Well, I’m late to the “game” on this one. Nevertheless, having just read the first in Suzanne Collins’s young adult fiction trilogy—in the wake of the buzz around the just-released third book of the trilogy, Mockingjay
The Hunger Games: Summary
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games are a cross between the reality show Survivor and the Roman Colosseum: the 24 teens fight to the death on live national television in a huge outdoor arena (we’re talking many square miles here), which encompasses a range of natural geography that varies from year to year. The Capitol stages the Hunger Games as a continuing reminder of the districts’ subservience, and as a brutal warning about how rebellion is dealt with.
Katniss Everdeen—the protagonist of the novel—becomes one of the tributes from District 12, the poorest of the districts, along with Peeta Mellark. The bulk of the book features Katniss and Peeta’s violent struggle for survival in the arena, and their interactions with other tributes and citizens of The Capitol. Will Katniss survive the arena? Will The Capitol own her as she fights to survive? These are the anxious questions that drive the story forward.
Subjective Appeal: Efficiently Beautiful Writing, Gripping Story
This book has so much subjective appeal, I don’t really know where to begin. How about the writing? The writing. Collins writes with a penetrating and sometimes shocking efficiency. Her writing is lean and beautiful, wasting nothing. This is not the beauty of summer flowers or warm autumn tones. Rather, this is the beauty of winter, of a disciplined athlete, of angular modern architecture, of icy blue and battleship gray, of a tool in the hand of a master craftsman, of an archer who effortlessly drives arrows into the heart of a bulls-eye.
The cold beauty of Collins’s writing fits perfectly in her story, reflecting the beauty of her compelling protagonist, Katniss, who narrates the story to the reader in first person. Katniss is fiercely independent, and somewhat angry—a hard exterior deriving from the loss of her father, and a life of hungry survival in the poorest neighborhood in the poorest district of unjust Panem. Yet, despite her toughness, Katniss is eminently likable: she is principled, she speaks her mind, and she sees through the glamorous veneer of The Capitol to its oppressive nature (unlike some of her fellow tributes). Katniss is a strong, attractive character with a complex and believable inner life, which keeps us interested in the story.
The plot of Collins’s work of young adult fiction is thoroughly gripping. My heart was pounding through roughly 75% of this book, and during the remaining 25% I was grateful for the rest! I had to discipline myself not to read the book before bed, or I would end up tossing and turning, thinking about the story—and sometimes having to sneak out of bed to my computer to write part of this review. In addition to the drama of the Games themselves, Collins interweaves a compelling and complicated love story, which adds to the appeal of the book. Collins definitely leaves us “hungering” for the next book, Catching Fire
Finally, this young adult novel is also attractive for its creativity. For example, throughout the novel Collins uses food and appetite to tell the story. Food binds together Katniss and Gale, who are best friends and hunting partners. Food also binds Katniss to Peeta, who saved her from starvation with a burnt loaf of bread. The rich copious food of The Capitol distinguishes it sharply from the Districts, whose food is basic and scanty. Throughout the book Collins also uses Katniss’s relation to food as a way of signaling her emotional state: when she’s anxious, she doesn’t eat; when things are well, she eats with relish; when she’s on a mission, she stuffs herself purposefully.
Another interesting sign of Collins’s creativity is the technology that characterizes The Capitol. Miraculous medicines, genetically engineered killer bees (“Tracker Jackers”), and, my favorite, a box that you place your hand on which sends a current through your scalp to effortlessly untangle, part, and dry your hair after showering (p. 75). These little creative touches made me marvel at the futuristic world Collins has created, and drew me into the book.
Developmental Value: Cultural and Moral Issues, Constructive Violence
In addition to its subjective appeal, The Hunger Games
The book also throws important moral themes into relief, thereby provoking beneficial reflection. The events of the Hunger Games cause one to consider how the value of survival stacks up against other important values such as loyalty, respect, and human dignity. Katniss’s actions are often guided—albeit begrudgingly (Kant would be proud…)—by her sense of moral debt, causing the reader to reflect on what it is, exactly, that we owe to each other. Also, the oppressive hand of The Capitol provokes reflection on the values of freedom and justice—indeed, the book feels a bit like Orwell’s 1984
In several ways, The Hunger Games
My one hesitation about this book is that it is very violent, particularly in the sections describing the Hunger Games. Collins does not linger on the violence in a grotesque manner, but the brief episodes are nevertheless disturbing. Thus, I would not recommend the book for teens sensitive to violence.
However, I do think the violence has an important function in the book, namely to make one feel (and not just cognitively understand) the injustice and oppression of The Capitol. Much violence in movies and books is mere titillating entertainment. In my view, such shallow violence has only negative effects, namely desensitization to the genuine horrors of violence. However, the violence of The Hunger Games
Thus, in short, I highly recommend The Hunger Games
Have you read The Hunger Games? What do you think of it? I’d love to hear your comments. Also, if you found this review helpful, why not post it on Facebook or Twitter? The “Share/Save” button below makes it easy. Thanks!