This review is for the first in the trilogy, The Hunger Games. I’ll post reviews of the others when I’ve read them.
The only reason that I can assume The Hunger Games is classed as a young adult story is because it mainly involves teenagers and that it doesn’t contain any of the gratuituous prose of adult novels. I think that a category label of young adult might put the mature reader off but they’d be missing out on a simply brilliant story.
I’ll tell you what put me off from reading for a long time; children killing each other in an arena that is a televised event to the masses. The concept wrenches my stomach, which I would suppose is the point.
The premise is that at some point in the future, society in North America collapsed and from the ashes Panem arose. Panem has a capital city and thirteen outlying districts but something, and we don’t know what, caused the thirteen districts to rebel against the capital, a rebellion that didn’t succeed and was crushed. And the punishment for the rebellion in addition to obliterating District 13? Every year, the authoritarian capital city demand tribute in the form of two children, a boy and a girl aged between twelve and eighteen are selected from each district and made to fight to the death in an arena.
Fast forward seventy four years later and Katniss Everdeen is forced to enter in place of her twelve year old younger sister. Her fellow tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son.
Suzanne Collins does a wonderful job in painting a picture of what life is like in District 12 where starvation is a very real possibility and how the government rules with an iron fist. It’s a very grim picture which only a few bright rays but masterfully constructed.
Then comes the games themselves. You know, along with Katniss going in, that only one out of the twenty four children will survive with the others having killed each other. It’s not like all the tributes could do a sit in protest against their predicament either. The winner and their district are rewarded which only engenders the kill or be killed that each, however reluctantly, must adopt.
As I’ve said though, it’s never done in a gratuitous nature. Because The Hunger Games is written in a first person perspective, what doesn’t happen in Katniss’ sight doesn’t get written about. Deaths are only learned about as Katniss hears about them due to nightly announcements.
Obviously though, Katniss is involved in some of the killing and they are heart-wrenching. I won’t spoil anything by saying one happens the first night when one of the contestants tries to keep warm by lighting a fire and the other is even worse involves flowers in a field and singing a lullaby. Those who have read this will know what I’m on about.
What is interesting, however, is how the other contestants have been written and what feelings they evoked when something happens to them. Some characters, nothing at all was felt as nothing was written other than to say that they were fellow gamers from such and such district. Other characters evoked feelings of guilty satisfaction when something happened and others were really cared for and I couldn’t help but hope that, despite everything, they would win or escape their plight and live happily ever after and when they didn’t…as I said, heart breaking.
Katniss herself makes for a wonderful heroine and the connection with her was easy. She’s everything one could hope for. Resourceful, intelligent, compassionate but at the same time she’s never made out to be this super fighter or a ‘career tribute’ (what the children from some of the districts are called who have trained all their short lives to win). She’s not invulnerable and there is always a chance that she may lose.
I would imagine that when this was first released, it wasn’t clear who was going to be victorious and how it was going to end, but given that this is now a trilogy, it can be probably be guessed. But in this case, it’s the journey and how we get to the end that’s important in this peerless tale of adversity.
I’m actually looking forward to the film when it’s released in March 2012 not just to see how it matches up to the imagery in my mind but also because Suzanne Collins wrote the screen play so I just know that the film is going to be VERY close to the book.
TLDR version: Believe the hype. Buy, beg, borrow this book. Now.
Second book to follow.