The Hunger Games
© 2008 Suzanne Collins
Once every year, two teenagers are chosen at random to represent their region in a nation-wide game….the Hunger Games. But they’re not competing in track and field or spiking volleyballs to earn metals: they’re fighting to the death. And you thought high school sucked.
The Hunger Games is the first in a science-fiction trilogy set in a dystopia future wherein the United Statesis gone, replaced by a country known as Panem. Its central city, Capitol, is rich beyond measure, and rules with an iron hand twelve outlying districts, all impoverished. There used to be thirteen districts, but when it rebelled against the state the insurrection was brutally put down…and to ensure that no other district bucked the reins again, Panem instituted the Hunger Games, forcing two kids from every district to compete against one another, fighting one another until only one survives.
Katniss Everdeen is a voluntary contender in the games, fighting so that her young sister Primrose doesn’t have to. She is, in effect, taking a death sentence: the odds are long that she will prevail among the 24, because other, wealthier districts train their children for the yearly games and see them as a place to earn wealth and glory. Katniss’ home, District 12, is a poor mining area: they see the games for what they are, the murder of children for the glorification of a malevolent state. But Katniss is up to Capitol’s challenge. Orphaned by her father and functionally abandoned by her mother, she shouldered the burden of responsibility for herself and her sister, defying the laws to hunt secretly in the woods bordering her district and bringing home food for her family . It takes courage to live outside the law, but Katniss is determined to survive. That, and the survival skills she’s learned pacing the woodlands in search of prey, are her best hope.
The Hunger Games is not a happy story. It is brutal and intense, both in terms of action and the emotional turmoil readers joining Katniss will go through. The physical challenge is daunting enough: Katniss is not only compelled to fight against 23 other teenagers abandoned in the woods, having to provide her own shelter and food, but the Capitol authorities, the “Gamemakers”, constantly imperil the contestants, altering the weather and sending monsters to harry the tributes. The young people create alliances to survive, but temporary physical advantages carry their price: it’s a lot more difficult to kill a friend, and a lot easier to be killed by someone you regard as an ally.
Happy it isn’t, but The Hunger Games proved more compelling than I expected it to be. Katniss is an indomitable central character, feisty and self-reliant. She never whines, and though she has vulnerabilities she doesn’t waste time dwelling on them.Other characters, like the mysterious Rue and the brooding Peeta, prove able additions to the cast. She’s easy to root for, even when forced to make difficult decisions. And happily for a teen novel, there’s not a lot of dwelling on romance — although it does factor in, and will become more important in the sequel.
This is essentially a story about courageous young people in harrowing circumstances, attempting to survive not only ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, but the Capitol’s attempt to destroy their own sense of humanity. It’s a fast, thrilling read, peopled by strong characters whose maturity gives the lie to the conflation of adolescence and silliness.