Normally when I get accosted in book stores by women older than me raving about a young adult book they’ve recently read (and I mean raving, she couldn’t stop), I usually nod and carefully inch my way backwards scanning for nearby exits. That was the case with The Hunger Games. Needless to say, I didn’t immediately buy the book at Barnes and Noble, and got the heck out of dodge. A few days later, scrounging around for something different to read, I came upon The Hunger Games, so I purchased it. Boy, am I glad I did. I finished that book in 3 hours flat. It was different for sure. It was exciting. It was heart-pounding. It was sweet. And it was good.
Suzanne Collins is a solid writer. The language flowed well, especially after the first tenth of the book which didn’t really grab me initially, and at times I really got pulled in by the descriptions of the territory so much so that I had to go back and re-read little things I missed on the previous page. I’m also a chronic speed-reader, so I’m sure that didn’t help when I got engrossed.
The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic future where there are no longer U.S. states but twelve districts surrounding a Capitol in a country called Panem. The Capitol is full of excess and gluttony and wealth, while each of the twelve districts has to fight for basic necessities like grain and water and oil. District 12 is the last district, and is the poorest. Each year, as a punishment for a prior rebellion of the districts against the Capitol, two young people (one boy and one girl aged 12-18) are chosen from each district to fight to the death while it is all broadcast on live TV. If you’re like me and are thinking of The Condemned, a 2007 film, where a bunch of death-row convicts are placed on an island and have to fight to the death streaming live over the internet, with the winner getting a free pass out of jail, I will tell you that it was quite similar in concept. Even down to the sponsors of the event sending floating parachutes with weapons or food to the combatants to give them an edge.
The big difference of course is that these are teenagers fighting to survive. But conceptually, it is pretty much identical. The main protagonist is a girl called Katniss who is headstrong, clever, protective of her family, hostile yet compassionate, and multi-dimensional. She is fierce, and she had me at hello. When her little sister’s name is drawn in the selection for District 12, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She along with another boy who has loved her since they were children, Peeta, head to the games at the Capitol. As part of their strategy, they are coached to go into the games as a pair (and not traditionally as solitary fighters because there can only be one winner). Not unexpectedly, this connection is what saves them both in the end.
The first thing I noticed once they got to the Capitol was the huge dichotomy between life in the Capitol and life in District 12. One favors a life of indulgence and excess, the other one of hardship and suffering. I thought Suzanne Collins did a great job of communicating this and it was one of the many things that gave added depth to the book. This was a world that I could really sink my mind into.
Once the actual games commence, following an Olympic-style introduction ceremony, it’s all about survival and not getting killed. I found myself becoming so tied into Katniss and what she was feeling each second of the day during the ordeal that I could not put this book down. When she was hurt, I felt hurt. When she was sad, I felt sad. Kudos to the author for being able to weave this kind of reader response with such finesse. In the end, after finding and losing allies, almost dying, avoiding some pretty tight situations, and yep, falling for her District 12 partner, Katniss and Peeta make it to the end, and in an unprecedented turn, are declared twin winners. The plot is pretty intricate so I know that I am leaving out a lot of other little plot things here, but that wouldn’t be fun, would it? Giving away all the good stuff that makes this novel a keeper? You need to go read it yourself and get lost in this world. It is worth it.
One thing that I loved about this book was that it had a beginning (started a little slow, I have to admit), a middle, and an end. I really cannot stand books that end on cliffhangers expecting you to go buy a sequel to find out what happens. That’s not fair to readers at all. That’s like watching a movie that ends telling you to “tune in for the sequel.” Um, no thanks.
I would rate The Hunger Games 5 out of 5 stars. Great read with lots of cool twists, and solid characters that you can really connect with and feel something for. No one-dimensional Sallies here. The action is literally non-stop, and you will react emotionally to this story even though it’s sci-fi fiction. It’s gritty and raw and dramatic. I enjoyed it immensely, so yes, an indirect shout out does need to go out to the raving lunatic fan in Barnes and Noble. Thank you, crazy lady, you made my day by bringing my attention to this book.
Now I just need to pick up Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Yay!