The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games, by Susanne Collins, is a dystopian futuristic young-adult book. It catches on to the dystopian trend, which I am not particularly interested in but have nothing against; I loved The Giver. The plot; well, here’s the back cover:
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 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.
After reading the back, I had mixed feelings about the plot. Would the book milk the violence aspect to cater to teens who are interested in anything gritty? And the love…would that be over-extended so it felt like it was just added in, similar to Anathem? I would just have to find out.
The plot at the beginning has as clear a moral as the Dragon Tales kids’ show: “Don’t scoff at people less fortunate than you; feel bad for them and even try to help!” Before the Games themselves begin, we learn how horribly unfortunate our main character is, with a dead dad (…he was blown to bits in a mine explosion. There was nothing left to bury. I was eleven then. Five years later, I still wake up screaming for him to run.) a basically immobilized mom (She didn’t do anything but sit propped up in a chair or, more often, huddled under the blankets on her bed, eyes fixed on some point in the distance.), and a sweet sister who was picked for the Games. (This can’t be happening. Prim (her sister) was one slip of paper in thousands! Her chances of being chosen so remote that I’d not even bothered to worry about her.) On top of all that, they’re incredibly poor and the main character has to illegally hunt to get any good food at all. (…how would they (her and her hunting companion’s mothers) live without us? Who would fill those mouths that are always asking for more? With both of us hunting daily, there are still nights when game has to be swapped for lard or shoelaces of wool, still nights when we go to bed with our stomachs growling.) So to me, the author made the main character and her family ridiculously unfortunate to try the make the moral clearer, which ended up just seeming awfully heavy-handed, unlike A Room With A View. Fortunately, as the book goes along, it gets better, and almost ditches the moral for a while. But in the arena, during the Games, there’s a clear second side to the moral. The second side is “Even though you may think some people are horribly pampered, chances are there’s a hard side to their lives.”
An example. This is a girl from another district talking.
” ‘Sometimes, when we harvest through the night, they’ll pass out a few pairs (of night-vision glasses) to those of us highest in the trees. Where the torchlight doesn’t reach. One time, this boy Martin, he tried to keep his pair. Hid it in his pants. They killed him on the spot.” Hearing this makes me feel like District 12 is some sort of safe haven. Of course, people keel over from starvation all the time, but I can’t imagine the Peacekeepers murdering a simple-minded child.”
After Katniss subs in for her sister, a boy who saved her from death is picked for the Hunger Games with her, and drama ensues.
“He (the boy who is picked) took one look back to the bakery as if checking that the coast was clear, then, his attention back on the pig, he threw a loaf of bread in my direction. The second quickly followed, and he sloshed back to the bakery, closing the kitchen door tightly behind him.”
She knows she must kill him to avoid dying in the Games, but she really doesn’t want to. Then when they are transported to the Capitol and have official interviews before the Games, there’s romantic tension between the two. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, not horribly synthesized as some romance. And there’s not too much of it, not any more than necessary. But they pretend it’s fake, which is the most obvious lie, and I have to sit through them pretending they don’t really love each other for the whole book, saying that while they pretend to love each other on TV, they don’t really love each other. In my opinion, the author could have just scrapped that part. Here’s an excerpt of them pretending. (actually, mostly Katniss pretending) This is even before they
“pretend” to be in love.
It’s such a joke! Peeta (the boy she loves) and I going along pretending to be friends! Talking up each other’s strengths, insisting the other take credit for their abilities. Because, in fact, at some point, we’re going to have to knock it off and accept we’re bitter adversaries.
The Games themselves are very exciting and pull you in. Though the violence is heavy, the plot itself is based on violence, so I can at least be glad that the author didn’t make the violence gratuitous. It was actually hard to put down at this point; it’s exciting even though I know Katniss must survive in some way (because the book uses 1st person narration, so the book wouldn’t exist if she was dead. However, I do wish someone changed this for once; maybe changed it to 3rd person once the 1st person was dead?).
Another one of its (few) endearing traits to me is being very realistic when it comes to the reality show. It makes things just as dramatic as a real reality show. For example; during the Games a high official announced a “rule change”, that two people from the same district will be declared the winners if they stay alive. But at the end, he announces that he was lying, and only one person will win, just to heighten the tension and drama. I thought this was…well, it was kinda brilliant, because I can absolutely imagine a reality TV show doing this.
From the beginning, I didn’t really like the main character. “Oh great,” I thought, “a cynical cold-blooded hunter…with an emotional side!” Here’s her being a cynical cold-blooded hunter.
“In the fall, a few brave souls sneak into the woods to harvest apples. But always close enough to run back to the safety of District Twelve if trouble arises. “District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety,” I mutter. Then I glance quickly over my shoulder. Even here, in the middle of nowhere, you worry someone might overhear you.”
The emotional side, kept closely hidden?
“Hey, Catnip,” says Gale. My real name is Katniss, but when I first told him, I had barely whispered it. So he thought I’d said Catnip. Then when this crazy lynx started following me around the woods looking for handouts, it became his official name for me. I finally had to kill the lynx because he scared off game. I almost regretted it because he wasn’t bad company. But I got a decent price for his pelt.”
I am annoyed by this because it’s just so hard for me to like a character who acts so cool and tough like that. Like they’re “in” and everyone else doesn’t and will never know how to be “in”. It makes sense for teens, who might identify with the main character, but not for me.
Also, her life is so hard and she’s so hungry and nothing’s right and… even though I know I’m supposed to feel bad for her, well, I kinda think she’s a whiny teenager. But this is mostly caused by how unfortunate she is. I can’t help being annoyed by someone who talks about all these horrible things, even if they really happened to her.
The characters that are not Katniss, however, are nice. The good guy is sweet, likable, and good enough to leave a smile on your face. The bad guys are stock Bad Guys, but at least they’re not cheesily infused with emotion. They don’t exactly come to life, but they’re good enough.
The Hunger Games has an okay plot, fine enough romance, good characters (except for the main character), violent but compelling action, and a clear-as-day moral that’s used heavy-handedly in my opinion. If you are a sucker for can’t-put-down-the-book action and are ready to ignore the rest, read this book. Otherwise, you might be disappointed, as I was, with it.