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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  1. I’m beginning to think I’m going to be the last person in the free world to read this book. Even Carl’s read it.

  2. Great point that one doesn’t need to propose a dystopia to notice the fascination with violence! I also resisted this series for a long time, but I have come to feel that when there is that much love for something out in the blogosphere, it’s usually worth checking out at the very least!

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I have a hit/miss relationship with YA books and I loved it. I’ll be very interested to see what you make of the rest of the series, which I think goes down hill as it progresses.

  4. I liked this one a lot, but I never had much luck with the rest of the books. Am very excited about the movie.

    • Darlene on December 8, 2011 at 16:56

    I really enjoyed this first one in the series but despite having the other two books I haven’t managed to read them yet. I like the portrayal of a strong female character as well. It’s something that should be portrayed more in books. I’m glad that you finally read it and liked it. Hopefully you get to the next two in better time than I did. Lol.

    • zibilee on December 8, 2011 at 19:09

    I loved this book as well, and listened to the entire trilogy on audio with my husband who was just as enraptured and amazed as I was. We liked the second book a lot, but the third book was stinky. Just our opinion though. I will be eager to hear what you think of the others!

  5. I don’t read dystopian futuristic books at all but read this one due to all the hype. I loved it and hope to read the next two books next year. This was one of those books that I couldn’t put down!

    • Meryl on December 9, 2011 at 08:05

    I read this book a few years ago – before they had become a huge rage. I had to wait impatiently for the second and third in the series to come out. Funny thing is – none of my teens have read it yet.
    I know quite a few moms who have read it – and so far everyone has sung its praises. I think it is well written and also gives ones a lot to think about. I am going to buy a copy and take on vacation – I know the kids will read it and then I am looking forward to discussions on the themes etc. Hopefully they do a good job of the movie … I am always reticent to see the movie if I really like the book.

  6. I loved this entire series and I’m so glad you’ve now gotten the chance to read this one! Lots of people were disappointed with the third book, Mockingjay, but I personally liked it a lot. I’m anxious to see what you think of the rest of the series!

    • Kailana on December 10, 2011 at 09:34

    I am glad you ended up enjoying this book!

  7. I have enjoyed several dystopian novels….just not YA. Perhaps I will explore this one for the New Year. Nice review!

  8. I need to get on the bandwagon and read this series! Everyone loves it…why shouldn’t I? 😀 Makes for a good New Year’s resolution.

    • Wendy on December 13, 2011 at 08:33

    Kathy: LOL

    Jill: *nods* I have learned to trust the bloggers!!! I should have listened sooner 🙂

    Jackie: Well, I bought the other two books – so I will be reading them soon!

    Andi: The movie looks great, doesn’t it?

    Darlene: I hope to read the other two books before the movie comes out.

    Heather (Zibilee): I vaguely remember there being a lot of disgruntled readers with how the trilogy ended…but I am looking forward to reading the last two books anyway!

    Beth: I agree – absolutely unputdownable!

    Meryl: I wonder if this has been a bigger hit with adults than with kids? I think it is definitely one of those crossover type YA books.

    Heather (Book Addiction): glad to hear from someone who liked the third book!

    Kailana: Me too!

    Laurel: I don’t read a ton of YA – but I think this one works well as an adult level book as well. I’ll look forward to seeing what you think.

    Teacher/Learner: I recommend it!

  9. I’ve just finished reading the first book in the series, and quite enjoyed it. Whilst a lot of the writing felt overy-simplistic (YA readers are perfectly intelligent and complex human beings, they can deal with writing that refelcts this), I thought the story was enjoyable and the characters relatively interesting. Am looking forward to reading the rest of the series – hopefully before the movie hits our screens.

    • Catherine on March 9, 2012 at 14:32

    This book is amazing, it literally absorbs you in! Characters:**** Plot: ***** Quality of writing:*****Why not give mocking jay another ending and continue the series? That way it will be a billion stars.

    • blake on March 26, 2012 at 10:23

    It all depends on what you are focused on, or distracted by. I recently read this review of the book and she seemed to explain most of what i was thinking. its definitely worth checking out, especially if you are on the fence about giving it to your kids to read.

      • Wendy on March 26, 2012 at 11:55

      Blake: Thanks for this link. I certainly respect that some parents may not want their kids to read this book or see the movie (I have not yet seen the movie). But, I also don’t believe that this novel is as simple as kids killing kids. There are larger issues raised in the book about loss of autonomy, government control over individual rights, the brutal lure of “reality” television, etc… I don’t have kids, but if I did, I would read this book WITH them so that we could discuss those issues of society and morality. Sometimes I think adults do not give their kids credit for being able to sift through issues in a novel and come out with a good conclusion.

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