew that, for me personally, there would always be three volumes only: the untouchable originals. That is, until today. Today, I do something I never dreamed of doing: I clear a fourth space on my Hunger Games shelf for an additional book that has both won a place among the original trilogy and an equally valuable spot in my geeky, little heart. The Panem Companion, written by V. Arrow and published by Smart Pop Books, is that good, and whether you are a longtime resident of Panem or have just recently entered the arena, this is one book no tribute should be without!
For those in Geekdom who are not familiar with Smart Pop Books, this pop culture imprint of independent publisher BenBella Books offers a variety of engaging and thought-provoking, non-fiction titles focused on the discussion and exploration of the best of pop culture TV, books, and film. I was introduced to Smart Pop Books years ago when they stepped into the Whedon world with two must-read titles: Seven Seasons of Buffy and Five Seasons of Angel. Since then, I’ve devoured a number of their volumes (read my review of the recent and fantastic Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire here), but with V. Arrow’s The Panem Companion, I believe that Smart Pop Books has reached a new level of literary examination and fandom celebration that can only be described as the paperback form of the fan discussion that hopefully awaits every Hunger Games junkie in geek heaven!
As a ridiculously passionate fan, I can be quite discerning and unforgiving when it comes to those who attempt to analyze and examine the fandoms that I have spent countless hours debating, dissecting, and, well, analyzing myself. That said, The Panem Companion is on a level of perfection that I’ve never quite experienced before. Leah Wilson, Editor-in-Chief of Smart Pop Books, has described The Panem Companion as “the grad school class” of Hunger Games unofficial guides, and V. Arrow’s text completely lives up to that description, if not possibly exceeding it by leaps and bounds. While Hunger Games fans my not 100% agree with every assertion and suggestion Arrow makes during her thorough exploration of Collins’ novels, the author tackles every aspect of the world of Katniss Everdeen, covering everything from the physical layout of the nation of Panem, socioeconomics and exploitation in the districts, gender roles and sexuality, the presence of racial tensions and possible segregation created by the Capitol, and much, much more! Not only has Arrow crafted the definitive and ultimate Hunger Games fan text, but with The Panem Companion she has clearly established herself as both a titan of fan academia and as an honest, passionate, and dedicated Hunger Games authority and aficionado. In true Hunger Games fashion, V. Arrow and The Panem Companion both deserve an unprecedented and legendary “training score” of 12 when it comes to their standing in the fan community.
While the wealth of subjects touched upon in The Panem Companion are vast and exhaustive, here are some of the my personal favorites:
– How tesserae specifically targets lower-class, single-parent (and potentially darker-skinned) households: While the Capitol, its peacekeepers, and even President Snow himself were never close to being portrayed as the mustache-twirling villains present in many other Young Adult series, Arrow’s breakdown of the various ways tesserae squeezes the weakest and most downtrodden in Panem while also promoting the divisive tactic of class warfare among the districts reveals the true, and very realistic, evil present in the oppressive societal structure of the futuristic and distopian nation.
– The possible and shocking paternity of Primrose Everdeen: While it never crossed my mind during any of my multiple readings of The Hunger Games trilogy, Arrow builds a surprisingly convincing and justified case arguing the possibility of Mr. Mellark as Primrose’s biological father.
– Gender roles and their reversals in The Hunger Games: One of the most fascinating aspects of the novels for me was my total understanding of and ability to relate to the character of Peeta Mellark. As one who never completely related to the stereotypical male role imposed by American culture and consistently found himself attracted to strong female characters (Ellen Ripley, Buffy Summers, Sarah Conner, etc.), I found this section particularly enlightening and enthralling. The examination of not only Katniss and Peeta, but the gender roles of multi-layered characters like Johanna Mason and Finnick Odair should be an intriguing read for any Hunger Games fan.
- Annie Cresta, one of the strongest characters in the novels: Speaking of strong female characters, Arrow’s breakdown of why fandom’s view of Annie as a weak and fragile individual is completely unfounded was another mind-blowing revelation. I promise that even if you don’t agree with the final analysis, you’ll never think of Annie as Finnick’s weak-willed girlfriend again.
– The justification for Mockingjay’s brutal and bleak ending to The Hunger Games series: While many fans I’ve spoken with are shocked to hear it, Mockingjay is my favorite volume of the series, and I’ve always applauded Collins for having the ability to not pull any punches when it comes to the “final round” in her novels. Arrow delivers a brilliant section in The Panem Companion which explains in detail exactly why this ending is not only appropriate for the series, but exactly what’s required by the thematic elements present in Collins’ epic tale of the lasting effects of war. Again, even if you disagree or felt differently about the third novel or the wrap up to the story of Katniss Everdeen, Arrow’s examination is sure to be both thought-provoking and engrossing for any reader.
All in all, I implore every Hunger Games fan to get their hands on a copy of The Panem Companion. I guarantee that you will enjoy it in a way that you haven’t experienced since your first reading of The Hunger Games series (and be sure to add it to your holiday gift list for the Hunger Games fans in your life!)
You can learn more about The Panem Companion by clicking here, or by visiting Smart Pop Books at their official website. Also, don’t miss out on celebrating the publication of The Panem Companion with Fanboy Comics’ participation in Smart Pop Books’ Victory Tour! (Coming soon!) Finally, be sure to stop by the Smart Pop Books Facebook page and follow them on Twitter (@SmartPopBooks).