I read a lot about this book, not spoilers just good reviews, before I read it, and I was afraid it might not live up to all the hype. With only one caveat, it did live up to its reputation. If you haven’t heard anything about the book, I’ll give you a quick synopsis or introduction so that you can tell if the book is something you might like. Then, I’ll get to the “buyer beware” part.
TV’s Survivor meets Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery. If they didn’t make you read The Lottery in high school, you’ll just have to stick with the Survivor image. The Hunger Games are a yearly event in Panem in which two selected participants, a boy and a girl, from each of 12 districts, are forced to fight to the death in a prepared, and hostile, environment. No one gets voted off this “island”, however, and only one person can win, the last man or woman left alive.
SIxteen year old Katniss Everdeen doesn’t believe she could possibly be chosen out of the thousand or so names that will be in the lottery in her district. And she certainly doesn’t expect to be paired with a boy from her district who confuses her by acting as if he has a romantic interest in Katniss. Does he really? Or is it a trick to make her vulnerable to attack? Or can she and Peeta, the baker’s son, work together against the others? But if all the others die, then what will Katniss do about Peeta, or vice-versa?
It’s violent, and somewhat disturbing in its presentation of an evil dictatorial government and a culture both decadent and draconian in its exploitation of its citizens, but the book is not sexually explicit at all, and the nastiness is limited to what you would expect in such a hellish and volatile situation. The themes of trust and deception, community-building and destroying, cooperation and competition were well-developed and fascinating. I think older teens and adults would find lots to discuss in this dystopian novel.
Now for the caveat: I hate books (and TV shows, with the exception of LOST) that end with a cliffhanger and the promise of a sequel. The Hunger Games concludes with a resolution about who “wins” The Hunger Games, but it also ends with unresolved issues and with these words:
If that’s going to bother you, you may want to wait for the publication of Catching Fire, due out in September, 2009, and read them both together. I sort of halfway wish I had waited, but then again I did enjoy The Hunger Games very much. And I’ll be watching LOST next Wednesday, even though the producers of that show have left me hanging and twisting in the wind four times now already (Seasons 1-4), and I’m expecting them to do it again in May.
I guess I’m just a sucker for a good story, even if it does make me wait for the next installment.
Other views and reviews:
The Reading Zone: “I read this novel in less than a day. The action is non-stop and heartpounding at many points in the story. Katniss is a likable character: she isn’t perfect, she isn’t a moral compass, and sometimes you even want to hate her. However, the situation she is thrust into is eerily similar to the modern-day obsession with reality TV and you can’t help but wonder if this the frightening direction into which we are headed.”
My Favorite Author has an interview with Suzanne Collins in which Ms. Collins cites the story of Theseus as one inspiration for The Hunger Games. I actually thought about Theseus being chosen to face the Minotaur as I read the first few chapters of The Hunger Games.
Quippe: “Collins gives Katniss a strong first person voice and seen through her eyes, the future is a dark and violent place. Despite the risk of descending into exposition, Collins strikes the balance between showing and telling with the result that her world building is vivid and credible, deftly setting out Katniss’s struggle to survive in the economically poor District 12 following the death of her father in a mining accident and her apothecary mother’s descent into depression.”
Shelf Elf: “She tells a tale that is tight and swift and yet still manages to remain complex in its themes. About halfway through, I crawled out of my couch-nest and wandered into the kitchen and said to my fella, ‘I can’t think of any way this book could possibly end that wouldn’t be completely devastating. This book rocks.’ (Back to couch).”
Random Wonder: “All I can say is that right now author Suzanne Collins had better be holed up in her house writing frantically. Not since Pottermania have I so desperately hungered for a sequel.”