“The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.”
(from The Hunger Games, page 18)
I’ve heard so much about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and I was excited when it was chosen by the monthly book club Serena just started. (So far, only our husbands and a co-worker are joining us, but whatever gets the boys reading works for me!) I have high expectations when I read so many positive reviews of a book, and I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed by this one.
“Survivor on steroids” is what Serena called the book when we talked about it at lunch recently, and I agree with that assessment. The Hunger Games is a dystopian young adult novel about North America after wars and disasters. What’s left is Panem, divided into 12 districts and ruled by the Capitol. There was a 13th district, but it was annihilated when the districts rose up against the government, and as a punishment and a reminder of the Capitol’s power, the 12 remaining districts must participate each year in the Hunger Games. All children between the ages of 12 and 18 are entered (1 entry at age 12, 2 at 13, etc.), and given that some of the districts are poor and hungry, children can obtain a year’s worth of grain and oil for one person for an extra entry — and they can tack on more than one of these extra entries.
By the time the protagonist of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, is 16, she has a lot of entries, as does her best friend and hunting partner Gale. Since the death of her father in the coal mines, Katniss has become the head of the household and engages in illegal activities to provide herself, her 12-year-old sister Prim, and their mother with enough food to survive. The book begins with the reaping, when the contestants for the next Hunger Games are chosen. Although Prim is entered only once, her name is chosen, and out of love for her sister and a fierce desire to protect her at all costs, Katniss chooses to take her place. Her fellow tribute is Peeta, the baker’s son, who provided her with a few burned loaves at a time when she and her family were close to starving to death. The book follows Katniss and Peeta on their trip to the Capitol to prepare for the Hunger Games and at the games themselves.
Collins lets Katniss tell her story in the first person and in the present tense, which I think was a great choice for this book. I felt like I was part of the story, running alongside Katniss in the woods and feeling her anxiety, pain, and fear. Katniss knows her chances of survival are not great. Sure, she can hunt and she’s awesome with a bow and arrow, but many of the tributes from the other districts are bigger, stronger, well fed, and better trained. Collins does a great job building suspense with regard to the games and creating tension between Katniss and Peeta; they’re from the same district, so they want to feel like they have one another for support, but only one tribute out of 24 can be the victor.
The first person point of view can be limiting, but I feel Collins did a good job of showing the different sides of the other characters, particularly Peeta and Haymitch, District 12’s only Hunger Games winner and the tributes’ mentor throughout the games. Collins is effective in showing the evils of the Panem government and the inequalities among the districts, but I longed for more details about how Panem came to be and who in fact is running the government. (That’s my sociology degree talking!) However, The Hunger Games is the first in a series, and maybe more of those details will be revealed later on.
The Hunger Games reads fast for a 374-page book, and while it’s not for the faint of heart, I highly recommend it if you like dystopian novels with lots of action. I don’t know how I’m going to wait for Catching Fire to be released in September. Not patiently, that’s for sure.
Disclosure: I borrowed The Hunger Games from the library. I am an Amazon associate.
© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.