Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Review of THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Photo Credit: Scholastic Press

The nation of Panem was born out of the ruins of what was once known as North America, and at its center is a powerful, beautiful, and technologically-advanced city known as the Capitol. Twelve Districts surround the Capitol. It was once thirteen. Once, long ago, the Districts tried to overthrow the oppressive Capitol. They were all defeated, District 13 was annihilated, and as a reminder to never rebel again the Hunger Games were born. Every year, each of the twelve Districts must send one boy and one girl, aged 12-18, as tributes to fight in the Hunger Games. It’s a brutal fight to the death, and there can only be one survivor. When Katniss Everdeen’s twelve-year-old sister is selected as District 12’s seventy-fourth female tribute, Katniss volunteers to be tribute in her place. Thus begins an unrelenting story of one girl’s desperate quest to survive in a contest she stands little chance to win. Making matters worse is that the boy tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, a boy who once saved her life.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins is a non-stop journey into the desperately flawed heart of humanity. Twenty-four teenagers are thrust into an impossible situation that requires them to do things they were never meant to do merely to survive. The result is violent and unsettling, but we grow to love Katniss Everdeen and hope for her survival because she seems meant for so much more than the Hunger Games. She seems meant to cut to the heart of the Capitol, and this story seems to begin that journey.

I’m not sure why, but I really enjoy post-apocalyptic stories, and this is one of the best I’ve read. The story concept is twisted, and no sane person could hope for another person’s death because they ended up in the Hunger Games, but the story creates a world that is obviously corrupt and desperately in need of redemption. I loved that about this story. I haven’t read the other two books in the trilogy yet, but I’m hoping for a taste of redemption by the end.

I loved the first-person narrative of the story because it makes the reader feel like they’re experiencing the Hunger Games through the eyes of Katniss. I also felt like I really got to know her character because we get to hear her thoughts throughout, and she quickly became a very likable character.

Foundational to the concept of THE HUNGER GAMES is the idea of sacrifice, that for one person to live someone must die, or in this case, twenty-three people must die. Katniss makes what will possibly be the ultimate sacrifice when she volunteers to be a tribute in her sister’s place, and we see this concept of self-sacrifice throughout. For the most part, the tributes aren’t heartless. They don’t want to kill, but they must kill to survive. But alliances are built along the way that makes the idea of killing someone you possibly care about very difficult. Collins amps up the stakes up to the very end of the story with this theme. Will Katniss kill to survive? More importantly, will she kill someone she’s grown to care about to survive? Collins pulls you into the story with the emotional cost the Capitol wants the tributes to pay.

The world of THE HUNGER GAMES is incredibly well-built. I could picture the run-down appearance of District 12 and the gleaming technological perfection that is the Capitol. This is another way the first-person narrative really helped to drive the story. Panem is the epitome of human depravity as we learn that those in charge in the Capitol have an insane thirst for power, and this plays out in their enjoyment of watching the teenaged tributes slaughter one another in their yearly games. Their greatest source of entertainment is also their primary method of exacting punishment and ensuring the obedience of the Districts.

The characters were brilliantly developed. Katniss Everdeen, a girl who has survived heartache and subsequent abandonment because of the death of her father, cares deeply for people. Collins shows this through Katniss’ actions and inner dialogue over and over again throughout the story. Yet she’s also forced to do things that no one would ever hope they had to do. I found myself desperately wishing she didn’t have to kill anyone, but understanding that she’s been placed in the most impossible of situations. Haymitch, Katniss’ mentor, is intriguing because of how winning the Hunger Games has affected him. Peeta Mellark, the boy tribute from District 12, is an interesting character because of the choices he makes throughout the story and the revealed motivations behind those actions. The other tributes range from sweet and innocent to vengeful and bloodthirsty. The collective entity known as the Capitol is the most mysterious character of all. They leave me with the most questions. How did they get so powerful? Why did the Districts feel they needed to rebel, and why was the Hunger Games the response the Capitol came up with to punish the Districts for their betrayal?

The end of THE HUNGER GAMES left me wanting to read the second book immediately. I’m interested to see the aftermath of what happens in this story and Katniss’ place in it all.

Given the popularity of THE HUNGER GAMES movie, it’s clear that Suzanne Collins has written a story that resonates with people. It explores the messy choices people must make in the midst of a dangerous world and the nature of sacrifice. It’s a dark story, but it’s a story that confronts us head-on with the value of human life and challenges the terrible ways we’re tempted to treat one another. I can’t wait to see the movie now that I’ve read the book, and I can’t wait to dive into CATCHING FIRE.

I received this book for free for review from Scholastic, and I was not required to give a positive review

1 comment:

  1. Good review, Tom. I too think that Collins did an amazing job connecting Katnis and the reader. I felt as if she were a dear friend and I hurt because she hurt. (An aspect the movie can never fully accomplish.)

    I also love the underlying hope in the book even in all it's darkness. I think this concept of hoping for justice in such an unjust society is what has flamed the book's popularity.

    Again, super review. I enjoyed it. Now onto the other two! :)