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Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

“Normal people didn’t perceive the otherworldly that hover in this world. It’s a Darwinist safety switch in the mind, something to help keep humans from screaming at shadows.  But deep in our souls, or our collective unconsciousness, we know those things we hesitate to define are there, walking among us.  We know, even if we don’t see.” 
–  Page 114 of Hunger


The concept of Hunger is like no book I have ever read before. It is genius and basic at the same time. The idea of the apocalypse has slipped from the pages of the Bible into common knowledge and while people know varying details of what they expect to come, there seems to be a sort of acceptance, if only on a mythological level.  Jackie Morse Kessler has found a way to tap into our basic understanding of the apocalypse to create a unique and compelling story.  With all the dystopian fiction I have read, it feels quite refreshing to find something that is different. Hunger feels new and refreshed from the same out dystopian story.


The line between apocalyptic and dystopian has blurred and both type of fiction have become popular under the single idea of dystopia. It may not be surprising that we have become obsessed with the horrors of the end of the world, and the possibility that hope will follow.  As we approach 2012, more and more speculation about the end of days comes to a head.  How is it that the Mayans have so much power over us now?  As a society we like the fear of place markers in time, it was about ten years ago when Y2K was on the minds of everyone, had people sitting on the edge of their seat watching the news.


No mater where you drawn your lines in the sand of speculative fiction Hunger is interesting. It hinges on the concept of the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death seen within the pages of the Bible.  There horsemen are seen as harbingers; they foretell the coming of the apocalypse.

“We destroy,” Pestilence says. “That’s all we’ve ever done.” p. 147


Kessler pushes these Horsemen beyond mythology into reality and takes us on a surreal adventure.  “Lisabeth Lewis didn’t mean to become Famine.” And thusly the story begins. We learn that Lisabeth has an understanding of hunger, for she is anorexic. And the irony of this is the wash of the story.  The personal battles of such a disorder juxtapose well to the human consequences of famine and the other negativities of the harbingers.  But the book is quite slim for dealing with so many issues.  Especially trying to deal with the scope of the end of days, there is a lot of meat lacking.


Hunger does capture many of the dynamics between teens and the other people in their lives realistically, but I think there may be too much going on in this novel for the number of pages contained in it.  This could be a really well written story about the effects of anorexia on relationships, but the author wanted to push beyond that. And ends up a little over extended. The Horsemen are such a dense and interesting topic to focus on, yet the details of this are not fleshed out enough. Part of this is intentional, for Lisa knows no more about the experience of being a Horseman than the readers do. The author has tried to let the reader explore and discover in the same way as the main character, but unfortunately too much is left out.


Despite all this Hunger was an enjoyable read and I was excited to be able to review it thanks to NetGalley.  There is something exceptionally exciting about reading a book before it is released and I was lucky enough to be able to do this with Kessler’s book.  Unfortunately, life got in the way a little and I wasn’t able to get the review up before the release date.  But as more time passes I feel I more impacted by the book than I initially thought I was.  It is interesting how sometimes it is only the passing of time that makes a book bloom.  This doesn’t erase the issues I had with the book, it just makes them less significant.


Unfortunately, even with the time that has passed the whole story of Hunger seems a little emotionally stilted.  It focuses too much on the forward progression and not on the reality of the moments.  But while the book may have too many elements and not enough detail, it does have a lot of unique details. They can continue to blossom in your mind, as they fail to do on the page. In a way, the story becomes more alive in the mind of the reader than it is on the page.


Hunger is the first book in  series and I am very eager to read the forth coming books.  Kessler has a worthwhile voice that brings depth to young adult fiction.


In closing I would like to share one of the most compelling aspects of this novel, the Thin voice. This was the inner voice that Lisa hears, her eating conscience, that counts her calories, reminds her she’s fat.  It reminded me very much of the voice that many teens have to face when dealing with body image and issues of self worth. This voice was almost haunting in quality and really brought a unique dimension to this story. 

A diet is temporary, the Thin voice said knowingly. Being thin is forever.


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