I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to review a copy of The Panem Companion by V. Arrow (available on sale December 2012 via Smart Pop Books). This in an extensively researched book; I was surprised to see the lengths the author took in researching details to which I never gave a second thought. Did you ever wonder what the meaning was behind every single last character’s name? If so, get this book. My compliments to V. Arrow in putting forth so many investigative hours to present a book to the public that will bring new depth and meaning to die-hard fans of the series. It also gave me a renewed respect for Suzanne Collins, who clearly put a lot more thought into particulars than the general public realizes.
This book is definitely for that exact demographic: the intense fans who can’t get enough of The Hunger Games series. If you do not fall within that group, it can be a bit monotonous in areas. Knowing, however, that it was written for those who want to know more about the world Katniss lives in, it does a great job illuminating details one might otherwise miss while reading the books simply for entertainment.
I’ll get the bad out of the way first. At times I felt it was stretching to look for weathered injustices such as racism, sexism, and anti-gay elements in The Hunger Games series. Obviously there are injustices in the Panem, that is sort of the whole point. But with anything in life, if one is trying to look for inequality in every corner, a person will probably be able to find it… even if said prejudices are not really there. For example: the book delves into gender role reversal in an interesting way, yet over-simplifies it. Is there anyone who really thinks completely in black and white about male and female roles or traits anymore? Who does not know a man with a few feminine qualities, or likewise, a woman who is good at traditionally “male” skills?
Now the good: I never even thought about some of the fascinating elements that are scrutinized such as a compelling look at the strong possibility of Peeta and Prim being half-siblings. (Yeah, I know… say what?!) Annie Cresta’s character study was also intriguing and well-researched; and of course, the mapping of Panem is something fans will likely adore. It’s one of the more interesting aspects of the series, and yet in some ways, one of the most underdeveloped. It also sheds light on our current reality television in a way that most people are not currently aware of. You may have the general sense that reality TV is “garbage” or a guilty pleasure, but it gives hard information on the contracts that reality stars are required to sign, therefore revealing the darker side of our own current “reality” entertainment. It makes the reader think twice about what they chose to watch after reading the book.
Overall, it’s an informative and well-researched analysis of the world Collins created, and an exploration into some of the parallels between Panem and our current society. I give it a strong four out of five stars.