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The Exciting Beginning of the Hunger Games: Book One Review
When I first saw The Hunger Games, it was in every conceivable place that you might find a book. However, I usually don't pick up bestselling books just because they are bestsellers. So, I went about my business as usual, and the books sat on the shelves of every bookstore, Wal-Mart, and grocery store in town, and I would walk by without giving them any notice.
But then I reconnected with an old friend from high school, someone who shared my obsession with anime, and had accompanied me to many of my favorite movies in high school. She was a huge fan of the series. So I gave the movie a chance for her sake.
I found the movie interesting and liked the story. The shaky cam was admittedly one of the biggest problems with the movkie, but it didn't bother me as much as it did some people. After seeing the movie, I purchased the books. Here's what I thought about the first one.
The Beginning: The Contrast Between Wealth and Poverty
In The Hunger Games, economic inequality is at a horrifying extreme.
But, we can say that the United States really does inflict such misery on other parts of the world in exchange for our wealth and security. The Hunger Games puts those conditions in the spotlight, forcing us to reflect upon the costs of our own lifestyles.
It's like The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. In that story's distant future, the poor and the rich have both devolved into animal-like beings. The rich, used to leisure, became passive cattle to feed savage creatures beneath the surface, descended from the poor.
The Hunger Games envisions a future where inequality is not that drastic, but is still extreme. The people in the Capitol of Panem do not work in factories, farms, or mines, like the workers in the 12 Districts. They wear bright colors, have the weirdest fashion trends, and obsess over things like parties and looking good. They represent how Westerners must look to people from poorer countries, or the way the rich people in New York and L.A. sometimes seem to rural Americans.
Every economic activity in this society is highly regulated. The people of the Districts are kept poor, ignorant, and powerless by the Capitol. Their education is made to revolve around a particular industry (The main character Katniss' District 12 specializes in coal mining), and they are not allowed much contact with the other Districts. The Hunger Games is held every year, and has been for 75 years, to remind the Districts about the horrors of civil war, reminding them of the consequences should they rebel against the Capitol.
The Hunger Games Begin
The Hunger Games is a festival and televised event where representatives from the Capitol randomly select 24 children between the ages of 12 and 18 from the Districts to compete in a gory, agonizing fight to the death, that can leave only one victor alive. Children who are among the poorest of the poor can choose to add their name into the lottery extra times in exchange for a tessera, which is a ration of food and oil.
Katniss did this to save her sister and mother from starvation. When her father died in a mine cave-in, her mother became catatonic and depressed, leaving Katniss as the primary breadwinner for her family. Katniss was fiercely protective of her sister, Primrose, so she took the tesserae, but refused to allow Prim to enter her name any more than once. However, when Katniss was 16 and her sister was 12, on the first year Prim would have been a candidate, Prim was selected. Shocked and afraid to lose her precious sister, Katniss volunteered as "tribute", to go and fight and try to win in the Hunger Games in her place.
For the first time, Katniss experiences the richness of Capitol life firsthand; hot showers when she never had hot running water before, maid service, and the most delectable foods she'd ever tried. She also learns that in the Capitol, looking good is prompted. To survive in the arena, not only will she have to study combat and wilderness survival, but she will have to prove to an audience that will be constantly watching her every move that she is worthy of aid in the form of gifts sent from the sky from "sponsors".
Like Pip from Great Expectations, she receives gifts from a mysterious benefactor, but she needs them to survive, and before the games even start, she has to earn them. She has to show the mysterious "game makers", the body of judges in charge of the games, her special combat ability. In her case, archery, which she learned from her father and perfected over time by hunting illegally in the woods to help her family survive. The real challenge to Katniss is the interview: she has to be primped and polished and rehearsed and go on national TV to make herself, in less than 5 minutes, look like the most desirable and popular candidate to win the Games, as that will entice sponsors to donate items of value to her in the arena later. A lot of teenage girls can probably relate to the pressure of being forced to try to be a 'people person' when your'e just not feeling it.
The Romantic Subplot
Those helping Katniss along through the interview process realize one major way to make Katniss, with a relatively dull personality, leap up in popularity with the audience. During his interview, Peeta, the boy from Katniss' district, confesses his love for Katniss! This is intended to shock the audience into obsessing over Peeta and Katniss. The audience of the Games is suddenly caught up in this fake "star-crossed lovers" plot. Katniss goes along with it for survival, although she never had any romantic interest in Peeta. But, she remembered that as Peeta was the baker's son, he had given her bread once when her and Prim were starving, even taking a beating from his mother over it.
In the movie, it wasn't as apparent to me that Katniss was faking the romance with Peeta, but from the books, it's obvious that it was all a lie, at least on her end. Peeta develops unrequited romantic feelings for Katniss, but she was in love with her best friend, Gale. Gale had been her hunting companion for a long time. I think she also was trying not to get attached to Peeta, because she knew that according to the rules of the Games, either he would have to die, or she would.
The Hunger Games and Twilight would later spark a trend that all YA fiction would have to have a Love Triangle, and for that it would get hated on the internet, but this one was not bad. I genuinely cared about all the characters' feelings involved. I can't say that about other love triangles in other YA lit.
The Ending - Spoiler Warning!
Despite the fact that the strongest players teamed up to attack her specifically, Katniss ducks and dodges various hazards put out by the game makers. She makes friends with a little girl named Rue, who reminds her of Primrose. Rue reminds her of why she's fighting, but sadly dies. The number of tributes alive decreases by the day.
Midway through this, she hears a puzzling announcement; now the game makers have allowed a rule change - two tributes from the same district could win together! She realizes Peeta and her have a chance to make it through the Games together. However, Peeta hasn't got an ounce of Katniss' wilderness survival skills, and is badly wounded when she finds him. Another tribute, Cato, slashed his leg with a sword and left him for dead. He managed to evade the other tributes and survive only through cunning camouflage. As with Rue, Katniss is motivated by compassion to care for him. She hides him in a cave, tends to his wounds, and hunts so they can both survive.
Then they hear another announcement: each of the remaining tributes are given something they desperately need - back at the place where the Games started. It's a big metal um... thingy, called the Cornucopia. The idea is to make the games more interesting by drawing all the remaining Tributes into a confrontation. Katniss knows what lies there for her; Peeta is in desperate need of medicine, real medicine, and all she has are herbal remedies from wild plants that aren't doing anything, and Peeta doesn't have much time (or blood) left. Peeta doesn't want her to go to the Cornucopia, knowing she'll be risking her life. But she drugs Peeta and makes him sleep for a day, while she goes off to grab the medicine. She's successful, but as soon as Peeta recovers, the Game Makers throw another challenge at them. The dogs.
The Capitol has a history of genetically altering wild animals and using biological warfare. The creatures they come up with are known colloquially as muttations. Mockingjays for example were a hybrid of mocking birds and a bird called jabberjays the Capitol originally intended to be used as spies, birds that could repeat back human voices they've heard.
These 'muttations' were given more time in the book than the movie, but I think they were fascinating.
The dogs they send after the remaining tributes are muttations. They are strange wolf-like creatures with human-looking eyes; they specifically were given eyes and hair colors and faces designed to resemble the tributes that had died. This particular horror of the Games was something I didn't remember noticing in the movie, but the book deals with this shocking twist; in the end, the remaining tributes are left to re-confront all those that have died, as monstrous beasts.
Peeta and Katniss survive by climbing to the top of the Cornucopia, and the last tribute remaining alive is finally killed by the dog-like monsters after a long battle. Actually, he is so badly wounded that he begs Katniss to shoot him with her arrow.
At that point, it would seem that the ordeal for Katniss and Peeta would be over and they should be celebrating. But then it's announced that there can only be one winner again. These games are all about firmly reinforcing the power of the Capitol, so they don't want to allow anyone, even beloved 'star-crossed lovers' to have a happy ending.
Katniss and Peeta both happen to have poisonous berries with them at this time. Peeta accidentally picked them, and almost ate them before Katniss remembered they were poison and warned him. They each took out a berry, held them up for the cameras, and were going to eat them. The mutual suicide was an idea Katniss came up with to deny the game-makers a victor, and to deny the viewers the pleasure of seeing one of them kill the other. Just when they were about to eat the berries, the game makers announced the rules were changed back, the games were finished, and the pair were declared the victors.
Why I Love The Hunger Games
It's obvious that the book is better than the movie. The book has more important details, and the cinematography of the movie is, well, shaky. There were many things the movie got right. If they were trying to draw in interest for the books, they succeeded. The costuming and set design were spectacular, the Cornucopia looked dazzling, futuristic, and original. The people in the Capitol looked like a field of wildflowers, each costume in the crowd was more impossible and wealth-showing than the last. The Capitol audience looks like a swarm of cosplayers or Lady Gaga fans.The scenery takes your breath away, from the dense greenery of the forest, the glittering modern marvel of the Capitol. The set designers also expertly captured the misery and grittiness of District 12. The costumes from District 12 look sort of like they're plucked straight out of Little House on the Prairie. In fact,you could see The Hunger Games as a critique of American nostalgia for such times. I liked Katniss as a hero, because while she was definitely strong and brave, she was motivated by compassion and love, even in a world that demanded that she make very tough decisions in order to stay alive. It was amazing that she volunteered for Primrose, allied with Rue even though she was undoubtedly the weakest participant, and helped Peeta stay alive, even though she didn't return his feelings for her.
Another thing I like is guessing at the symbolism of the story. 12 is a number loaded with symbolism, from the 12 apostles of Jesus to the 12 labors of Hercules. However, what I connected to The Hunger Games most was that there are 12 signs in the zodiac, and Sagittarius, with a centaur archer as its symbol, is the sign occurring in the twelfth month.
This story has everything; a romantic plot with twists and turns, a story about political dominance and class struggle, and a kill-or-be-killed story of heroic survival.