Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsPosted: January 2, 2013
I’d decided to check this book out because it seems to have quite an intense fan following online and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I’d really dug the movie as well so I was curious to see how the two matched up.
The plot is pretty similar to that of the flick, in the future the US has changed into PanEm, where the Capital rules over the outlying 12 Districts. Every year as punishment for an earlier uprising the government stages the Hunger Games, where each of the districts has to randomly chose a male and female “tribute” aged between 12 and 18 to travel to the games where they fight out until a lone victor remains. The tournament is then aired throughout the districts and everyone must watch.
In the coal mining District 12 lives the resourceful Katniss a 16 year old girl, who keeps her family alive by breaking the law and hunting in the nearby woods. When her little sister’s name is drawn for the games Katniss volunteers and travels to the Capital. There she has to adjust to life in the spotlight, being made over and trying to engage the crowd in order to gain the support of wealthy sponsors who will send her supplies in the arena. She also has to train up for the games and deal with the fact that soon she will be locked in combat with 23 other tributes, including Peeta, the boy from District 12. The two know each other before the games but are not close, and they are linked in their past by an act of kindness from the boy which Katniss is uncomfortable about.
Things become even more complicated when Peeta reveals that he is in love with Katniss, which angers her, but she believes it to be a strategy devised by their mentor, Haymitch, a former winner of the games now a broken down alcoholic. She enters the arena where her hunting skills and ingenuity help her to survive, but can she overcome the odds, and how will she deal with having to kill her competitors, especially Peeta, about whom her own feelings have become confusing.
It’s a wonderfully simple idea but Collins executes it brilliantly, creating a fantastically detailed and grimly realized dystopian future where the decadence of the Capital contrasts with the harsh realities of the districts. Similar to the film it reminded me of pre-Revolution France with the over-the-top greed of the aristocrats enjoyed on the backs of an increasingly angry public.
The games themselves are a horrific idea in themselves, a way for the Capital to punish the Districts which also has the benefit of providing entertainment for the people as well as being a way for them to show their complete power over their subjects. It’s a way for them to say that they can take the District’s children and kill them and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it.
Collins’ best tool in telling the story is the character of Katniss, through who’s eyes we see the entire story. I can’t remember the last time I read a book where the central character engaged me so much, or was so well crafted. Collins ensures that while Katniss is tough, resourceful and ingenious she never stops being a teenage girl in a nightmarish situation. Her life has been tough and she’s learnt to survive but she’s also shown to be endearingly normal, confused over her feelings for Peeta and her friend at home, Gale.
Throughout the book she’s shown to be brilliantly intelligent and plays the game well, understanding that in order to survive she has to play up slightly for the camera and embrace the “star crossed lovers” angle that’s been established between her and Peeta.
This has some emotional impact as Collins uses dramatic irony well, while Katniss is oblivious the reader is well ahead in coming to understand that while it might seem like a ploy to her, Peeta’s own feelings may be grounded in much more.
In Katniss Collins has created a great female protagonist and one of the strongest female characters I’ve come across. I felt this when I watched the film, but it’s even more pronounced
The character work throughout the book is done really well, especially as Katniss comes to realize and understand more about the people she meets. There’s a begrudging respect and odd sympathy for her competitors, and she even adopts one of them as a partner, a girl who attracts her caring, softer instincts that she feels for her sister.
As events unfold it becomes apparent just how many strings the Capital is pulling and she begins to understand why the initially boorish and sozzled Haymitch is the way he is. Realizing that despite his games having ended around 30 years earlier he has still had to deal with mentoring year after year of tributes who have failed to make it home, which is bound to mess with you and it’s implied that he won his games through ingenuity.
I’m wary of giving away spoilers, but the ending is very powerful, showing the power and influence of the Capital and suggesting that while the games may be over but that doesn’t mean that things are going to get easier.
I blazed through this book in a matter of days, getting almost half of it read in one night shift. It’s one of those books that you really get into and just can’t put down, a thrilling, engaging read which is brilliantly entertaining. Collins writes extremely well and crafts a rounded world populated with fascinating characters. Although the faint hearted should be warned, some of the fight scenes are pretty tough and gory, especially given the youth of those involved.
Verdict: A well written and entertaining sci-fi action story blessed with a strong, captivating protagonist. Can’t wait to get cracking on the rest of the series. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.