Monday, June 27, 2011

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

So I bought this book last year for a dollar. It may possibly be the best dollar I’ve ever spent. No, that is not hyperbole, this book is pretty damn amazing. It isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but YA dystopian fantasy? Yes please, thank you.

Encapsulate This

Sometime in the distant (unspecified) future, the USA as a unified country has collapsed and has been replaced by a nation called Panem. Surrounding the central Capitol, the land has been divided into 12 Districts, with each district responsible for a specific trade. Every year, in each district, a girl and a boy between ages 12 and 18 are picked by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games, a contest that is televised throughout Panem to entertain the citizens of the Capitol and to subdue the outlying Districts. In order to win the Games, you have to be the last person alive in the arena.

Sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, the poorest district in terms of both wealth and prestige. When her twelve year-old sister Prim is picked in the lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place. The male tribute (what the lottery winners are called) is Peeta, a boy Katniss is familiar but not friendly with. Katniss hasn’t had time to consider all of the ramifications of taking her sister’s place, but she knows she can count on her best (only) friend Gale to take care of her family if she dies in the Games. She’s pretty sure she isn’t going to make it home.

Ruminate on That

If you have ever read Battle Royale (if you haven’t, you should), this is a familiar story. A lot of dystopian books have similar themes, so I don’t particularly care if the story is ALL NEW! NEVER SEEN BEFORE! I care if a story is told well. You guys, this story is told REALLY WELL. Despite very clearly being a cautionary tale, it rarely feels preachy. The pacing is perfect, what there is of dialogue is solid and there is a good amount of background information without info-dumping. The story is told in first-person present-tense (not my favorite, I’ve said before), so I felt Katniss’ experiences pretty viscerally. I was rooting for her even though she’s emotionally stunted, because she is pragmatic and capable. She’s far from perfect, she’s often cold, but I still wanted her to win.

Violence, especially violence-as-titillation, is a key element of the story, so be prepared for a fair bit of it (um, duh? The entire premise is an annual adolescent death-match). There are a couple of areas in the world-logic that are a little wonky, but actually, the only thing that really, truly bugged me was the romantic sub-plot. In general, I am a fan of the romance but (this applies mostly to the books to follow) a lot of the romantic element felt forced. So authors, please, stop with the love triangle. Pretty please?

Final Reckoning

Should you read this? Hell yes. I love this book so much that I bought a copy for my Kindle. It is a three volume series, so take that into consideration. And then buy it anyway. This book resolves the initial story arc well but there is lots of room for the story to continue. I’ll get around to reviewing the second and third books too.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Book 1 of 3 of The Hunger Games)