Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Okay, I know I am about a year behind with this but it’s only really caught my attention within the last couple of months.

Set in the future, America has become Panem  and been split into 13 districts and a central Government City, the Capitol. The 13th District was destroyed after a failed uprising years before the book begins and the remaining districts are annually reminded they are at the Capitol’s mercy through The Hunger Games. Every year, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18, called Tributes, are taken at random in a public lottery from each district to the Capitol, where they are trained then forced to fight each other to the death in an arena at the  Capitol’s control. The whole country is forced to watch the slaughter.

At the Reaping in District 12 for the 74th Annual Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers for her sister and finds herself up against not just Tributes from other districts, some of whom have trained their whole lives for the honour to volunteer for the Games, but against the boy who helped her and her family many years ago. If she wants to win and return home, she will have to kill him and the other 22 Tributes but can she?

This book is well written in limited first person, allowing the Collins to get the reader’s attention and to draw the reader into the brutal world of Panem. The fact that the book is in first person also lets Collins give the reader the large amount of exposition required and has cleverly spaced out the information in the exposition of the story without the need of a large info dump right at the start of the book.

Most media outlets focus on the romance element of the narrative and whilst that does form an important part of the main plot, the survival part of the story is of more importance I feel. Katniss is forced to do what she has to, to survive. Collins focuses on this and shows what I feel is a cold and harsh character acting, manipulating and lying to get what she needs for herself and Peeta. She shouldn’t be a likeable character but the circumstances in which the character is placed in makes the reader want to root for her and Peeta, for them to survive the Games. The author’s choice to write in present limited first person also helps the reader to identify and sympathise with Katniss, overcoming the fact that the character is not particularly likeable.

The book is also well researched, from the use of weapons, survival techniques and the effects of conditions like dehydration can have on the body. It adds to the believability of the story and helps draw the reader into the world of Panem.

Whilst reading it, I couldn’t help getting the feeling that certain parts of this book are allegories for our own world.

The fact that the media in the book are so focused on the love story between Peeta and Katniss almost ironic as that seems to be all that the media is interested in here in the real world. The excessiveness of the Capitol and the extreme body modifications in the name of beauty is considered normal in the book and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the same ideas are becoming prevalent in reality as well. To have some cosmetic surgery here and some there is becoming frighteningly normal in the media and it is all in the name of being beautiful.

The contrast between rich and poor is a big part of the book I feel and whilst the same extremes can be seen in our world, it isn’t as extensive. In the current economic climate, starvation, lack of everyday essential things and not being able to buy them is something that older readers can definitely relate to.

The brutality of the games and it being televised as entertainment can conceivably also be found in our own world as well. For entertainment, the video game industry releases games like Call of Duty, Medal of Honour and other similar games are played for entertainment. Whilst there is difference between killing people in a game and forcing people to kill each other in real life, it is uncomfortable to think about.

Whilst these are allegories I have noticed and may not have been intentionally put in by Collins, it does make the book very appealing and almost a warning to people against the extremes that human actions can lead to.

Whilst the book is enjoyable, despite the character, I did find myself getting bored with the streams of thought and limited action in places. Whilst it is understandable why this is in places, it did get boring and pulled me out of the book as I scanned ahead hoping for more interesting things to happen. I also can’t understand why the book was split into three parts. It made no sense the name of the third part gave away the ending, especially if a reader started reading the book, unaware it is the first book in the trilogy.

This book is a survival story that is unexpectedly dark for a teen book but at the same time, the darkness makes the book appealing to older readers. The character is likeable but only because of the world she is placed in. Whilst I would re-read this, I am not sure it is one I would come back to again and again. I would recommend this book but only tentatively as whilst I wouldn’t sing Collins’s praises for it, it is a readable and, dare I say it, enjoyable book.

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