Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Also reviewed by Heather

Summary: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlaying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. (Summary from book - Image from scificool.com)

My review: It happens once a year--the Reaping—a drawing to decide who will live and who will fight to the death in a teenage survival nightmare called the Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen, her family’s sole provider, steps forward to volunteer when her little sister’s name is drawn and is forced into the fight of her life—FOR her life. Twenty-four children will enter the arena. Only one will make it out alive. As the story progresses the rules change, alliances are formed, and Katniss must decide how SHE will play the games and if she can live with the choices she makes.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book like this—one that makes my heart pound nearly every second that I’m reading it….and a little bit when I just think about it. I stayed up until 3AM –usually a good indicator of a book’s hold on me—and had to finish it as quickly as possible the next day. S.C.’s idea of the Hunger Games was unique and, as a plot tool, she set it up to allow for a great variety of unexpected things to happen. There is very little I can say without ruining things, but Katniss has to exercise all of her cunning and bravery to survive, not only what the contestants dish out to her, but what the Game makers throw at her as well. She learns quickly to work the viewers and her “sponsors” into getting the things she needs. It was always interesting to see what would be dropped from the heavens…and what they had to do to get it.

The fact that this book was set in the future also gave S.C. a great deal of freedom as far as believability was concerned and she ran successfully with it. Her mockingjays and tracker jackers blend seamlessly into the story and the end result of her efforts is a creative survival story similar to “Lord of the Flies”. It was disturbing in both its intensity and imagery but very driven by a strong, unpredictable plot and some very likeable (and dislikable) characters.
Hunger Games is filled with gut-twisting tension until the very last page and still left me cursing the fact that Book Two isn’t out yet. I’m going to die waiting. I just know it.

PERSONAL NOTE: What I found disconcerting about this book was my complete acceptance of it. I mean, I’m basically reading and LOVING a book about a whole bunch of children who, in a variety of violent and horrific ways, manage to kill each other off. What is WRONG with me? Of course, the brutal imagery is tempered by moments of compassion that make the story and SOME of its’ characters seem more human and less animalistic, but still…

As a nation, and perhaps a world, we are obsessed with getting the “fishbowl” perspective on things. Somehow we fool ourselves into thinking that these shows are “REAL” when in fact they are nothing of the sort—merely manipulated by the people that pull the strings and push the buttons behind the scenes—regardless of the lasting effects on participants.

I can’t help but think what people today might think of this kind of thing. We film the pain of a break up, the embarrassment of a moment of clumsiness—all for FUN. What about Survivor, dog fighting, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. They all draw huge crowds and offer entertainment based on violence and injury or on the manipulation and exploitation of others. How much of a step would we really have to take to have something like this?

My rating: 4.5 stars. I really really really liked this book. I don't really think that there was a way to make this book less graphic without losing it's intensity but I'm a little worried about it's affect on a younger audience. It's characters make it seem young adult...but just make sure its not TOO much for YOUR young adult.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: If I didn't have to be a responsible parent, I would have stayed up ALL night long.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Glad to see that you enjoyed the book but I totally agree that the subject matter was difficult. It's like you can't wait to read the next chapter but are torn because you know the further you read the more people will die. Luckily, it's fiction, and maybe a somewhat a satire on America's desire for "reality" television. Others' pain is equal to high ratings. How far would we be willing to go in the future?

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