I picked up The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because the movie was coming out (and is in fact, out today!). I’ve heard great things, and people kept telling me to “just read it already!” I am very glad that I did. It’s a strong concept, executed in a way that I can definitely respect and enjoy. There were something that I loved, and things that were a bit lack-luster to me. But overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone and everyone.
The world building in this book is, in my opinion, excellent. It is clear that this book is set in a dystopian future where North America, most likely the US, is divided into 12 districts and a capitol. There is evidence of both technological advancements in the Capitol and also a massive communal shift backwards in the poorer districts where they are still forced to hunt and gather. The unique, colorful and slightly clownish “look” of Capitol people is a really interesting choice, but one I am really excited that Collins made. Not only is it visually stunning (for the movie), it creates a great juxtaposition to the horror of the Hunger Games. The world is also not shy when it comes to how absolutely horrible the living conditions are with people starving to death in the streets or whipped to death for small crimes, and there is no effort made to save them. These people are essentially on their own, and they know it. This book perfectly treads the line between the ridiculous and absurd excitement for the actual games, and the unfathomable horror that is children murdering each other in a dystopian society that cheers for their deaths.
I am also stunned by some of the lingering images that, I’m not afraid to say this, made me quite emotional. Even in the first two chapters, before I’ve really gotten to know the characters, I am so empathetic toward their situation that the community’s refusal to clap at the announcement of the tributes really moves me, and their combined gesture of farewell just floors me. That image will be with me for a while. There are other moments that you hold on to where future mentions in the book stirs your feelings back up, such as the solemn moment when Katniss thanks the people of District 11 for their gift in response to her caring for Rue in her last moments. That comes up a few times and each time I felt my heart break again.
The games themselves are well-constructed and thought out down to the last scientifically frightening detail. This was definitely the most exciting part of the book, but then again, how could it not be? I was particularly fond of the gifts from sponsors which were both a lovely way of communicating with the world outside of the games, but also a way to move things along. Sure, they are a bit of a Deus ex machina, but that worked for me because the setting is such a manufactured one that the gifts don’t seem out of place. I also loved Katniss’s awareness of being on camera, giving the audience a show. It kept me very aware of the fact that people are watching this for fun, which added to the playful, yet extremely dark reality to the event.
I have two issues with this book: 1) the manufactured stakes at the end of the book, and 2) how things never really seemed to go all that wrong for Katniss during the games.
First, the end of the book. It was very obvious that this book is setting up the next book. No surprise there, it does a great job of it. But the reunion of the characters, the interviews, everything that happens right after the games end are so….forced. There is a sense that the Capitol is angry with Katniss and something might happen to her if she doesn’t totally pull of this “love story” that she’s been playing out for the cameras. But it falls so flat because they never seems to be in any real danger. Sure, it serves to create a falling out between Katniss and Peeta right at the end of the book and also to demonstrate Katniss as sort of a rebel against the Capitol, which will no doubt become a theme in the next book, but it just didn’t work for me.
My other issue was during the games, Katniss kind of had it easy. I never really worried about her. Every time there was the potential for her to be in a really bad spot, to have to figure her way out of a dangerous situation, it was solved out so quickly and without much issue that I felt like she got off easy. This is probably more of a length issue with YA novels in general, but this quick resolution of problems and lack of time spent on any one thing makes things feel less drastic than they are actually supposed to be.
I will say that many of the criticism I read from others about this book didn’t really bother me. I was fully willing to accept that Katniss was too distracted by the games to acknowledge the fact that someone may have feelings for her. And that the excessive kissing, though silly in a way, was just a means to accomplish a difficult task. The characters acted their ages, foolish as they may be at 16, and that was just fine with me. Although I do hope I see some age and growth in the next two books.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. I haven’t stayed up till 3am to finish something in a long time and that says something. It’s an easy read filled with moving scenes and memorable characters. And I am VERY excited for the movie. I think it will make a perfect transition to the big screen.