Review: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
When The Hunger Games was first released, I couldn’t escape it. My social feeds were flooded with friends absolutely melting over this novel, and for the subsequent novels as they came. For a long time, I managed to resist the hype. All I expected of The Hunger Games was an Americanized, watered down for a YA audience version of Battle Royale. I’ve seen Battle Royale. I don’t need to waste my time on a knockoff.
Then, of course, the movie came out. More specifically, it was the film’s soundtrack that had me questioning my stance on this series. The bluegrass, forlorn themes had me intrigued – what could this possibly have to do with a Battle Royale? I caved in, and went to see the movie. But this only heightened my curiosity! It wasn’t enough!
So I read the book, and here I am with my foot in my mouth.
(This review contains SPOILERS! Avoid if you haven’t at least seen the film.)
The Hunger Games excels highest in its world building. Suzanne Collins has constructed a fascinating post-apocalyptic world with a rich history. Bunch of kids slaughtering each other in an arena? Who cares – I want to know what happened to America! The attention to detail in how this society operates, and the stark contrast between life in the districts and life in the capital are deftly executed.
This was something Battle Royale was never able to accomplish, and what sets The Hunger Games apart. The political situations are indeed similar between the two, but no amount of lore in Royale ever convinced me there was depth to it beyond the hook of children killing each other.
That said, my largest problem with Games is what Royale did best.
Preserving Katniss as a sympathetic character through the games is a tricky balancing act, and not one I think was performed very gracefully. In this kind of situation, I expected to see Katniss make some hard decisions. I expected her to do things that would haunt her later, and I expected the same of her companion (Peeta). Unfortunately, ethical dilemma is hardly presented here, and Katniss emerges halo intact. The bees kill two people for her, she kills one out of self-defense, they accidentally kill one with berries, and she kills Cato out of pity. Nothing that could ever rise as a point of regret, and she’s never truly faced with killing Peeta, Rue, or even Thresh. That really took an edge out of the games for me.
I understand that a degree of righteousness is required for where Collins is headed with the story, but I feel that if you’re going to go there you need to go all the way.
Despite that, I enjoyed the world building immensely, and I like Katniss even if she’s a squeaky clean angel. In an ideal world, I would have Battle Royale’s gore and moral ambiguity in Hunger Game’s setting. Unfortunately, this is the real world and I have to deal with what I’ve got. Luckily, it’s not too shabby.
Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.
Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch—this is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. “Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen.”
“I’ve done my best with what I had to work with. How Katniss sacrificed herself for her sister. How you’ve both successfully struggled to overcome the barbarism of your district.” Barbarism? That’s ironic coming from a woman helping to prepare us for slaughter.
I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun.
Rating: 3/5 [rating=3]
You won’t miss much if you only see the movie, but it’s a quick read and available for free via Amazon’s lending library, so it’d be silly not to give it a go. As YA fiction goes, it’s superb.