The Hunger Games (book): A Review

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Suzanne Collins’s mega-hit novel, THE HUNGER GAMES, opened in theaters last week to be number 1 in the box office. My family has been bugging me to read at least the first book, and as I may end up seeing the movie at some point, I decided to give it a try. This, therefore, is my review of THE HUNGER GAMES (the book, not the movie).

The Hunger Games is the first book of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy which features CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINJAY as followups. I am not going to reveal anything of any importance to someone causally reading this review, so you may consider it mostly spoiler free.

If you’ve been under a rock for the last few years you’ll probably wonder what all the hoopla is about. If not, suffice to say that the story is about one young Katniss Everdean, and her experiences in the state run entertainment/political contest called “THE HUNGER GAMES”. The origin and reasoning behind the tournament is a critical element of the Dystopic setting of the series. The location is North America, but not any North America we know– this is a North American “successor nation” after an named implosion has occurred. I’m not certain if “Panem” from the book is set in the ruins of the United States or not, but the geography roughly matches. There’s a capital city area that is located somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, which acts as a sort of cultural and political suzerain over 13 distinct sectors (well, 12, the 13th was destroyed in the distant past). As the 13th sector had risen up in rebellion and was brutally destroyed, the ostensible purpose of the games is to teach the 12 sectors a lesson in who’s the boss, year after year. This lesson is the contest of the Hunger Games. Every year, a duo of children aged 12 to 18 are sent to the capital to fight to the death as “Tributes” to the Games. The winner, of course, is lauded and feted in his or her own district, and can live forever with all the food and wealth he or she wants (I forgot to mention that the districts are mostly starving, right?).

Of course, Katniss is going to be one of the Tributes from her home district (twelve, near Appalachia). We knew that going into the book, or there wouldn’t be much of a story. The Tributes are all made much of in the events leading up to the arena. The story enfolds. There’s the arena and the games. You can probably guess the outcome, as there are THREE BOOKS, right?

Impressions. It’s a good story, told in a workmanlike, but not especially skillful, manner. The setting is hardly original– it shares the same Story DNA as Shirley Jackson‘s “The Lottery“, Stephen King’sThe Long Walk” and “The Running Man“, and most especially Koushan Takawi’s “Battle Royale“, which it shares many themes with. Frankly, all of those writers are far more skillful than Ms. Collins, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t created a decent effort. Sadly, the novel did not feature a very well defined dystopian setting or theme.. other than some obvious Bread and Circus metaphors (naming the country Panem (Latin for bread), or naming one of the most psychotic Tributes after Rome’s most famous stoic Senator, etc.). There’s just not a lot to go on in the book– we are never told what happened to the United States (if Panem ever was in the US), we do know that the coastlines have receded, and that’s about it. As the author’s central motif is the violent showcase that takes up the last half of the novel, the reader is left asking a lot of questions about what created this world.

Of course, the second half of the novel focuses around the grand event itself, and then it becomes a fairly standard Lord of the Flies style “to the last man standing” contest. If you have any doubt as to the outcome, remind yourself that this is the first book of a trilogy.

The characters are all very surface level creatures. We all admire POV character Katniss, the central character, who is brave and smart and skilled. She is more of a paradigm than a person, as her motivations are noble. We also admire Peeta, the bluff, friendly and kind baker’s son from district 12 who is also chosen for the contest. The problem I have is that once Ms. Collins invests all this time building up the adventure story, the motivations of the POV character get a little muddled up. It’s an adventure story.. it’s a love story.. it’s a protest story. I am not really being overly critical here, I enjoyed the book, I just didn’t find it all that deep or compelling, like popcorn or macaroni and cheese fiction. I don’t expect that much from Young Adult fiction, and I’m glad the book got written. I have just read better stories on the same or similar subject, aimed at the adult market.

I will probably read the follow on novels, as THE HUNGER GAMES ended quite abruptly, leaving me with a sense of “Huh? What was that? the Ending?” I suspect Ms. Collins is setting up a trilogy that either plunges the same characters in a revolution against the Panem government, but it’s hard to tell, we didn’t get much from the first one.

In summary: Good, not great, young adult fiction. Don’t expect a lot of meat with the french fries. Try reading THE LOTTERY instead. Both will take about the same amount of time.

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One response to “The Hunger Games (book): A Review

  1. Dewey LaRochelle

    I the later novels do they get attacked by robots and the survivors flee, pursued by the robots, in search of the lost 13th colony?