Saturday, March 3, 2012
Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games
Most readers have probably heard of this wildly popular trilogy by now and, with the film adaptation of the first book in the series fast approaching, I thought that I’d finally find some time to see what all the fuss is about. In terms of story, The Hunger Games is comparable to a rather famous Japanese novel called Battle Royale, which was written by Koushun Takami(or Takami Koushun, whichever you prefer) in 1999. Both books feature a government orchestrated scenario in which young adults(all teenagers in the case of Battle Royale) are made to fight to the death. The fighting only ceases when one remains, and the only way to survive is to kill. In terms of basic plot, the similarities between these two stories was initially very striking. However, it became clear from the first chapter that The Hunger Games was a book less focused on violence and more on the struggles of one resilient girl named Katniss, whose character is likeable and endearing and a far cry away from the female stereotypes that tend to surface in literature. While the story itself was nothing new(atleast, not to those of use familiar with Battle Royale), the characters in the story were what really made this an overall good read.
Sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen is the sole caretaker of her family, which consists of an emotionally unstable mother and a younger sister named Primrose. She inhabits one of the twelve districts of Panem, a country that is the remains of the North American continent in the distant future after it has been ravaged by war. The districts each have a specialty, with District 12’s(Katniss’s district) specialty being coal. As the story begins, readers are shown that this particular district is poverty stricken, leaving providers like Katniss and her friend Gale no choice but to hunt illegally in order to survive. The story opens on one such hunting trip, and the sense of foreboding that lingers between the pages leads readers to believe that it may well be the last hunting trip for quite some time as rampant poverty is not the only enemy of the people. There is the Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games were established by the Capitol, which is the totalitarian government that rules over all of the twelve districts. They were made to serve as an example of the Capitol’s power as well as to dissuade rebellion. The rules are quite simple. Every year, boys and girls ages twelve through eighteen are entered into a lottery. The prize? A free ticket to the Capitol, a lavish make-over, and a one in twenty-four chance of never seeing home again. One boy and one girl are chosen at random from each district to participate in a staged war that is passed off as some sort of glorious game. Only one participant can survive, and the rewards benefit both the winner and their home district. The imprint of what they did to survive however is not so easily erased. Overall, The Hunger Games is a good read, and it is the characters that make it so. Katniss’s selfless sacrifice to save her sister from the horrors from the tournament, as well as the bizarre and budding relationships between her and her competitor Peeta, their mentor Haymitch, and the fashion consultant Cinna are really interesting to observe. The story holds no surprises for me, as once again I had seen a similar plot before which held a similar outcome. At some points, I was disappointed with the lack of attention shown at the true horror of what these games are. I understand that Young Adult books have an audience to keep in mind, but it wasn’t the lack of gore I was missing. Personally, I’ve never much cared for an excess of violence in any form of literature or media. Rather, it was the lack of narrative in regards to the subject that I found a little disappointing. Fortunately, this is but one in three books and I hold hope that Collins will pay more attention to the politics behinds the games, the history of Panem, and the emotional impact of the games on the districts and the main characters.
Final verdict: It’s a good book, and I see it making a fantastic movie. The paperback can be purchased at most stores for $8.99, so if you have some extra money or know a friend who owns this title pick it up and give it a try.