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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Reviewed Format: hard cover
Pages: 384
Release Date: September 14, 2008

Katniss Everdeen is poor, hungry, and struggling to keep her mother and little sister alive. Stuck in District 12, the furthest district from the Capitol (if you don’t count an irradiated District 13, ruined by rebellion), Katniss and her family live in one of the poorest districts, where coal is the main export and good food is hard to come by. Lucky for Katniss, she learned how to hunt for game and edible foliage from her father before he died. In this way, she, along with her partner in crime, Gale, can gather enough to trade for other necessities at the black market and keep her family fed and taken care of.

Only, it’s against the law to enter the fields beyond District 12; to hunt is doubly illegal and Panem’s government would be less than thrilled at the subversion should the proper authorities be notified. But no one could care less in the coal district, a district left largely to their own devices, and so, no one knows Katniss is an excellent archer and secretly undermines Panem’s strict, unfair economy.

Without realizing it, they’re about to take revenge on Katniss when the time comes once again for names to be drawn, two from each district (one boy, one girl), to compete head-to-head in a wicked and cruel survival challenge broadcast live and fed to the citizens across all districts where only one will come back alive: The Hunger Games.

Panem is a North America far into the future (actually, with the way it’s described here, it’s just the United States, not Mexico or Canada), a dystopian future. The Hunger Games are annual reminders that the districts live under the scrutiny of the Capitol. They were devised to mimic a joint rebellion intended to take down the Capital that failed. Now, the Games are a brutal, over-drawn punishment intended to break apart families and dampen fighting spirit.

When Prim, Katniss’ little sister has her name drawn, Katniss jumps at the opportunity to take her place. The first 150 or so pages of The Hunger Games are used to prepare Katniss and the other District 12 competitor, Peeta Mellark, for their debut at the opening ceremonies, honing their skills to please potential sponsors. The Games are a dark, orchestrated form of entertainment that takes reality TV to a frightening level. While all the prep is interesting, the book didn’t grab me as much until the Games finally began.

Collins has a way of pulling you in with Katniss’ anticipation and fears--she’s a relatable protagonist with a relatable co-star; Peeta is honest and endearing from the start. I also liked the periphery characters who manage to shine without stealing the spotlight away from Katniss. Haymitch, the only winner District 12 has had, is a drunken mess and at first, it’s debatable whether or not he has any value coaching Katniss and Peeta. I think his character had the most surprising growth if only the revelatory kind. Katniss begins to see Haymitch beneath his drunken stupor: a man having to face training tributes every year since his victory that have gone on to their deaths.

Panem is a frightening reality; cameras are everywhere, microphones pick up wayward conversations, even birds at one point were used as spies until they localized and used their vocal mimicry to mock the Capitol with falsely fed information--Katniss wears a pin of one of these birds, the mockingjay. There are so many moments of disbelief in The Hunger Games. Citizens of Panem are treated with less than stellar civility and kept like animals, caged in their districts and separated from one another by electrical fences. It’s the perfect breeding ground for another rebellion, but with the Hunger Games as clear and long-standing reminders of what it means to speak or act against the Capitol, people have found creative ways to manipulate and fool their leaders.

What ultimately grabbed me about this book was the story combined with the writing; I was quick to get addicted and had a hard time putting it down. Collins’ is one of those authors that can make you want to keep turning the page even when you’ve reached the next chapter, a perfect place to stop for a break. I never wanted to stop and the ending made that need for more much, much worse. It just ends. Abruptly. Turn the page, no new chapter. The end. Wait for book two. How awesome/cruel is that? The good news is, I don’t have long to wait, but I can imagine what it would have been like reading this as a new release. It would have been torture.

I’d really recommend this to anyone, even people who don’t usually read YA. It’s got romance, action, gore, horror, suspense, fashionable stylists, great food, a boy and a girl lead--whose All Things Dense About Boys attitude never once annoyed me--and a goat. What more could you want? Lucky for you, the sequel, Catching Fire is already out. I’m sure by the end of both books, the satisfaction of having been lucky enough to read two installments in one go will be overshadowed by the killer cliffhanger ending Collins has no doubt written for Catching Fire, but won’t it be worth it?

5 comments:

TJ said...

Glad to see you've finally tackled The Hunger Games. I'm dying for Catching Fire. ;;

Erika said...

I was hoping to put it off a bit longer until I had Catching Fire, but I couldn't wait and now, I'm stoked!

Lily Child said...

I absolutely cannot wait to read this! :)

TJ said...

Well, we can suffer together! I don't get my Catching Fire until you do. ;)

Erika said...

It just makes getting the book that much more squee-worthy. ;D

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