Saturday, October 18, 2008

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Book: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Published: 2008

It’s the future. The USA is no more. Instead, North America is divided up into twelve poor, starving districts and a pampered, luxurious Capitol. Each year, as payment for a long-ago uprising, each district must send two teenagers to the Capitol, where they will compete in the Hunger Games. The winner gets fame, riches, comfort for the rest of their lives, and prizes for their district. The twenty-three losers get bloody death and a plain wooden box. The Games are merciless, brutal, dehumanizing, and aired on national televison.

Katniss Everdeen is horrified when her treasured little sister is chosen as one of the contestants, and offers herself in her place without a second thought. She and her fellow contestant, Peeta, aren’t considered to be real contenders. The winners usually come from the (comparatively) richer districts, not the coal-mining and always-on-the-edge-of-extinction District 12. It’s a death sentence, but it’s one she’ll gladly shoulder for her sister’s sake.

Her life is complicated (like it needs it!) by Peeta, whose love for her has been seized upon by the Gamemakers as an angle for the audience. But are his feelings true, or just another kind of bait waiting for the switch?

As the Games go on and she becomes, to her own surprise, a real contender, the stakes get higher and higher. Soon Kat must confront the real question--lose the Games? or lose herself?

I’ve been hearing about this book for awhile. Doubtless you have too. The buzz is fast and furious. I always get a little skeptical when so many people rave about a book. Can it be that good?

Yes. It can.

The Hunger Games is not a perfect book, but there’s a lot to love about it. Kat is gutsy, intelligent, and the perfect mix of soft-hearted and clear-headed. Her constant awareness of the audience and the sponsors affect her actions as strongly as the threat that’s right in front of her, inviting comparisons to the reality shows that reportedly inspired the novel. She also never loses sight of the fact that even though she may forge temporary alliances, every other person in the arena is (or should be) out to get her.

The Games themselves are written as long periods of strategizing and assessment of your opponent (plus paranoia, hunger, cold, and fear), interspersed with abrupt and terrifying bouts of violence. Underneath all the action, there’s always the awareness that the Games are indeed nothing more than a game to viewers in the Capitol, and Kat’s rising anger at that fact comes to a head toward the end.

Finally, the ending. It comes a little quickly, but since it leaves you slavering for the remainder of the proposed trilogy, I’m not sure I’d call that a misstep on Collins’ part. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that Kat is forever changed by what occurred in the arena. You get the sense that the choices she had to make, for good or ill, are going to haunt her for a long time coming.

This thought-provoking, horrifying, and complex book stays with you long after you close it.

1 comment:

Christine Fletcher said...

Nice review, bibliovore! I'm a fan of dystopia fiction--looks like I need to get my greedy little hands on a copy of this book.