Sunday, June 27, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'The Hunger Games'
According to my tags, this is my 50th review! Hoorah!
The Book: The Hunger Games (Book One of The Hunger Games trilogy)
The Author: Suzanne Collins
How I Found It: I first heard of it through a friend, who read it and loaned it to me. I was curious about it after seeing the overwhelming acclaim it received from various quarters.
The Review: Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl, lives in a world very different from ours. In the ruins of what was once North America, now called Panem, people have been divided into 12 districts after a brutal rebellion against the government. In order to keep the citizens in line, the government, known as the Capitol, has devised a tournament called "The Hunger Games".
A boy and a girl are picked from each district and placed into an arena where the enviroment can be anything--forest, sand, icy terrain. Survival depends on hunting, fighting for what few supplies the Gamemakers provide--and killing the other contestants in any way possible in a televised competition until only one competitor, or "tribute", is left standing. The Capitol uses the Games to show the citizens of Panem that they will not hesitate at killing anyone--not even children.
Katniss lives in District 12, the poorest district, with her mother and her 12-year-old sister, Prim. Prim is the only person in the world Katniss cares about, ever since her mother's depression after the death of her father lead to her shutting down emotionally until Katniss and Prim nearly starved. Katniss has been providing for her family for years. When the drawings come for the Games, Prim's name is drawn even though it was entered only once, per the rules for her age. The odds were astronomical, but it still happened, and Katniss cannot bear to let her sister go off and die. She steps forward voluntarily to take her sister's place.
Also chosen from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, the baker's son, who once showed Katniss kindness. There have only been two victors from District 12 in the history of the Games, and the only surviving one of the two--Katniss and Peeta's only hope of a mentor--is Haymitch, the town drunk. The odds are stacked up against both Katniss and Peeta in a deadly game where the rules are unexpectedly changing and only one person out of twenty-four is meant to survive.
To start with, this, like Never Let Me Go, is a dystopian novel. I compare them for no other reason than that they both paint pictures of governments who do unspeakable things to their citizens. In Never Let Me Go, it was creating clones solely for the purpose of organ donation; in The Hunger Games, it is a government who pits children against themselves to kill because they can.
As horrid as the story sounds, it is also becoming a movie, something I am admittedly curious to see. The story is quite violent but not overly so, but it's still subject matter that one would be uncomfortable seeing on screen. It will have to be an interesting balancing act to juggle the inherent violence of the topic--kids fighting to the death--with the level of violence allowed to be shown on screen for a (presumably, to match the target audience for the book) PG-13 film. I have to admit that some of the violence even made me squeamish at times; for one thing, if you're afraid of fire/burns or wasps, this'll be hard for you to stomach.
I'd heard so much praise for the book that it did fall short for me; it's not as amazing as I've heard, and it was actually rather cliched. That was something that surprised me--I've read nothing like this book before, and yet I felt like I knew where the plot was going. A few elements of the story did surprise me, which was good, but it was never breathtakingly original.
The book's jacket flap makes claims of "suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance." It is suspenseful in the manner of each chapter ending on a cliffhanger, a somewhat gimmicky way to ensure further reading. It is philosophical in that it explores the effect of this violence on children who have no other option but to kill or be killed, and hints that governmental overthrow could be a step in the right direction. It is adventurous because, well, it's about a fight to the death. The romance part, though, I wouldn't quite advertise as such; I'm still not sure how I feel about it. Peeta and Katniss play up an imaginary--on Katniss' part--romance between the two of them, in order to make the viewers feel for them. Though Peeta's feelings are real, Katniss is constantly denying what could be her own feelings and instead calculating how best to use the ruse to her advantage.
I couldn't quite blame her--she was trying to stay alive, after all--but it didn't make her very sympathetic. So while the book claims to have romance, it's a very one-sided romance that will have to be built upon further--and genuinely--for me to buy into it.
Overall, while I'm going to read the sequel and upcoming third book to see how the story plays out, I'm in the middle of the road on this one. It wasn't particularly original or engaging in my mind, but Collins has crafted a suspenseful story that plays on readers' fears to her advantage. It is a thought-provoking topic and a cautionary tale, even. I'll recommend it for fans of YA literature, whether they're young adults themselves or not, with the final thoughts that most will probably look past the flaws to the story and have a more thrilling ride than I did.