Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi
Price: $17.99 (Hardcover)
When starting Suzanne Collin's novel, The Hunger Games, I had not anticipated finishing it very quickly, having taken on a heavy course load this semester. I finished the 374 page novel in three days. Collins presents an undeniably gripping and suspenseful story that easily pulls you in from beginning to end.
The story centers around Katniss Everdeen, who lives with her mother and sister in the vestiges of North America. The countries we recognize in North America seem to have disappeared and have been replaced by country of Panem, made up by 12 districts and a capital. Katniss lives in District 12, one of the poorest of the districts, where the citizens mine coal (formerly a part of Appalachia). Each year the capital "reaps" two teens, a boy a girl (called tributes), from each district to have them play in the Hunger Games, a televised event where the tributes are expected to survive in the wilderness and kill each other. The remaining tribute wins and brings wealth and perstige to his or her district.
The Hunger Games are set up as a reminder to the country (a place where many are in poverty, coralled in by electric fenses, and are unable to travel beyond their own district) that the government has complete control over the population and it is in their best interest to obey, or else more of their children will be ripped from their arms. Katniss is the female tribute for her district and is sent to the Capital with a boy she knows, though has never really spoken with him, Peeta Mellark.
The ideas behind the story are undeniably interesting, but a good idea can flop if it's not backed up with solid plot and characters. Collins' writing is amazing. She hold you in place and makes you read until you don't think you can read another word, your heart is pounding so fast, but you keep going just the same. She manages to invoke the same intense feelings you know Katniss is experiencing as she hunts for game at home or her competitors in the Hunger Games. In some ways you feel less like you're reading a book and more like you're taking a ride or watching an extremely intense movie.
Collins' vivid writing brings her characters to life, capturing their essences through both descriptions through Katniss's accute and somewhat jaded eyes and their interactions with Katniss. She allows the reader to see both Katniss's reaction and interpretation of each character, their motives and personal qualities, as well as providing enough for the reader to draw their own conclusion, too. This is something I think can be hard to do in a first person novel, where you are only given as much information as the main character and it can be difficult to figure out certain things before the lead. Here Collins allows us to almost feel as though we're working with Katniss, and I sometimes found myself coming to a different (and correct) conclusion than her, but instead of feeling like Collins had come up with a somewhat dull character, I understand that perhaps she wasn't in the right place to realize certain things just yet. When that was the case, it made the reading all the better--it was rather like watching one of those detective or crime scene shows when you know who's committed the crime, but the detective doesn't and you're just dying for them to find out, always keeping an eye out for the next clue for them.
While one might feel the entire book would revolve around bloodshed and survival, Collins does an excellent job of inserting some very real and complex feelings between Katniss, her friend best friend Gale (a boy and hunting partner), and her ally/enemy/friend/"lover", Peeta. The introduction of these characters, particularly Peeta, show a side of Katniss we would not have otherwise seen. Katniss on her own can actually be quite hard to swallow, because she is a very harsh realist and seems to be nearly hopeless in parts of the book. If not for supporting characters who make her care and love and fight for someone other than herself, she might be harder to digest and seem one-dimensional.
Comparable Reads: It was suggested somewhere (I forget where, on a website I believe), that this is a story about a dystopia. I agree. This brings to mind several books that share a similar thread of a world completely out of sync with human needs. Children's books like The Giver by Lois Lowry (along with Gathering Blue and The Messanger) and The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (there are three other books in this series) speak about worlds where things are so utterly different and dangerous, but are being portrayed as something better than what people had before, much like The Hunger Games. As for some more adult fiction, there are a couple of novels by Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake for one, and The Handmaiden's Tale where one is presented with frightening visions of a future dystopia. Aldus Huxley's Brave New World comes to mind as well.
Who this book is for: I believe most teens and adults will enjoy this book. It's one I believe will join the pantheon a few of the books above have joined--solid literature that reveals the viciousness of humanity and one that makes us question why we behave in the way we do. I can't really think of one particular group who would really take this book and run with it, because I sort of feel it reaches many different audiences (like the Harry Potter series, only better). I think it might make a solid addition to a high school reading list, particularly if it's already featuring books like Brave New World or 1984. It's a different slant and a different perspective than most dystopian novels and it may communicate many of the same messages but in a more appealing way. It's also been suggested it be taught as a bridge to Lord of the Flies.
Word of warning, however. This book feels very real. I would not suggest parents let their young children (like, under 12, depending on their emotional maturity) read this book. You have kids (KIDS!) murdering each other for the sport of a nation and it can be hard to read at times. I would suggest parents of young kids who are eager to read this read it themselves first.