Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

"Winning means fame and fortune.
Losing means certain death.
The Hunger Games have begun…"

Katniss Everdeen belongs to District 12, one of the regions in Panem, a nation formed out of the remains of North America after a cataclysmic event, leaving food and resources in scarce supply. The Hunger Games, a futuristic reality show for children involving fights to the death for fame, fortune and most importantly food, were born out of a failed coup against the government of the day. The Capitol now uses the Games as a twisted means of controlling the population, where one male and one female teenager from every District is chosen at “The Reaping” to participate in the games. This year Katniss Everdeen’s little sister Prim is chosen as a Tribute. Desperate to save her sister from certain death, Everdeen volunteers to take her place and along with Peeta, the baker’s son, she must navigate the politics and machinations of the Capitol and somehow outlast the other District Tributes.

Everdeen is an interesting character as a female protagonist. She’s strong, stubborn, frustrated by her emotions when it comes to boys and conflicted by her actions in the Hunger Games. She felt like a realistic character and her internal monologue revealed her humanity and inner turmoil to readers. Collins absolutely nailed the actions and emotions of a teenager. I also liked how Everdeen didn’t always know what to do or have an answer for every problem as I feel some books portray young protagonists as encyclopaedic geniuses and it makes it difficult for me to sympathize and identify with the character. I feel as if the world doesn’t have enough books with physically active female protagonists with strong personalities so this was a breath of fresh air. I liked that she went out into the woods and wasn’t a girly girl.

I also really liked the setting as I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction and this is one of the best I’ve read in the young adult genre. I liked the idea that some terrible event happened in the past to create the world Everdeen currently inhabits but that we weren’t given any explicit details of how it happened. The ambiguity feels right as I imagine that a lot of information would have been lost when the ‘event’ occurred. I also felt that the division of regions into districts focussed solely on one resource was a bit simplistic but this is understandable as it’s a young adult book and Collins is merely setting the stage, not writing a textbook. As well, I also liked the concentration of wealth and power in the Capitol as it felt like a throwback to the feudal system, another example of society crumbling and falling back onto older models of governance.

Collins creates great tension throughout the story as she ends each chapter on a cliffhanger. I also liked the fast pace, as it gives readers an insight into how Everdeen is feeling, breathless and rushed. The story never lets up, pulling you along for the ride.

I also thought it was interesting how Collins draws inspiration from both the story of Theseus and the Minotaur and today’s obsession with reality television. It’s interesting to see that despite the starvation and poverty of Panem, that people are still interested in being entertained. Again, the violence and destruction inherent in The Hunger Games is a throwback to the games at the Coliseum in Ancient Rome, speaking to the breakdown of societal rules and conventions. I mean, where else are you going to get people interested in watching children kill one another?

If you like books about dystopian futures and strong female protagonists who kick butt, I would highly recommend this book.

Rating: You should own this, reread it and recommend it to friends.

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