There’s something that is markedly dystopian in Suzanne Collins’ book The Hunger Games. It’s evident early on that this book is set in the former United States in the future, after a short period of rebellion by the thirteen districts against the Capitol in the nation of Panem. It’s dark, brooding and starts off with our narrator and heroine, Katniss Everdeen, struggling to keep her family fed and alive.
The lack of food and hunger throughout the early parts of the book are a haunting theme in where the author does not hold back regarding the fears of starvation. The world Collins paints in the novel is not one sugarcoated for kids, as she talks plainly about death, life, struggling to stay alive and those who simply gave in and died. She pulls no punches and I, for one, am grateful that the author does this. Life is not fair, and Collins makes sure that the reader knows this.
The Reaping is when the book really gets going. The Reaping is a time, once per year, when the Capitol demands that each of the twelve districts (one district was destroyed) give them a boy and a girl to compete in what is known as the Hunger Games, a horrible reality TV combination of Survivor and Dirty Harry. Katniss, terrified she’s going to be chosen, is shocked to discover that her little sister is randomly chosen instead. She leaps in front of her sister and bravely (maybe desperately) volunteers to go in her stead. This is highly unusual in District 12, and many of the town’s people give her a silent gesture of honor. A boy she knows (and feels obligated to repay for a past kindness) is Peeta, who becomes her friend as they travel to the Capitol.
Katniss realizes early on while in the Capitol that while they may have better living standards, there is a filthy undercurrent in the city, something that speaks of an uncaring society only interested in the blood and excitement offered in the Hunger Games. She puts on a brave face, determined to not let the Sponsors (people who, for large wads of money, donate items during the games to help the contestant of their choosing) see that she is disgusted by the blatant display of civic gluttony going on around her.
The Games themselves are something you must read. I cannot do the setting and story justice in a simple review, and the absolute suddenness of characters you had just began to get to know and their deaths are jarring, frighteningly realistic. No brave last words, just there then… gone. It’s disturbing and, honestly, quite wonderful.
Now, that may seem like a very horrible thing to say, but Collins (purposefully or not) uses this to make you love the main character even more, and root for her and Peeta both to win, despite the rules of the Games that only one can survive (Highlander began this, Collins mastered it). Katniss is quite a bitch, maintaining a cold interior while staying friendly for the camera to ensure that people still like the “Girl of Fire” and will giver her the things she needs in order to survive. But because of her reactions to the deaths around her, including the loss of a friend right before her eyes, you can’t help but cheering for the girl to win it all, despite your unease with her attitude.
There are a few problems with the book, but they are minor. Sometimes the narrative voice slips from present to past tense, which can throw you for a sentence or two. And the ending is a definite setup for the sequel, Catching Fire, which I hate when authors do this (re: Jim Butcher, Changes).
All in all, my favorite read thus far this month. It’s a wonderful tale and, as I mentioned before, gritty but solid. Definite must-read.