Daily Archives: December 7, 2011

The Hunger Games – Book Review

The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins. – from The Hunger Games, page 18 –

North America has changed. The nation of Panem has taken center stage where an authoritative government rules from a shining capital surrounded by twelve districts. The people living in these districts are under the complete control of a cruel government which uses the annual Hunger Games to keep them in line. Katniss Everdeed is a sixteen year old girl living in the twelfth district – a region where coal is the primary industry and starvation is always a threat. When the lottery system chooses Katniss’s younger sister, Prim, to participate in the deadly Hunger Games, Katniss does the unthinkable … she volunteers herself in her sister’s place. Katniss is joined by the soft-spoken son of the district’s bakery, a boy named Peeta whose generosity once saved Katniss and her family from death. As the two travel to the capital and are prepped for the competition, their connection to each other evolves into a tentative friendship. But nothing can truly prepare Peeta and Katniss for the violence, fear and cruelty of the game where participants must use all their survival skills to kill or be killed.

The Hunger Games is addictive, compelling, and completely unputdownable. I read this book in just under two days, flipping the pages obsessively to uncover the latest plot twist and find out what would happen next. Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel (the first in a trilogy) has been an overwhelming success not only with teens, but with adults as well, and it is easy to see why. Collins hurls the reader into the story without wasting any time. The plot of this book is strong, fast, and never lets up from the first page to the last.

Narrated in the first person point of view of Katniss, a female protagonist who is not only physically strong but emotionally tenacious, the novel examines themes which are especially relevant in today’s world: freedom, government interference in individual lives, the power of the media, and the allure of violence. Katniss finds herself being prepped to appeal to the “viewers”…in fact, her success is dependent on whether or not she is liked, whether she can find “sponsors” to assist her once in the arena, and if she can convince the viewers of feelings she may or may not actually have towards her co-tribute, Peeta. The entertainment value of violence is amped up by the government who televises competitor interviews and manipulates the game to maximize emotion and passion, and create scenarios of the greatest brutality.

We live in a society which revels in reality television and cannot look away from violence. Collins creates a story which elevates this disquieting curiosity to a pathological level, where death is the ultimate consequence for a bad decision. On many levels this is a disturbing novel. Children living in Panem are used as pawns to facilitate government control over the people. The idea of a twelve or thirteen year old being forced to fight to the death in front of a television audience is horrifying. And yet, the novel is not just about the violence which plays out in the arena. Collins allows for her characters to make their own moral decisions in the face of brutality. And this is perhaps the strength of the book – that despite a rigid authority, individual choice is still possible.

The Hunger Games does not just give its readers a fast, compelling plot, but it also provides them with a protagonist they can get behind. I loved that Collins chose a young woman as her main character. Katniss is not a stereotypical girl – she is strong, morally aware, athletic, and smart. Literature is full of weak women characters, but The Hunger Games shows that capable women characters are marketable.

When this book was first released, I admit that I resisted its lure. I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction, much less dystopic or futuristic novels, but when my Yahoo book group chose the book for discussion, I decided to give it a try. And I am glad I did. The Hunger Games is proving to be an excellent book club pick, generating much discussion. I now think I will have to see the movie which is slated for release in the spring of 2012. When I viewed the trailer, I grew convinced that the movie would be faithful to the book (something I prefer when a book inspires a movie):

The Hunger Games is a book which will appeal to both adult and young adult readers. Book clubs will find this to be a good book for discussion. Readers who like novels with fast-paced plots and riveting action need look no further.

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