I picked up the last book club copy at our library, partly because I was told I was meeting with the book club (turned out it was the other book club) and partly because I was feeling a little guilty that I hadn’t read it yet.
Yes! (Like you need my recommendation. If you want to read this, you probably already have. But if you’re waffling, like I was – stop.)
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.
I think I read this book in about a day and a half, and it only took that long because I had to work and sleep. And then, when I looked at the hold list for Catching Fire, I went out and bought a copy so I wouldn’t have to wait for any more. I am totally and officially hooked.
A convincing and engaging world is always one of the first things I look for in a dystopian novel, and at first, The Hunger Games didn’t disappoint. The descriptions of Katniss’s home and life in District Twelve were, if not totally original, at least convincing. The dividing up of production into distinct and isolated districts makes a lot of sense if you’re the ruler of a dystopian country: not only does it keep people separated, but it means they can’t be self-sufficient. After all, you don’t mine food.
You can hunt it, though, as Katniss and Gabe prove. They, too, fit perfectly into this kind of world: although they’re unable to abide by the absolute standards the government tries to set up, the margins they live in are nonetheless comfortably well-established, so much so that the mayor lets their transgressions slide in exchange for fresh fruit. And a world like this obviously requires a high level of technology to keep it all organized, but of course most people in the Districts just don’t have access to it.
In fact, the only thing I don’t buy about this dystopia is the Hunger Games themselves. I just cannot fathom someone sitting down and thinking, “In order to prevent rebellion, we’re going to murder two dozen teenagers every year on national television.” It doesn’t make sense. Now, I can see someone creating the Games as a kind of show of false solidarity, and them eventually turning lethal, but that’s really not how they’re described.
It’s a minor gripe, though, and one I didn’t have much time to think about as I was reading. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for survival horror, and The Hunger Games proves that you don’t need zombies to make a good survivalist story – other people will do just as well. I was completely caught up in Katniss’s struggle for survival, beginning to end. Katniss herself is a great point of view for the Games: as a volunteer, she’s not quite as helplessly caught up as most of the others – but she’s still way out of her depth.
Of course there’s a romance. Regular readers know I’m never the biggest fan of romance in these things, but I actually quite liked the way this was handled. Both Katniss and Peeta seem very much like the teenagers that they are, and the added complexity of their budding relationship being played for the crowd made it much more interesting that I would have found it otherwise. And, fortunately, the plot doesn’t get derailed by romantic interludes: they’re woven right in there with the action.
Despite the completely action-driven nonstop plot, though, I’m really not sure this will make the best movie. Some of the challenges and deaths are going to have to be toned down quite a bit to make the PG-13 rating they’re undoubtedly aiming for, and so much of the interesting twists of story and relationship happen inside Katniss’s head that I’m not sure how well it will translate to the big screen. You can bet that I’ll be out there opening weekend to see, though.
In a Sentence:
While the worldbuilding in The Hunger Games is less than stellar, the characters are compelling and the plot races along so quickly you won’t have time to dwell on any inconsistencies.
Series: The Hunger Games
- The Hunger Games
- Catching Fire