Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Review: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-439-02348-1, 374 pages.

On occasion, I read something other than crime fiction and this is one of those times.

The Hunger Games is a young adult novel set in a dystopian vision of the U.S. The country is ruled from The Capital, located somewhere near the Rockies. Twelve districts supply The Capital with resources. There was a thirteenth distruct but it was obliterated during an uprising against the government.

Each of the districts takes care of a specific need - agriculture, luxury goods, coal, etc. Where The Capital is technologically advanced and the inhabitants live a life of ease, the districts are kept at a bare, grubby, miserable, substance level with starvation a real possibility.

Once a year the Hunger Games are held to commemorate the revolt that destroyed the thirteenth colony. The Capital plays it as a major celebration but it is a reminder to the districts of what can happen if they get out of line. Each year, a boy and girl, called tributes, between the ages of twelve and eighteen are chosen by lottery to represent their district in the games. The twenty-four young people are forced to fight to the death in an outdoor area that changes from year to year. The contest is televised to The Capital and the districts. The winner gets a house and freedom from work for life. He or she also has the responsibility of mentoring future tributes from the district.

Katniss Everdeen, sixteen years old, takes the place of her younger sister to represent district twelve, known as the Seam. District 12 supplies coal and Katniss' father was a miner who died in an explosion. Kitniss has supported her mother and sister by illegally hunting and knows that she might have a chance where her sister would have none. Joining Katniss is Peeta, the baker's son.

This theme has been done before in Battle Royale, a much more violent Japanese novel and manga series. The Hunger Games takes a different approach to a government's oppression of its people and is an interesting, compelling, thought provoking, and well written story.

The character of Katniss as the resourceful, rebel teenager who takes on adult responsibilities is well developed and realistic. I can see a teenager growing up in those circumstances acting the way she does. I thought of Heinlein's female characters as I read this novel. I can also see myself as a sixteen year old loving the book.

The Hunger Games works well as a story of adventure and survival but also puts the reader in the uncomfortable position of considering "how would I act in those circumstances." With dystopian stories you also look for parallels in our society, could this happen, are there similar examples of this sort of oppression in our history.

This is book one in a series and I look forward to seeing where Collins takes the story.

Collins is also the author of the Underland Chronicles, a series for juveniles that I also recommend.