It took me some time to actually want to read this series. Especially since I'm trying to keep my book addiction down for 2012, but when I saw a copy of 'The Hunger Games' for six bucks I bit...that was last Friday and I'm almost done with the third installment. Up until actually reading the story nothing really seemed inviting about it. I knew it was about some games that required teenage participants from twelve separate districts to battle for their lives. Despite 'Hunger's' popularity it just sounded too '1984'ish mixed with 'Twilight' romance elements. In fact before the latest round of movie previews I didn't even know that the protagonist was female (if you have been living in a an underground cave for the last few months, possible as a refugee of a war fought against a place called the Capital, you may not be aware that a film is coming out soon based on the book).
Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year-old girl who has had more than her fair share of hard knocks, which is probably why Suzanne Collins writes Everdeen's narrative as if she is a forty-five year old woman. Ever since Katriss was eleven she has basically been the head of her small family because her sister was too young and their mother was too depressed after the death of her husband to do much besides mope. Katniss' family was on the verge of starving until the nice baker's son gave her a loaf of burnt bread on the sly. Unlike most of the folks in her district she and her best bud Gale (who is a guy) hunt in the forbidden wilderness. To get there they have to make sure the fence around their district isn't electrified. The extra meat helps feed their families and makes them semi-popular in the black market of their district.
During the District 12's "reaping" (a time when all of the age appropriate youth are gathered to draw out names of which amongst them, a boy and a girl, goes to the Hunger Games) Katriss' sister's name is drawn. Prim is twelve and this reaping marks her first, in fact Katriss didn't even bother worrying much about Prim being selected since the odds are against it in comparison to Gale, however once her name is read Katriss runs up and offers herself as the victim...or as they say in the book the "Tribute."
The Hunger Games were set up as punishment for the twelve remaining districts of Panem (the 13th one was bombed to oblivion) that rebelled against the capital seventy-four years ago. By taking two adolescents from each district to fight to the death in a 'Survivor' type atmosphere the capital emphasizes its power over the rest of the population. By playing these games up as celebrations it proves that the residents of the capital are shameless in their cruelty. Included in the ordeal for the Tributes they must all have makeovers and be interviewed as if what they really were competing for was 'American Idol.'
I enjoyed the political angles to 'The Hunger Games.' Not just those that involve parallels between Panem and the current state of U.S. politics, but also the personal politics as to whom Katriss can trust. When she enters the capital Katriss finds that not all people who live there are vapid and that some actually find the games disgraceful. Overall, there is a feeling of bread and circuses - a theme that is better explained in the third installment.
Collins deserves all of the praise she has garnered because she wrote a lot of action sequences throughout 'The Hunger Games' (actually, the whole trilogy) while at the same time balancing them with three dimensional characters. In fact through the story Katriss becomes more humane even though she is a Tribute in the Hunger Games which requires her to kill or indirectly kill others roughly her own age in order to survive is not an easy feat for an author to accomplish in her protagonist particularly in the young adult genre. Speaking of which, even if you are an adult this book and the ones following are compelling reads worth your time, energy, and money. Money that is if you don't pick them up at the library (where I imagine there is a rather long waiting list).
And yes, there are aspects of teen romance; however they are overshadowed by characters fears of loss over love.
The only minor quibble I have with 'The Hunger Games' is that at times I felt Collins inserted some sort of plot element that she didn't have in her book outline and then wrote about it as if she was catching up. Sort of like writing a story about romance and going on about it for 100 pages and then saying, Oh, by the way, the man was married before but his wife died in plane crash and then continue with what the lovebirds were ordering for dinner. Flash forward to seven chapters later and revisit the dead wife as if it was a huge revelation.
Overall, I'm glad I overcame my initial prejudice (the book covers looked overly militaristic for my taste) and took the plunge with 'The Hunger Games.' I completely enjoyed all three books and now have to wait what feels like forever for the movie to come out on March 23rd. Obviously this review was written some months before.
Westerfield © 2012