Book Review and Author Interview: Hungry by H.A. Swain

In Thalia’s world, there is no more food and no need for food, as everyone takes medication to ward off hunger. Her parents both work for the company that developed the drugs society consumes to quell any food cravings, and they live a life of privilege as a result. When Thalia meets a boy who is part of an underground movement to bring food back, she realizes that there is an entire world outside her own. She also starts to feel hunger, and so does the boy. Are the meds no longer working?
Together, they set out to find the only thing that will quell their hunger: real food. It’s a journey that will change everything Thalia thought she knew. But can a "privy" like her ever truly be part of a revolution?

Release Date: June 2014
Age Group: YA
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed by: Madi B
I have to admit I was very skeptical about reading this book. It wasn’t the cover (Just look at that thing: how could it possibly be the cover?) it was the summary. Some of the lines were so cheesy!!! “She also starts to feel hunger, and so does the boy. Are the meds no longer working?” Like, COME ON, we all know that’s not just hunger!
When I was reading the summary, I didn’t really see the big issue. Starvation is eliminated and you want to bring food back? Uh, ok, you do that. And then it starts talking about how she goes on a journey to find real food. So you go on a road trip to find a burger?
Guess what, the book isn’t like that at all. (Shocker) It’s a big deal that Thalia’s hungry because her meds don’t work therefore making her an anomaly that needs to be fixed. (In mental hospitals!!!) Yeah, the book just got a lot more interesting. There’s a revolution because not everyone’s getting the meds thus REVOLUTION! This book was a lot better than I had expected.
Stuff I liked:
  • Plot. This plot never slowed down. There was always something new being added to the mix. (Even though the plot went to some crazy places, trust me, CRAZY) I really liked that.
  • I liked the setting. You could tell the author really thought out this society and its norms. It was really cool to see the parallels between our world and theirs. All the gadgets and society norms were totes kick-butt-awesome-sauce.
  • Yaz. I loved Thalia’s best friend. She was chatty, funny, and loyal.
  • Thalia. I liked her strength, her bravery, her open-minded-ness, and, of course, her smarts.
Stuff I didn’t like:
  • Basil. I’m sorry but I don’t like Basil. I don’t like his name (I mean come on, BASIL?), how he treats Thalia, or some of his actions. I liked him better when I knew nothing about him.
  • I didn’t like how quickly Thalia and Basil’s relationship moved. I mean lets face it, you don’t run away with a person you just met. It kind of reminded me of Romeo and Juliet in some ways.
  • I wasn’t too fond of some parts of the plot itself. Some things that happened and places they went seemed so random. (It gets crazy at the end) Some things just seemed a little far-fetched. (I won’t say more, I REFUSE TO SPOIL)
I have one more thing to say but it has so many spoilers I can’t even say it AHHH! (If any of you lovely readers finish Hungry and are kind of curious, email us and I WILL EXPLAIN)
Overall, I liked Hungry. Although it wasn’t perfect, it pleasantly surprised me and I think it’s a good read.

Keep reading for my author interview (my first one ever) with H.A. Swain!
1. Where did you come up with the idea for Hungry?
I’d like to claim that the inspiration for Hungry was solely my deep personal commitment to preserving family farms and protecting the environment for my future great-grandchildren…but that wouldn’t be true. Although I do believe family farms are vital to our collective well-being and that if we, as a society, don’t get our act together soon, we’re going to push the environment into deep, irrevocable trouble, that’s not what originally led me to write about a world with no food. The truth is I had this thought: If I didn’t have to feed my family, I’d have a lot more time to write! I started messing around with the idea of a world where no one had to eat but also no one was starving. That brought up some very interesting questions such as how would humans stay alive, what if government had been supplanted by one mega-corporation that controlled the nutrition supply, and ultimately what would be the down-fall of this society.
2. Who is your favorite character in Hungry?
While the obvious answer would be Thalia for her willingness to question everything she’s ever known and give up privileges for the greater good, or Basil for his indomitable spirit and engineering genius, if I’m really honest, I totally dig Thalia’s best friend Yaz. Often it’s the side characters that you end up having a crush on as a writer. Maybe because you don’t have to dig too deep into their psyches.
Yaz was super fun to write. She has one of the best character arcs in the book because she changes so much from the beginning to the end. Plus, she’s hilarious. I love her spunk, her wardrobe, and how she quickly figures out to use the system against itself. I still regularly think about Yaz and what she’s doing back in the Inner Loops right now. If I ever do a spin-off, I’d give Yaz her own book.
3. Are any characters inspired by someone in real life?
Not specifically, but the two underground groups that Thalia and Basil belong to, the Dynasaurs and the Analogs, were definitely inspired by real-life movements. To create the Dynasaurs, I read a lot about the controversial hacktivist entity called Anonymous which is famous for their DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks that temporarily shut down government, religious, and corporate websites. To create Ana Gignot, the mystical leader of the Analogs, I watched videos and read testimonials about a man called Braco the Gazer who earns a lot of money silently gazing at large groups of people who feel transformed by his presence. When the Dynasaurs and Analogs begin to organize and rise up against One World, I was thinking about all of the brave, young adults who led the Arab Spring and Occupy movements that sprung up around the world in 2010.
4. Can you see any attributes of your characters in yourself? (It's totally okay to be conceited here)
Ah well, as they say, every character is an aspect of the writer. I can definitely see parts of myself in Thalia. I tend to be a behind-the-scenes person who likes to stay in the background, quietly making change while no one is looking, but then if something really ticks me off, I’ll stand up and be a rabble-rouser for what I believe. But I can also be a hothead and am resourceful like Basil. I like to make stuff out of objects I find (just silly things like toys for my kids and presents for my friends) so I had a lot of fun writing about all the interesting gadgets Basil invents to get them out of trouble.
5. What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
I knew HUNGRY would be a bigger, meatier book than I’ve written in the past because I wanted to tackle some fairly political issues—such as food rights, environmental problems, and the notion of shrinking government while expanding corporate rights. Hey, wake up! Open your eyes! Did you just fall asleep? Yep, that was the problem: How was I going to weave those issues into a good, rollicking story that anyone (let alone teens who have a million other ways to be entertained) would want to read?
So rather than trying to write about those issues directly (because…snore) I put Thalia and Basil into a series of sticky situations where they had to escape, run away, and outsmart people, which keeps the story moving forward quickly. But, underlying each of those situations was one of the issues I wanted to write about. For example, when Thalia’s mother learns that Thalia is experiencing hunger, she sends her away to a rehab center where we start learning some of the not-so-nice reality about this seemingly perfect world.
6. What was your favorite thing about writing Hungry?
It’s incredibly fun to create a whole world! You get to re-imagine everything. What are cars like? How do houses look? Where do people go for fun? How do they dress? What’s medicine like? And to create a place that was functioning after such environmental degradation was even more interesting. I had to think about things like where did they get fresh drinking water and what kind of nutritional system would keep masses of people alive if there are no longer plants and animals on earth. Also, the fact that Thalia is feeling hungry had to have a plausible explanation. I wanted all of those details to be backed up by current scientific thinking so I got to nerd out on tons of research, which I love.
7. Do you think it's harder or easier to write YA?
Easier than…working in a salt mine? Yes. Easier than…running a family farm? Definitely. Easier than…writing another type of book? That depends. I think writing a good book is hard, no matter what kind of book it is. You still have to sit your butt down and do the work. My first two books were novels for grown-ups then I got an idea for a teen novel so I decided to write that. And here’s the thing, I absolutely loved writing the teen book more than I had loved working on my grown-up books. Since then, every good idea I’ve had has been more appropriate for YA fiction. For whatever reason, I have a lot more to say about that time in life than I do about my life as an adult. (Not sure what that says about me…moving on!) In a way, it is easier for me to write YA because it’s a better fit for what I want to explore as a writer. However, all of the same craft elements, the diligence of daily writing, the agony of rewriting, the intense focus on language, context, character development, etc… is equally taxing no matter what one writes if one is doing it well.
8. If you could change anything about Hungry would you?
That’s a tough question. I think writers can always find things to change about our work—a better metaphor, cleaner language, sharper dialogue, a bigger climactic scene. But as far as the characters and the world I created and the narrative arc of this story, I’m very happy with how it turned out. I feel like I said what I set out to say and that’s extremely satisfying.

Links for Hungry:
Hungry on Amazon
Hungry on Goodreads
Heather A. Swain's website


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