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Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Updated on April 12, 2011

The Hunger Games, a science fiction young adult novel, is book one in a trilogy by American author Suzanne Collins.  I had never heard of this series until early this year when my cousin told me it was a must-read, and sure to be the next big thing since Harry Potter and Twilight.  Since I love to read, and I enjoy young adult fiction, I figured I'd give it a shot.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Plot

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives with her mother and younger sister Prim in District 12 of a nation called Panem, which is what remains of a post-apocalyptic North America after countless natural disasters and a war fought for what little was left. Panem is made up of the almighty Capitol and 13 districts, one of which was eradicated after the Dark Days where the districts started an uprising against the Capitol.

The hunger games were created to remind the citizens of Panem that the Dark Days and another uprising must never happen again, and also to remind the districts that they are completely at the Capitol's mercy. Every year, each of the districts provides two tributes - a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 - to take part in the hunger games. The tributes are thrown together in an outdoor arena where they must fight each other to the death, while the entire nation watches on television. The last tribute standing is the winner, and will return to the district rich and famous.

District 12 is the poorest in Panem, and people often go hungry and starve. Since the death of Katniss's father several years before, her mother has been in a deep depression, leaving Katniss to take care of the family. Katniss and her friend Gale secretly defy the laws and go into the forest to hunt for game, as well as collect roots, nuts, berries, and other edible things that grow in the wilderness. The pair are well-known in the Seam (the nickname for District 12) and sell or trade their findings in town to provide for their families.  The hunting they do is punishable by death, but because they provide for so many people - including town officials - their crimes are overlooked.

The story starts with Katniss and Gale hunting shortly before 'the reaping' which is when the tributes are chosen. Katniss's 12-year-old sister Prim is chosen as the girl tribute, and Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place. The male tribute is a boy Katniss's age, named Peeta Mellark, someone Katniss has had limited contact with up until this point.

Katniss and Peeta are sent to the Capitol to prepare for the games, and Katniss soon discovers that Peeta has had a crush on her since childhood. She's unsure whether it's a ploy for sympathy from the audience and sponsors of the games, whether it's a tactic to get her to trust him so he can kill her, or whether he's being sincere. They're encouraged to go along with the star-crossed lover image, in the hopes that it will gain them sponsors, who are the ones that provide weapons, food, medicine, etc, once the tributes are inside the arena. Peeta seems like a genuinely nice person, someone who truly cares, but Katniss struggles with the decision to trust him.

In the hunger games, the bloodier and more violent the deaths, the better. The Gamemakers, who control certain aspects of the games will add in natural disasters if things get too boring. The tributes have to outsmart not only each other, but also whatever is thrown at them by the Gamemakers, while making enough of an impression on the distant audience to benefit from the gifts of sponsors, which could keep them alive and help them win the games.

I hope this song makes it onto The Hunger Games movie soundtrack

The characters

The characters in The Hunger Games are believable and likable. You can feel Katniss's pain, whether it's emotional or physical, sympathize with her inner turmoil and struggles as she tries to outsmart the other players in the games and stay alive. She has her own mind, and she's very much her own person - she's intelligent and resourceful and doesn't depend on anyone else to rescue her or keep her alive. Her will to survive, her sheer determination and her desire to return home to Prim and their mother is touching and heart wrenching at the same time. They're the only things that matter to her, and the only things keeping her from giving up and giving in. Because of this, and her personality in general (she doesn't feel sorry for herself or give in to fits of whining and self-pity like the heroines in some other books) Katniss is able to retain her likability even when she's forced to be calculating, cunning and cold.

Peeta is sweet and charming in an understated way. He has this air of innocence that had me wondering through most of the book whether he was for real or whether he was employing manipulative tactics. He too is resourceful, although in completely different ways than Katniss. Being the son of a baker, he has never experienced the hunger, struggles and other hardships that Katniss has had to endure, but he has his own subtle strengths and a sharp intelligence.

The other characters in the book - from District 12's mentors, to the Capitol stylists who prepare Katniss and Peeta for the games, to the other 22 tributes - all have a purpose within the story and aren't used as filler, which seems to happen often in books where many characters are involved.

What I thought of The Hunger Games

This book was excellent. I had no idea what it was about before reading it (I have an odd habit of not reading the dust jacket on many books, and in this case, with the book being recommended, I didn't bother), and at first I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy it. I got over that feeling by chapter two, and could hardly put the book down from that point on. There was a bit of everything in this book - action, suspense, humour, a touch of romance.

There were actually times during the games where my heart would start to race and I'd be so tense I was practically on the edge of my seat. The adrenaline-pumping action kept me engaged and curious, always wondering what would happen next, how Katniss was going to get out of a certain situation, or what disaster the Gamemakers would send next to provide cheap thrills to the audience. There were parts that were quite disturbing, and there were a few moments that were pretty horrific and had my stomach turning, but they were broken up by lighter moments, things that had me smiling or actually laughing out loud.

Even though this book is technically a young adult book, I would recommend it to anyone. I find that I often enjoy YA books as much, if not more than adult fiction, and I tend to add them to my reading list on a regular basis, and know many other adults who do the same (and I'm talking about a wide age range here - from about twenty to seventy years old).

I loved that Katniss was the heroine through and through. She depended on her own strengths, skills and intelligence, and didn't rely solely on others. It was a refreshing change from many other stories where the heroine is completely dependent on the leading male from the get-go. Don't get me wrong, I'm a sucker for a love story, and I often choose a good romance novel while browsing the library or bookstore, but this was a nice change. An intelligent young woman who knows her own mind, and although there are elements of romance in the book, it's subtly interwoven into the story, and is far from the main focus.

I'm currently on the waiting list for the second and third books in The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire and Mockingjay respectively, and I wish now that I had put my name on the list sooner because I can't wait to see what happens next. I'm also curious to see how this book will translate onto the big screen, which is currently in the works. They'll have to have a really good special effects team to bring to life many of the futuristic aspects of the novel. I'm anxious to see who they cast in the main roles, and I hope this will be one movie that does the book justice.

Thank you for reading

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