Saturday, 13 August 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - 2009 - 464 pages

A friend at work recommended I try "The Hunger Games", so I downloaded a sample to my kindle. No sooner had I finished reading than I bought the whole book and read it in a week. A combination of a dystopian future with the kind of survival to the death contest a number of people are no doubt considering in post riot Britain, "The Hunger Games" is a fantastic read. Exciting, vicious and compelling characters create a work of fiction that really drew me in. The language is simple and the pacing is excellent, making it very easy to get through the book quickly (which is a plus in my opinion; I like long books but it's nice to read something I'm not dedicating weeks to).

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic North America, a land now called Panem. The country is divided up into twelve districts, with the Capitol, at it's heart. The districts are poor, and food is scarce, whereas the Capitol has riches galore and is fed by the produce and the taxes from the districts. Decades before all the districts had risen up in rebellion against the Capitol and after it was crushed the Hunger Games were created to keep them in line and to remind them to not stand against the Capitol ever again. Every year all those aged between twelve and eighteen must put their name into a draw for the Hunger Games, excluding any of that age in the Capitol itself. One boy and one girl are chosen from each, and these 'lucky' contestants must take part in a fight to the death, where the last survivor will be given a luxurious home in their district, and all the food and money they could need. The 74th Hunger Games are about to take place and Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old resident of District 12, suddenly finds herself flung into the games, and must use all her wiles and hunting skills to survive.

The concept of a televised fight to the death is nothing new, but Collins manages to give it a fresh lick of paint here with the world she creates around it. There is a genuine philosophical undertone to the story, not just about what it takes to kill another human being, but what a huge divide between rich and poor can do to people's sense of compassion. The Capitol citizens love the games and it's the highlight of their year. For the districts though it's a time of fear and mourning; knowing they will lose at least one of their young people to the games, never to be seen again except for on the TV as they face their final moments. However she also shows that not everyone involved see themselves as victims and actually make the games something of a national pride, by training their children as early as possible to fight. With this being the start of a trilogy there is ample room for the plot to become an epic struggle between the oppressed and oppressors. But wisely Collins sticks to just Katniss' own personal story in this first one, follow her training and preparation for the most frightening experience of her life, and then her exploits in the arena itself.

The violence is grisly at times, though the descriptions are simple and not gratuitous; Collins wants us to imagine most of the action, rather than lay it all out there for you, which works wonderfully. Anyone familiar with Battle Royale will have no trouble picturing what's going on. The story is intended for a young adult audience, and should be absolutely fine for those aged fourteen and up, though I could see myself reading this at twelve and being more than happy with it (but then I was reading adult science fiction like Tanith Lee's "Birthgrave" by then so I might not be the best example!). The only, slight complaint I have is with Katniss herself; I felt that her character takes some time to come through, and she isn't the most likeable of people at the start. But it's a minor quibble as I came to love the character and appreciate her conflicted personality and thoughts. It just may take some time for readers to warm up to her. Collins wisely describes the other characters, especially the other contestants of the games, in very colourful ways, so at all times you have a clear impression of who is who. This makes the Games themselves very easy to follow, as you keep up with who's died, and who is still playing.

I enjoyed "The Hunger Games" immensely, possibly due to my love of Battle Royale and that type of story. I've already bought and started the follow up, "Catching Fire". The other good news (for me and others who love this book) is that "The Hunger Games" is being made into a film, due to be released next year. The casting already looks excellent, though I'm hoping they don't play up the romance too much, as it's actually a very minor part of the story. I'm also suspicious that the violence will be toned down some, but we will have to wait and see. Regardless, I am very impressed with "The Hunger Games", and hope the rest of the trilogy keeps up the impression created by the first book.


  1. Great review, but I don't think I agree that the romance is only a minor part of the story - for me, that was one of the main driving factors behind much of the plot, it's just that Katniss herself didn't always realise that. It's certainly key to the climax.

  2. Beginning to think you may be right Juliette - just finished book 2 and can now see how important the romance was in the first one. Very clever how Suzanne Collins has done it though, as it didn't appear to be a big factor in the first book due to Katniss' pov. I think I've just found another author to admire (and envy, ever so slightly).