Saturday, February 18, 2012
Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins
Synopsis: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Since I began blogging a year and a half ago it seems that the only book (and series) that people consistently talk and rave about is The Hunger Games. After reading bloggers discuss the characters and the story is millions of blog posts I decided I wanted to read it to, however I've been pretty lazy about it. I guess I was waiting for the series to literally fall in my lap, which amazingly, actually happened! A few weeks ago I spent the weekend up in Cairns with Tom, but the crappy, crappy, CRAPPY weather meant most of our plans were cancelled. Instead I snooped through my 15 year old brother's bookcase and found all three books. Win!
In the future (how far off is never really specified) the world is a dank and desolate place. Katniss, our protagonist, is 16 and a born rebel. Thieving and hunting off Capitol property to feed her family, it's clear to see that she's going to cause trouble for the smooth running Capitol all too soon. Katniss lives with her mother, a healer, and her 12 year old sister Prim, the absolute light of her life. And it's her devotion to Prim that sets her on course for the rest of trilogy. When it comes to draw the names for the district's "tributes" to the games, Prim is selected to represent District 12. Distraught, Katniss takes her place, volunteering for what she believes will be her certain death. Joining her into The Hunger Games is Peeta, the baker's son, who helped Katniss out when she was most in need years earlier.
Now the Hunger Games themselves are where all the fun is, at least for me. A group of school aged kids are locked in an arena and ordered to fight to the death. The last one standing gets to return home and live forever more in the lap of luxury. But why would they hold such a barbaric event? 74 years earlier there had been a rebellion within the districts. They fought for their independence from the Capitol, but after the annihilation of a 13th district they dropped their weapons and surrendered. As punishment two children from each district were taken and forced to fight, and each year since this has been repeated so that the districts forever remember their place.
As time has gone on though, things have developed and changed. The Hunger Games are broadcast across Panem and are treated as though they're the Olympic games, something to be proud of and to celebrate. The residents of the Capitol relish the "sport" and drama of the whole event, so before the fight can begin, each tribute is primped, plucked, waxed, cleaned, painted, and varnished and forced to endure an opening ceremony and series of interviews. Personally, this is when I found things got a little dark...well, as dark as shade on a summer afternoon, really, but darker nonetheless. The Hunger Games spends a great deal of time pulling apart the sickening festival that these games have been made into. When you think about some of the extreme calls for punishment demanded on the internet and news (*ahem* FOX *ahem*) and the fascination we seem to have with reality TV, it's hard not to see the plausibility of something like this. It's a grim future, and a sharp look at where our society is headed.
While the games were a source of great interest for me, they were also a slight disappointment. The concept of the games is almost identical to the Japanese film and book (though I've only seen the film) Battle Royale, and while I'm not suggesting that Suzanne Collins copied the idea, it just eliminated much of the anticipation and uniqueness of the story for me. Similarly, seeing as this is book one in a trilogy, I was aware certain characters couldn't die, at least, not yet.This meant that scenes that I knew were designed to have my heart in my throat, well, they weren't underwhelming, but they didn't have the desired impact either.
Complaints aside, the novel is a cohesive story rich with action, characters and dystopian themes. Being a young adult novel, there are moments that (for me) lack the complexity I desire, however the quality, across board, is high. Behind the awkward love triangle and heavily sign posted exterior, there is a dark and troubling interior that has the necessary bones to create a fantastic series. Questions are raised about independence, duty, authority, duplicity and reality, while statements on class equality, free will and social responsibility are discussed throughout the entire trilogy. This is the kind of book, I think, where you get back what you put in. If you want to examine it for tougher and more bleak truths, there is plenty of grit in there for you. However if you're after an action adventure with a dash of romance, then there's plenty of that within the covers too.
Suzanne Collins deserves a great deal of credit for the series she's created, especially in light of the Twilight style puff-pieces that are so predominant in YA books today. With the film release getting closer and closer, be sure to hunt down a copy to read, because I can only imagine how thrilling the film adaptation could be if it remains similar to the source text.