Book Reviews

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Not the Bright Future You Were Hoping For

With my love of science fiction, I’m actually pretty stunned that I didn’t come across the book until it was recommended to me by a friend when I was looking for something to read. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, The Hunger Games is equal parts science fiction, thriller, horror, and Mad Max.

Told in the first person perspective from the main character of Katniss Everdeen, the story rolls out in a natural, flowing manner.  The setting of the book evolves quite nicely. I didn’t feel I was hit over the head with all the details of what had happened to change North America from the place we know today to the world in which Katniss inhabits. In fact, with the backdrop of the Occupy protests and all the talk of income inequality over the past decade, I could envision it all too well.

After the revolution was suppressed, the inhabitable lands of North America were divided into twelve districts and ruled with an iron fist. The rules are a bit lax way out in the district where Katniss lives. The main resource there is coal and most people work in the mines. To support her family once her father was killed in a mining accident, Katniss took to the forbidden woods beyond an electrified fence that didn’t work.  The skirting of the rules doesn’t save District Twelve from the most oppressive of the government’s penalties for the uprising, however. Each year, two of the district’s children are chosen as Tributes to travel to the Capitol and compete against children from the other districts in a battle to the death in a manufactured setting known as The Hunger Games.

It’s obvious from the start that Katniss will be the one to land in this year’s games, although The Hunger Games does take its time getting there.  It’s not boring, though, and the details of this life are what make her time in the games that much more believable.  We see the many dimensions of Katniss as she is a survivor but with a heart of gold. She is judgmental but with good reason. She is naïve at times but also has good instincts about people.

Reading it for the first time against the backdrop of the political and social chatter of the last few years, it resonates even more. Katniss’ feelings toward those who inhabit the Capitol somewhat mirror the class warfare of the 1% versus the 99%. She’s not just disgusted about the prospect of dying for their entertainment, but also for the fact of how hard the people of her District work for so little while those in the Capitol live in the lap of luxury.  As she contends with the shallowness of the people who are supposed to help her possibly win the games, the contrasts as to what’s important to each of them continually bleed through.

Being the first part of a trilogy, The Hunger Games reads much the same way the first Star Wars film played on the screen. It stands pretty well on its own, but once you know what’s coming it also does a terrific job setting the stage for what’s to come.  There’s a lot to learn about the characters in the game and those that surround Katniss in her life.

The Hunger Games is listed as a young adult book.  It will definitely appeal to that audience that is maybe starting to grow from Harry Potter and look for something more adult.  There are graphic moments of death and horror as the games play out quite graphically and at times the imagery could be disturbing to some. I also think The Hunger Games will appeal just fine to adults looking for a good read.  It was nice to have a book that my older kids were into as much as I was.

The themes in The Hunger Games aren’t anything new or innovative.  As I read it, my first thought was how similar it seemed to Stephen King’s The Running Man.  Collins does an excellent job tailoring it to a new audience and adding enough to keep those of us who have read this before engrossed. Even though I knew the likely outcome, she did manage a few twists that surprised me. My teens enjoyed this tremendously as well.