Review: The Hunger Games

Rating: 5/ 5


I generally like to review books in a series all at once but I just cannot get this book out of my head.

Marketed as young adult fiction, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins occurs in post apocalyptic North America. Known as Panem, it is ruled by a Capitol with 13 districts which provide the center with various resources - jewellery, agriculture, coal etc. The districts are poverty ridden, subject to starvation and disease. The 13 districts took part in a rebellion which the Capitol ruthlessly suppressed, and in which the 13th district was completely annihilated. As a reminder to the remaining 12 districts of where their loyalties should lie the Capitol has come up with a yearly punishment for the population - The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games is a contest for the children from the districts. All children between the ages of 12 - 18 are entered into a lottery, and two names are drawn, two tributes - one boy and one girl from each district. These 24 contestants are then imprisoned in a vast game arena over the course of several weeks, where they must kill each other until the last tribute alive is the victor. The Games are televised live to audiences of the districts and the Capitol and are almost compulsory viewing.

16 year old Katniss Everdeen is of the 12th district- the coal mining district, the poorest and weakest district and the one with only two survivors in the 72 year old history of the Games. As sole provider for her mother and beloved little sister Prim, after her father died 5 years ago, Katniss has been illegally hunting and gathering food in the forests around the District with her friend, 18 year old Gale.

Katniss is extremely protective of her younger sister, and as Prim has turned 12 it will be the first time she's taking part in a reaping day (the day when the tributes are chosen). The lottery for the Games is weighted so that as the children get older they have more entries in their names, and Katniss and Gale are prepared for either of their names to be called out.

But, the name drawn for the girl tribute is Prim. Prim is a gentle soul, who cries when her sister kills animals for food and Katniss knows that Prim has no chance of survival at the Games. As the world threatens to collapse around Katniss she finds herself volunteering in Prim's stead. And another shock, the boy tribute drawn with her is 16 year old Peeta Mellark. Katniss feels she owes a debt to Peeta for a kindness he did for her when her father died, and her pride will not allow her to forget it. And now she must kill him in order to survive.

The tributes are whisked off to the Capitol before the actual Games begin. Here they are assigned a team of stylists and mentors who will help them sell themselves to the sponsors via their pre-game interviews. A rich sponsor has the capability of providing gifts which can help in survival during the Games. All too soon, Katniss finds herself propelled into a terrifying ordeal, a game where there are no rules and the only stakes are life and death. And where she has to be doubly wary of the contradictory Peeta, whose motives she cannot trust.

The Hunger Games starts with an introduction to it's complex world and is fast-paced and action packed through out. I must mention that the level of violence is quite high too. Katniss is a very plucky character, smart and resourceful. As a character she is very well-written, motivated by the love of her sister and by staying alive, she's a survivor in every way. Peeta is the gentler character, albeit strong due to working in his father's bakery. Peeta's own mother thinks that Katniss has a better chance at the Games. But, Peeta has his own agenda and Katniss doesn't know what to make of him.

In middle-school I read William Golding's Lord of the Flies and while I do not remember the story I remember every heart-wrenching emotion I went through. The Hunger Games evoked the same roller coaster of emotions, except while the Lord of the Flies did not have any alleviating emotions I'm happy to say this one does. Well, in a mild way. I know this book strung all my emotions at the diabolical way the Capitol kept the population suppressed by threatening their very hearts, their children.

The author mentions in her blurb that she likes to explore the effects of war and violence on young, impressionable minds and I would say she's succeeded very well. At the very least, it raises questions about morality and conscience- to what extent would you go if your life is at stake? And can you come out of the experience with your humanity intact? Katniss and Peeta's mentor, Haymitch, is an alcoholic and a district laughing stock but very soon Katniss comes to a better understanding of his hidden pain- how does one remain sane watching the children you mentor go to their deaths year after year?

Also, while I was first shocked at the concept of the Games themselves, there are more messages in store for readers. There's political subversion for one. Then, once the children move to the Capitol (whose people are exempt from the Games), the reality-tv like experience the children are put through rang true on so many levels. It's easy to dismiss the people of the Capitol as callous, cruel and self-centered, but I had a few moments of discomfort at one point when I recognized they were just extreme forms of what most of us experience today- namely if something doesnt affect us closely, it doesnt concern us.

Certainly an uncomfortable and unforgettable book. And very well worth the read. The second in the series has better reviews than this one, and while I am anxious to read it I will wait because I can take only so much raw emotional intensity at a time.

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Series Order
1. The Hunger Games
2. Catching Fire
3. Mockingjay (to be released Aug 2010)

8 comments:

Smita said...

The book or rather the theme sounds gory!! Dunno I can read it or not!

Good review :)

samir said...

Interesting book, usually I do not like SciFi; but this one may be an exception. (The others in films were Terminator & District 9; and your thoughts on Avatar are so right. I have not yet seen Avatar, but most people are telling me it is just special effects. And after spending so much time in front of a compute at work, I generally do not have much appetite for something that is mostly computer generated.)
I will certainly read this one.

couchpapaya said...

Smita - It is not gory as such, but yes, a difficult read. It might take some getting used to.

Samir - Hah I know what you mean about not having to do with anything computer related in my leisure time :) Enjoy this one! Apparently this reminds people of the movie the Running Man and a Japanese novel Battle Royale. I've never caught either, but thought I'd mention the movie to you on the chance you've seen it and so you can have some kind of context.

Yword said...

putting children and adult violence together sounds like the most ugly premise one could build on. I completely detested the shining for this reason - not because it was badly told (which it was) but because i thought the writer was perverse.

but i read your review with a lot of interest - you analysed the whole thing very well indeed.

avdi said...

Papaya .. that sounds really terrible. But let me see .. if I can find it in the library..

couchpapaya said...

Yword - I have not read or watched 'The Shining' so I cannot really correlate. Normally, if the violence was gratuitous I would agree. The reason I mentioned it in the review is because the book is for teens so I thought parents should be warned. But I think the author here has done a great job of showing that the things done are wrong and it is very well plotted for an exploration of the theme.

Avdi - I realise I've messed up this review. The idea was not to turn people off but to intrigue them.

Shweta said...

I liked this book. Not the blood and horror but the execution of this brilliant plot.Before analysing it, remember it occurs in a distant future. It's dystopian and with the science fic and dystopian you need to keep an open mind. These are just possibilities. Nothing disgusting.

Catching Fire was an equally absorbing read.I hope people read the book and not be put off it. The action isn't as descriptive as I think I have seen in many other such themed books.

couchpapaya said...

Shweta - Welcome to the blog!! Yes, I thought the execution was brilliant too. I have not read too much YA fiction, so I dont know how descriptive they can get, but I agree with you that the treatment here is masterful. I certainly miss having such reads around when I was growing up!

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