Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Hunger Games

By: Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press

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 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 weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The Hunger Games.  The first of a series of novels penned by Suzanne Collins.  By now, if you don't know about The Hunger Games, you have been stuck under a rock -- or you are just really out of touch with the culture of today.  My wife came home from work with a smile and told me that a co-worker had just read The Hunger Games as a part of a program called Read To Succeed.  The premise is that the book is passed to you to read, free of charge. The only catch is that after you have read the book, you pass it on to someone else who can continue the chain.  My wife read the book, and then she passed it on to me.  I have been wanting to read the series because it sounded like a decent premise and the story has taken the Nation by storm.
This review may irritate some people.
I just thought I would give fair warning.

The story follows Katniss Everdeen as she goes from being a single girl, on the outskirts of an impoverished district in the Nation of Panem, who is trying desperately to keep her family fed after her father died in a mining accident, to a player in a game.  A very brutal game where there can only be one winner, and everyone else ends up dead.  The Hunger Games are little more than a thinly veiled reminder that the Capitol controls everyone, and they can do anything they desire -  including watch you die, solely for their entertainment.  The Gladiatorial-esque Hunger Games pit one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts against each other in the hopes of having a good show of death, destruction, and carnage.  Katniss uses skills that she has picked up, while hunting for food, as a defense and then eventually to attack those who would kill her.  She must survive.  After all, she promised her little sister that she would return.

As far as the plot itself goes, it's original, and the setting is believable enough, that I find the buy-in to be relatively easy.  There were times I found myself eagerly turning the pages to see what would happen to Katniss and the boy tribute, Peeta, from District 12 as they faced challenge after challenge. Collins was able to weave the plot through enough twists and turns that it was almost unpredictable. . . Almost.  Unfortunately, it seemed that there were a few times that she found herself written into a corner, so she pulled out a deus ex machina to get the story moving again.  Though the story was compelling, it felt like it was written for a specific age group, and that group was not mine.  Some of the character emotions and actions felt contrived to me, and that took away from the story.  There were a couple of times I actually rolled my eyes - not at the characters actions, but at the way they were written.

The character development was quite well done.  She gives you a full background on the major character, and just enough of a background on the minor characters - just enough to make you like them, then, well, the Games must go on, right?
That brings me to the inevitable deaths that occur within the Games themselves.  This is, after all, the entire point of the Hunger Games (within the story, not the novel itself).  They were not too graphic, but they were enough to get the vivid image of a death taking place.  My only complaint is that the final kill was anti-climactic.  There was plenty of build-up, but the payoff just wasn't there.  It was like blowing a huge bubble and it deflating instead of giving a satisfying "pop!"

I don't believe that The Hunger Games lives up to the hype surrounding it. It is a quality story, and it can teach a few lessons (not the least of which is that you never really know what you are capable of until you are put to the test), but it just doesn't live up to the billing.  I haven't read Catching Fire or MockingJay yet, so I obviously don't know how The Hunger Games will fit into the trilogy itself -- however, I am intrigued enough to seek out the other two books and see if Collins can bring the story to the levels that Hollywood will push it to.

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