Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Reviewed by Kris Harding.

Collin’s first book, Gregor the Overlander, which came out in 2003, grew into the best-selling, award-winning, five-book series, the Underland Chronicles. This first book in the Hunger Games trilogy debuted in 2008, followed by Catching Fire in 2009 and Mockingjay, which came out on August 24th. Collins is working on a screenplay adaptation of this trilogy for Lion’s Gate. Among the honors she has received for her children and young adult works are awards from ALA, Publishers Weekly, KIRKUS, Horn Book, School Library Journal, Book List, and the New York Public Library. She was also honored as one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2010.

With over 60 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, Hunger Games has been touted as the next Twilight. While I wish this author as much success, the comparison stops there. I devoured all four flawed books of the Twilight Saga; and not only is this book better written, it also deals with more interesting themes than who’s hottest—a cool, flawless, overly-protective gentleman vampire or a hunky native American wolfman with sculpted abs.

Drawing on her childhood experiences as the daughter of an Air Force officer, Collins explores the effects of war, poverty and starvation in this post-apocalyptic suspense tale. Though the book does not give us any sense of how far in the future it is set, the United States is no more. Panem, the nation in its place, is composed of a shining, prosperous Capitol surrounded by twelve districts where most citizens barely scrape by. Once there was a 13th district, but it was utterly destroyed after a failed rebellion; and if that isn’t enough to keep the people in their place, the Capitol has instituted the hunger games, a televised survival show in which a boy and a girl from each district compete. Every child from ages 12 to 18 is in the lottery for the games. Since one may obtain extra food rations for additional slips in the annual drawing, poor children have increased odds of being chosen to fight to the death for their district.

Collins has written her book in first person, which draws the reader into the mind of her heroine and immediately makes the outcome more personal. (I think teens in particular find first person compelling. The Twilight Saga is all told in the point of view of Bella. But first person also grips adult readers, and not just moms for Edward. Arthur Golden’s 1997 Memoirs of a Geisha, which was turned down by the publishing world when it was first written in third person, became a best seller when rewritten in first person. Pardon my long aside and back to the novel at hand.) Sixteen-year-old Katniss has been supporting her mother and sister by poaching on forbidden lands outside the city’s perimeter since her father was killed in a mine accident five years before. She’s smart and scrappy and intensely loyal to those she loves; all of which will be tested in the games.

I won’t tell you anymore about the plot because I don’t wish to spoil the ride for you. The book is a very fast read—partly because it is geared to young adults, but mostly because you won’t be able to put it down. Several places online I found the book described as “running man meets the lord of the flies.” Very snappy description, but I find it inaccurate. The young people in this world were not put there to survive or die by an unfortunate accident like the boys of Lord of the Flies. No, it is the adults of the Capitol who have decreed this descent into savagery for the entertainment and intimidation of the masses.

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