Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Age Group: Young Adult/Adult
Length: 384 pages
From the book jacket: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is hard and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
After seeing The Hunger Games reviewed a thousand or so odd times at bookish and seeing that most people seemed to love it, I grew curious. What stopped me from buying the book, however, were two things: the cover design and the fact that it was so popular. I’ll explain both as briefly as I can. First, from what I could gleam of the cover art it looked to me like a war novel. It just had that feel to it that it was going to be cold with a lot of military talk and it just didn’t strike me as something I’d be interested in. Second, I don’t know why, but I’m always the last person to give in to popular reads. It happened with Harry Potter, then Twilight, and now The Hunger Games. I think it’s because I fear that it will be a horrible, terrible read and I’ll feel left out and highly confused when others around me will be gushing about it. Or, maybe it’s because I feel that there’s other reads out there that deserve more love. Whatever the case for my aversion, I’m still glad that I gave in after being urged by people to give the above mentioned a try. Where would I be if I had never read a Harry Potter novel? I shudder to think of all I would have missed. Sometimes popular reads deserve their status.
So what I did, before I went and bought The Hunger Games, was swing on by Borders.com and read a chapter or two of the book that they had so conveniently placed on their website. There’s a little tab next to Reviews that says “See Inside” and usually they’ll give you a chapter or two that’s cut up to keep the mystery alive but still enough to know if you’re interested in the rest of the story or not. It turns out, after reading all they had, that I was interested in reading more. So interested that I began to get impatient and bought the book two days later and read it in its entirety two days after that. I’m glad I did and urge you right at this moment that if you’ve been thinking about reading The Hunger Games, please go to Borders.com and read a little bit before you decide one way or the other.
Needless to say, I liked this book and I’m glad that there are two books after The Hunger Games to continue the story. In fact, book one is merely the tip of the iceberg despite being so emotionally charged; you’d think that an arena of children killing each other would be the climax, but there’s more going on here than just the games. The root of the issue is the Capitol, who has basically enslaved the 12 districts and uses their lives as entertainment fodder. Surviving the Hunger Games is merely the act of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. Even if our heroine makes it out alive, the whole world for the districts is still in shambles…so where’s the victory?
Speaking of the heroine, Katniss: I liked her. She’s a survivor toughened by hardship and the weight of her family’s survival on her shoulders. After her father dies in a mine explosion, Katniss finds herself, at a young age, as the sole bread winner for the family. Being too young to work, Katniss resorts to hunting outside their village (which is illegal and punishable by death) and becomes proficient in archery. With her mother “mentally checked out” and a little sister too sweet and fragile for their poverty-stricken life, Katniss internalizes every emotion and turns her face to smooth indifference. Her drive is survival which leaves no time for smiles, frilly things, or romance and Katniss becomes a sullen, hard sixteen-year-old.
This is not to say that Katniss doesn’t have emotion, rather that there’s little showing outward and most of that is conveyed to us thanks to the first person narrative which I think was the perfect choice for this book. Her major hang ups appear to be her mother, who Katniss has a hard time forgiving and letting go of the anger for her mother’s reaction after her father’s passing. I think, more than the harsh effects of her survival driven life, it’s the anger that keeps Katniss from embracing her mother and finding emotional stability in a woman who she should be close to. Katniss seems only able to be emotionally close to her little sister to the point of being motherly, but has almost completely cut herself off from her mother. Why am I mentioning this? Because I like it. It makes her seem believable. A 16 year old girl who hunts for her family and takes care of her family wouldn’t be a real person if there weren’t some bitter thoughts, some anger over the situation. If she had been self-sacrificing AND a cheerful optimist I might have stopped reading the book altogether.
There’s an element of romance in the book, but not in the way you’d expect. It’s not sappy sweet nor is it anything akin to true love for Katniss. It’s fearful, it’s complicated, and it’s unsure. Again, this is more believable. When you’re fighting for your life a lot of things are different. Going through a crisis with another human being can bond the two, but is it love when the crisis is over? Was it ever love to begin with? These are things that I am sure book two will expand on so I’m looking forward to a tangled mess for Katniss.
The subject matter in this book is one people might not like to read. The book jacket couldn’t be any more blunt. But it’s astonishing to imagine a world where reality TV has moved beyond covering suffering, addictions, and breakups to include actual fights to the death. It’s Survivor meets Lord of the Flies. No, it’s not pretty—but struggles rarely are.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable read for me, possibly a new coveted favorite on my book shelf. I’m excited to read the second book and I’ve already suggested the book to two of my friends.