The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

>> Monday, March 01, 2010

TITLE: The Hunger Games
AUTHOR: Suzanne Collins

PAGES: 454
PUBLISHER: Scholastic

TYPE: YA / Dystopia
SERIES: First in trilogy

REASON FOR READING: I'm not normally drawn to YA, but futuristic dystopia definitely appeals.

Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone fighting against you?

Twenty-four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives. In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death - televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

A few years earlier, all districts of Panem rebelled against the Capitol, the governing district. They were quashed, and to remind them of this, every year, the Capitol organises the Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games are a gladiatorial reality TV show. Every year, a girl and a boy from every one of the outlying districts are selected and forced to compete in the nationally televised games, which pit them against each other in a fight to the death -literally.

This year, even though the odds were extremely low, Katniss Everdeen' younger sister's name came was drawn in the lottery. Knowing that the little girl would have absolutely no chance, Katniss volunteered to take her place. The boy's spot was taken by Peeta Malark, probably one of the last people Katniss would have liked to see there. Peeta was kind to Katniss once when her family was starving, but if she is to survive, Katniss knows Peeta will have to die.

For some reason, took me about a week to get into the book. But once I got to the point where Katniss and Peeta get ready to leave for the Capitol (pretty early on, really), I couldn't stop turning the pages. In fact, I ended up staying up late and finishing the last half in one gulp.

It was a compulsive, page-turning read, which didn't really concentrate on the action (brilliantly written as that element was) but on characters and relationships, which is just how I like it.

Katniss is really, really cool, a brilliant choice for heroine and narrator. She's a kind person and a loving friend, and she's not cruel, but when her survival depends on her keeping her cool and doing things she wouldn't choose to do, she just does them, and with no self-flagellation. She has her vulnerabilities, but is still incredibly strong.

This comes to the fore in her relationship with Peeta. Peeta is very clearly in love with Katniss. Very clearly to us readers, that is, even though Katniss is pretty clueless about his feelings. Katniss doesn't

quite feel the same way about him. She likes him, she becomes more and more fond of him all the time, and there are some feelings there she doesn't quite know what to do with, especially since she also has feelings for her friend Gale back home. It's not as clear-cut to her as it clearly is for Peeta.

This means that since I really liked Peeta, their interactions were, at the same time gripping and very hard to read. Because as part of the strategy that might just save them from certain death, Katniss has to play up the star-crossed lovers angle, and pretend to be madly in love with Peeta. Only she can't tell Peeta she's pretending.

In most circumstances I'd hate a character who does what Katniss does, but it's her life on the line, so you can't but accept that she's doing what she has to. And given that, I quite liked her clear-headedness about it. No self-sabotaging from our Katniss... she doesn't go on and on about how bad she feels that she's pretending and Peeta will be destroyed when he finds out (to be fair, for a long time she's so clueless about Peeta's feelings that this wouldn't arise at all, in the first place). She just gets on with the business of surviving.

And surviving is a huge struggle in the environment they're plunged into. It's not only the human predators (the participants from the richer districts actually seek to go to the Hunger games and train for that for years) that Katniss has to contend with. The people who control the game just love to surprise participants, and every single bit of the place they're in can become (and often does become) a deadly weapon.

I have to say, I'm not the biggest fan of action-oriented books. Action sequences tend to bore me to tears, and I often end up skimming them, hoping to get back to more juicy stuff (i.e. the emotional development). But the action sequences here are so well written that I could see them happening in my mind and never got lost. They are also so linked to the characters, that I wasn't in any particular hurry for them to end. Everything is brilliantly conceived. Even the little silver parachutes, which seem at first like deus ex machina, on second thought, they do have a link to what's going on and are a predictably product of the characters' actions. In that sense, they make sense within the framework of the story.

The only reason The Hunger Games wasn't and A was the ending, which was much too unsatisfying. After the emotionally wrenching experience that was reading the rest of the book, I felt like I deserved a bit more resolution in the emotional areas (basically, the relationship between Katniss and Peeta). I felt all I got was an abrupt "to be continued".

As much as I enjoyed reading THG, I wavered a bit about whether I should keep reading the series (the second book is out now, and there's going to be a third). As well done as it is, I just find the world in which the book is set incredibly depressing and hopeless. With a character as defiant and unwilling to play the Capitol's game and just enjoy the riches she'd get as the winner of the Hunger Games while disregarding the misery around her, I can see no way we can get a happy ending. Because this is not a world where the only problem is an evil government to overthrow. There is that, but there is also the fact that a large proportion of the people, pretty much the whole Capitol, is so morally bankrupt that they enjoy such a barbaric thing as the Hunger Games. I'm weak though, so I'll read the next book anyway and see what I think.



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