May 25, 2010 Books, Reading, Reviews 1 ★★★★★

Review: HUNGER GAMES by SUZANNE COLLINSThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying 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 is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead 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. New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Collins delivers equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, in this searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.
Series: The Hunger Games #1
Published by Scholastic Inc. on 2009-09-01
Genres: Teen Dystopia, Teen/YA Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
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It’s a combination of “Battle Royale” and “The Lottery” that moves so fast, you’re desperate to keep up. And it is full of the same horrors, philosophical made tangible, that make “Battle Royale” and “The Lottery” so painful and intriguing.

In a post-apocalyptic future, great portions of North America (we’ve no idea about the rest of the world) are under water. What isn’t has been divided into 14 areas – 13 Districts and the Capitol. Control, martial law, and the dichotomy between the Haves and the Have Nots are no surprise, and therefore it can be no surprise that one District (the infamous District 13, which, from fan-made maps based on descriptions would be my peeps – heck yes) inspires a rebellion. The Capitol quashes it, razes it to the ground, and punishes the rest of the Districts with annual tribute requirements. Thus is born the Hunger Games.

Each District puts forth two tributes – one boy, one girl. Their names are drawn at random, but those who get their name drawn have hope yet – someone can volunteer to take their place. It is when Katniss Everdeen’s sister Prim is called that Katniss becomes the tribute from District 12. Alongside her is Peeta Mellark: the boy with the bread. When her family was starving, Peeta gave her castoffs from his family’s bakery, and the seeds of the story are sown. What first is, for Katniss, a ploy meant to lead to success (tributes are paraded around before they are sent into the arena – and fame in the Capitol crowd is always beneficial later), becomes more complicated as grains of truth in the lies are revealed. Those who prepare Katniss & Peeta for the arena convince them it is a show of being star-crossed lovers that will gain them favor. They come from a poor District, unevenly matched against the Careers – those who train to become tributes, those who train to volunteer themselves – and emerging the Victor gains a District a year’s supply of food. It is the love story of Katniss & Peeta (which is clearly uneven from the beginning) that gains audience favor, and lends to the pair’s unlikely survival to the final eight and then the final four.

But only one can emerge the Victor.

The story of alliances and death, lives taken and lost, paint a very familiar picture. It is, however, Katniss’s confused loyalties that lend credence to the story. Additionally, the minor characters, Rue (a girl who reminds Katniss of her sister, and helps her along the way), and Haymitch (District 12’s last Victor from twenty-five years previous), Cinna (her stylist to help her show off and gain audience favor before entering the arena) and Caesar (the host of the Games and interviewer of tributes), as well as the other tributes, are rich embroidery. No one is unaffected by this tradition currently in its seventy-fourth year. Watching the broadcast of the Games, assisted by thousands of cameras within the arenas, is mandatory by law. In the Capitol, people bet on a winner. In the Districts, families cross their fingers. It takes reality TV to a whole new level. This isn’t Survivor where the worst thing you have to do is eat a rat. Here, you may have to look a former ally in the face as you take their life. And the cameras will capture every emotional nuance that flits across your face.

It started a little slowly to me, I was making comparisons left and right. Then it pulled me in, and I stayed up well past my bedtime just to get to the final page. And immediately (because I like to think ahead like that) reached for the second volume of the trilogy, Catching Fire. Character development is one of my favorite things about any book, and this delivers it in droves. Katniss’s uncertainty about making friends in the arena as well as her fierce independent spirit and her deep desire to make sure her family is cared for make for an excellent yarn, and I am looking forward to the conclusion of the trilogy, Mockingjay, which is released at the end of August of this year.