Book Reviews

Book Review: The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1), by Suzanne Collins

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The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)

By: Suzanne Collins

Published: September 14, 2008

The Rundown: “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 is forced to represent her district in the Games.  But Katniss has been close to death 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.”

Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The cover is simple, with a black background and a design involving circles.  The only detailed part of the cover is the gold mockingjay with an arrow in its beak, a replica of the pin Katniss wears during the Games.  In later books, it becomes her symbol, and is used by the Rebellion.  I really liked the font used for the title, as it reminded me of the font used in old Communist propaganda posters.  It’s fitting, as the central antagonist of The Hunger Games is an authoritarian government.

What a Wonderful World: Panem takes the modern world of haves and have-nots to a brutal extreme.  The twelve districts are essentially slaves, each producing one sort of raw material (coal, luxury items, fish, etc.) that the Capitol purchases at very low prices.  In District 12, the citizens are kept in a fenced-in area; in District 11, they are kept in plantation-like conditions, and are whipped if they don’t meet quota.  Starvation is a constant threat in all the districts, but in the Capitol, rich foods are served at the touch of a button.  The Capitol uses their futuristic technologies to maintain their hegemony instead of trying to make lives better for the populace.  It’s implied that the population of Panem is very low—possibly only a few hundred thousand—the majority of people in North America having been killed by climate change, war, and mass famine.  As a result, while the story feels dystopian, it is technically post-apocalyptic.

The Good Guy: One of the other characters describes Katniss as “sullen and hostile,” and he’s right.  Katniss has lived in dire poverty for her entire life as a result of the policies of the Capitol.  Voicing her opinions or taking measures to fight the Capitol could get her, and her entire family, killed, so Katniss has learned to keep her thoughts and feelings to herself.  She acts like a wooden block around others, but she is very angry.  She tends to have low opinions of others, distrusting their motivations and viewing any signs that they care about her as insincere.  That is, she projects the hostility of the Capitol on everyone she meets, and acts accordingly.  It’s a depressing outlook, but a necessary one in the world she lives in.

The Bad Guys: The antagonist of this story is not a particular character, but the government of Panem.  While Katniss’s enemies are ostensibly the other tributes, whom she must kill in order to survive, her real enemy is the Capitol.  In order to survive, it is less important that Katniss ‘beat’ the other tributes than that she keep her audience entertained.  Katniss must outwit the Capitol—and the Gamemakers—if she is to survive the Games.

The Love Interests: We got two of them!  First there’s Gale, Katniss’s hunting partner.  For years, they helped each other illegally find food to feed their families.  Gale is the only person Katniss can be herself around; he’s the only person she can openly criticize the Capitol with.  Gale is not as good at hiding his anger as Katniss, which foreshadows Gale’s later role in the Rebellion.  Peeta is Katniss’s fellow tribute.  He’s kind and charming, and his public profession of love turns Katniss from “nice enough” to an object of desire.  Peeta tries to protect Katniss during the Games, though it is Katniss who ends up protecting him.  Unfortunately for both Gale and Peeta, Katniss is too preoccupied with basic survival to care about romance.

A+: I liked the way that the gender roles in this story were reversed.  It’s the boy, Peeta, who is madly in love, trying to protect Katniss from the Careers and whispering her name in his fever-dreams.  Katniss is actually pretty oblivious to him, engaging in action movie stunts like dodging fireballs and dropping wasp’s nests on people.  When she finally does decide to ally with Peeta, it is she who takes care of him, cleaning his wounds and engaging in daring exploits to get medicine.  It was very refreshing to see the female character taking the dominant role.

F-: Katniss is embarrassingly oblivious when it comes to men.  For example, in the beginning of the novel, Gale proposes that the two of them run off and live in the woods.  He even brings up having children someday.  Katniss is all, “Where is this coming from?  Gale and I have always been just friends, LOL.”  Then Katniss fails to realize that Peeta is genuinely in love with her, insisting that the whole thing is an act for the Capitol when it is clearly heartfelt.  At times, it makes her seem a bit thick.

Does it Represent…

Women: Yup!  There are a lot of female characters.  Aside from the main character, her mother, and her sister, we’ve got Effie Trinket, a surprisingly competent ditz who helps prepare the District 12 tributes for the Games; Katniss’s friend Madge; the redheaded Avox girl; Rue, the small tribute who reminds Katniss of Prim; the tributes Glimmer, Clove, and Foxface; and several members of Katniss’s prep team.  Lots of different female characters, and the story passes the Bechdel test easily.

People of Color: Katniss is described as looking like the other members of the Seam, with black hair, gray eyes, and olive skin.  This could be literally any ethnicity, but I pictured the Seam residents as being Native American.  This introduces a level of racial segregation into the class dynamics of the Seam, as the well-off merchants are described as blonde and blue-eyed.  While the white residents of the Seam have cushy town jobs, the colored residents risk their lives daily in the coal mines.  The two tributes from District 11, Rue and Thresh, are coded black.  They work in agriculture under conditions reminiscent of plantation slavery.  I liked that the innocent child, whose death shows the brutality of the Capitol, is black.

LGBT People: No.

The Disabled: Katniss’s mother fell into a crippling depression when her husband was killed in a mining accident.  Katniss has difficulty forgiving her mother for essentially abandoning her children, but does acknowledge that her depression was an illness.

But What About Boomer?: The kitty lives!

Memorable Quote: “Happy Hunger Games!  And may the odds be ever in your favor.”

Recommended For: People who are fans of both reality shows and socio-political commentary.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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