Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with every one out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
‘The Hunger Games’ is the first book in Suzanne Collins ridiculously popular (and heartbreakingly wonderful) ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy.
The first book came out in October 2008 and generated a *lot* of buzz. It helped that Stephenie Meyer and Stephen King provided puffs for the book’s cover, and generally ensured that two very different but far-reaching audiences would give the book a go. . . but more than that, film buzz started up pretty much from the get-go. I was aware of the hype, but I also knew that ‘The Hunger Games’ was the first book in a trilogy. . . so I decided to bide my time and wait for all the books to come out and read them back-to-back. The third and final book, ‘Mockingjay’ was released in August of this year. . . but I still waited three months before I started reading.
. . . And now I regret not starting this trilogy sooner (it’s ‘Downside’ all over again!)
There is a New World Order where the Capitol rules, absolutely. In a bid to quench uprisings and rebellion, the Capitol have made sport out of sacrifice. . . every year they hold The Hunger Games. Twenty-four people from each District (starting at age 12) are randomly selected to enter into a fight to the death – for the amusement and entertainment of Capitol residents. The Games are viewed around the world, cameras lapping up the blood and gore and audiences rooting and sponsoring their favourite sacrifices.
Two children from each district, one boy and one girl, enter into the ever-changing arena landscape to battle against one another and come out the sole, victorious, survivor. The reaping provides dual purpose – entertainment value and to remind the District’s that the Capitol can offer their children up to slaughter without batting an eyelid.
This year Katniss Everdeen is one of the Game’s offerings. Along with Peeta Mellark, these two represent District 12 – Panem’s lowliest, poorest district famous only for coal mining. Katniss enters into the game with the dwindling hope that she will survive and return home to her mother and little sister, Prim. But a risky strategy by Peeta might just turn the game around for them. . . if they spin a tale of being star-crossed lovers, thrown into the Hunger Games only to kill one another, can they win the heart of the crowd and accomplish the impossible? Can they actually win?
‘The Hunger Games’ is summer-blockbuster reading. It’s a cross between George Orwell’s 1984, Gladiator, Mad Max and John Marsden’s ‘Tomorrow’ series. . . in a word: ‘phenomenal’. I hate to use clichés, but ‘The Hunger Games’ is literally ‘unputdownable’. It’s the sort of book that you hole yourself up with in your room, and when someone comes in to tell you that dinner is ready or it’s time for you to go to work, you snarl and snap at them and tell them to get the hell out because you just got to a really good part and they’re killing your reading-mojo. . . it’s that kind of book!
There are so many layers to ‘The Hunger Games’. On the surface it’s a damn good yarn – full of tension, action, unrequited love and moral conundrums. . . but if you dig deeper you start to really appreciate how complex Suzanne Collins’s universe is.
The book acts as a sort of mirror to society. In a time when reality TV rules the box, Collins writes a distorted, dystopian imagining of reality TV in the future – where blood-sport is the new norm. The same way that George Orwell predicted a watchful Big Brother society, Collins forecasts a disturbing new trend in reality television. And a lot of the book’s focus (even indirectly) is on the audience who lap up the bloodied television show.
I loved reading about the Capitol and its residents. It is with characters like Effie Trinket (one of District 12’s ‘mentors’) that Collins takes current notions of ‘celebrity’ to exaggerated and disturbing lengths. I loved reading about the look and dress of Capitol residents – from the stylist who dyed her skin a pea-green shade to the gold eye-tattoos and rampant plastic surgery. There’s no doubt that Collin’s fictional future dystopia is our current society in a fun-house mirror – embellished and ruined.
‘The Hunger Games’ is a twisted, romantic fare. Peeta and Katniss’s ‘romance’ is wonderful and wonderfully complicated. The book is told from Katniss’s perspective, so when Peeta starts flirting she (and readers) are never entirely sure if it’s a strategy or genuine love. Add into the mix the fact that Peeta and Katniss are going into the Hunger Games arena knowing only one of them can survive. . . and this isn’t your typical romance. I've never read such high romantic stakes in a Young Adult book and I loved the fact that the ‘love story’ is just as edge-of-your-seat as the action of fighting to the death. Brilliant!
Perhaps my favourite aspect of ‘The Hunger Games’ was the characters and Suzanne Collin’s making heroes out of her young protagonists. I love reading YA books where the author doesn’t ‘talk down’ to her characters, and therefore audience. Collins has really made a hero of Katniss – she has written her as a tough-as-nails, ass-kicking young woman. And I especially loved that all of the young characters in this book don’t rely on adults to ‘save’ them – they have to save themselves because, in fact, the adults are the bad guys. The adults are the Gamemakers and Capitol politicians who insist on throwing these games every year and making a killing example out of these poor kids.
As my last act of defiance, I will stare her down as long as I can see, which will probably not be an extended period of time, but I will stare her down, I will not cry, I will die, in my own small way, undefeated.Like John Marsden, Suzanne Collins throws her young characters into impossibly awful situations, letting them save themselves and test their own mettle. Brilliant. These are characters that young readers can admire and learn from.
“Yes, I don’t think you’ll have much use for your lips any more. Want to blow Lover Boy one last kiss?” she asks. I work up a mouthful of blood and saliva and spit it in her face. She flushes with rage. “All right, then. Let’s get started.”
I absolutely, unabashedly and whole-heartedly loved the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy. On the one hand I kind of wish I had jumped on the Suzanne Collins band-wagon sooner. . . but at the same time I was totally relieved reading the last page of ‘The Hunger Games’ and knowing that ‘Catching Fire’ and ‘Mockingjay’ were waiting for me on my shelf. I don’t know how I could have stood the suspense otherwise.
A movie is in the works, slated (very tentatively) for a 2013 release. Normally I’m apprehensive about a beloved book getting the screen-treatment. . . but Suzanne Collins’s writing is destined for big-screen magnificence. She’s done all the work for the scriptwriters - now if a cast is assembled who can reflect the inherent brilliance of Collin’s characters, this could be a new movie franchise to fill the Harry Potter and Twilight void.
P.S. – I've got to give a big THANK YOU to the many reviewers who kept pimping these books and reminding me to read them. People like Larissa... I really should just adopt the mantra “do everything Larissa says!” because she hasn’t led me astray yet :)