Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins


The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
Scholastic

Thriller/Young Adult

When I started this novel, I thought I’d read a chapter or two and then turn out the light. I was honestly unable to put this book down until I finished it.

Every year, each district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to the Hunger Games. They are called “tributes.” The winner of the Hunger Games is richly rewarded and guaranteed a life of ease for him/herself and his/her family members. For some districts, this is simply a show of athletic prowess. In other districts, it’s the difference between eating and starving to death. The Games are televised live and are required viewing. The twenty-four tributes are dropped into an arena empty-handed and must survive. It’s kill or be killed. The last tribute standing is the winner. Refusing to participate is not an option.

Every year is different. If things get too boring – say, the tributes simply try to avoid one another instead of attacking and killing each other – the Gamemakers are ready with some twist or event (a fire, a flood) that pushes everyone back into the same place where they are forced to fight. This is what the audience (and, more to the point, the government) wants.

The main character, Katniss, is a girl of 16, made tough by circumstances. Just to put a little food on the table for her sister and mother every day, she hunts illegally, risking brutal punishment. The day the tributes are chosen is called ‘the reaping.’ It’s a holiday of sorts, except for the two families who must mourn the loss of their children. In District 12, where the people almost always go hungry, it’s a virtual certainty that the tributes will not come home alive. In the seventy-four years of the Games, only one tribute from District 12 has survived and returned home.

When Katniss hears her sister’s name called as the girl tribute, she immediately volunteers herself instead. Her hunting abilities may give her an edge. Besides, her younger sister would never survive the Games. The second tribute from her district is Peeta, the baker’s son. He and Katniss grew up together. Now they’ll be forced to try to kill each other. Unless someone else does it first.

This is a young adult novel, but can be enjoyed on many different levels. As an action thriller, the writing is virtually flawless. The pace never lets up, making the reader feel hunted, just as Katniss does. She clearly doesn’t want to have to kill anyone, especially for the amusement of others. But there are other tributes who have no such problems. Katniss must make some exceptionally hard choices at almost every point in the story. For her, it’s all about her family, even as she comes to realize that larger issues are in play. Read this as an action adventure story. Read this as socio-political commentary. Just read it.

Rating: 9
2008
ISBN# 978-0-439-02352-8 (trade paperback)

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