The Hunger Games

Note: This contains spoilers. Because, honestly, this book has been out for years. And so has the movie. You’ve really got no excuse at this point.

Cover for The Hunger Games

When The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins initially came out, I had no interest in reading it. It was just something I saw people reading on the ‘L’. Then, while I was housebound with a broken arm, the guy I was seeing at the time picked up a copy, and fell in love with it.
One night, after I’d finished whatever I was reading, the ex was reduced to tears by the book, and I decided to pick up a copy. Because, why not. What did I have to lose?

While I enjoyed it enough to keep reading, and picked up the sequels shortly afterwards, I wasn’t floored. But, after seeing the movie version of ‘Catching Fire’ in theaters recently, I was inspired to pick these books up again, and give them another read-through.

The Hunger Games follows Katniss, a girl named after a plant. She lives in The Seam, a poor part of District 12, the coal producing district of Panem.

Panem is a country in what had previously been the United States before the world fell apart – though it’s never explained what from. It could be anything from the gradual depletion of resources, to some sort war.

Panem is composed of twelve districts, and a centralized capitol city. The capitol is simply named The Capitol, and the districts are named District One, District Two, so on and so forth, all the way on down to District Twelve. Each district is responsible for producing a certain type of resource, soley for the benefit of The Capitol. For example the main industry of 11 is agriculture, and we learn that while it is assumed that the residents of District 11 are well fed because of this, they are strictly monitored and severely punished if they take any food for themselves. They’re just as hungry and poor as everyone else.

Anyway. I digress.

Obviously, the people of the districts are getting a raw deal – If they’re producing all the resources for the entire country, but not seeing any of the benefits, why don’t they go on strike? Or stop? Or revolt? Or something. Or anything.

The answer is pretty simple. They already did, and they failed. The thirteen districts rose up against the capital in what is now referred to as “The Dark Days”, and were beat down. The District 13 was destroyed, to set an example for what happens to other when they try to oppose The Capitol.

As a result, they hold a yearly competition called “The Hunger Games” (gasp!), where two tributes, one boy and one girl, aged twelve through eighteen, are chosen at random from each district, and put in an arena where they’re forced to fight to the death. The idea here is that the games serve as a reminder to the districts of just where they stand.

Long story short, Katniss winds up participating in the games, as the female tribute for District 12. She’s ripped from the rural surroundings she’s grown with, and is thrust into the materialistic, vain, ridiculous society of The Capitol, where she’s forced to engage in what basically ammounts to a pageant, where she vies with the other tributes for who can accrue the biggest supply of wealthy sponsors to help her out during her time in the games.

Then, of course, she vies for survival against the 23 other tributes in the 74th Annual Hunger Games. But, not only is it a battle to the death against someone from your own home town, and 22 strangers being filmed and broadcast for the entire country to see, she has to battle for survival against the arena itself.

The story is presented in a simple first person narrative format, in the present tense. Occasional flashbacks and tangential explanations give color and depth to the world.

The Good
I liked a lot about it. I thought the world was interesting, and the writing wasn’t bad. The concept was pretty cool, and the violence was a tiny bit graphic for a “Young Adult” novel, but it wasn’t a gore-fest or anything like that. The violence was pretty tame, even though there was quite a bit of it. Which is neutral, I guess.

The characters were all good. I loved Peeta. I thought Katniss was a little bit of a whiner, but I guess it wouldn’t really appeal to teens if that wasn’t the case. You have to have a certain amount of angst to be successful with that crowd. Though it seemed like the most that any of the characters, even the ones who genuinely seemed to like her, did was tolerate her.

The Bad
The main character is fairly unlikable, which isn’t the biggest deal ever, but since the book is her fighting for her life in a 24 person death match… Well, you get the idea. The writing isn’t the best, but it’s not really bad either.

Final Thoughts
The book is good, not great. The characters are pretty good for the most part, except for the main character, which is a little bit of a problem – though it’s not the end of the world.

The concept is interesting, and unique, even if certain aspects of it are a little shallow. They don’t really hold water when thought about critically. That being said, however, the book never failed to suspend my disbelief, even if a few times I did stop and say “Oh man, that’s cheezy”.

While not the angstiest or goriest thing I’ve ever read, some people were shocked by the amount of violence, and the angst gets laid on pretty thick at times, but it wasn’t really that bad. And really, what else can you expect from a book aimed at Young Adults.

I liked the book well enough, but I liked the second and third installments way better.

The Hunger Games gets a solid “B”. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever read, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.


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