I know, I know, I’m behind on this cultural phenomenon. By now everyone and their grandmother has read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. See, I get a little turned off when something becomes an explosive, all-popular cultural phenomenon; I don’t know if it’s because I don’t like to buy into what everyone else is doing or because usually it’s something stupid like Twilight, but this time around I went ahead and gave in.
Good thing I did! The book is not a masterpiece of literature by any means, but it is a highly entertaining young adult book with dark themes and violence and the exploration of dystopia that adults can enjoy as well. I suspect books like these become big hits because many adults are too lazy/stupid/impatient to wade through something at an adult reading level, so they latch onto quick, easy reads with a fast pace and high entertainment factor.
In this case, there’s nothing wrong with that, since The Hunger Games is a good book. The writing style is geared towards young adult readers but is smooth and polished, with content that is meant for the high school level and above. It’s told in present tense, which amps up the tension and cements the reader in the current moment.
Our heroine, Katniss, makes me pleased that this book is as popular as it is. Katniss takes the damsel-in-distress trope and turns it on its head. She is fierce, independent, stubborn, great with a bow-and-arrow, and she ends up saving the male lead more than the other way around.
In case you’re living under a rock somewhere, the Hunger Games are a gladiator-style competition in a future dystopia where America has collapsed into a new country called Panem, comprising of a Capitol and 12 districts. After a failed uprising, the Capitol decided to put all of the districts in their place by creating a yearly battle royale between children ages 12-18, where 2 are chosen from each district (one male, one female) to fight to the death. The last one standing is the winner, and the competition is televised to the entire country, mainly for the entertainment of the shallow residents of the Capitol.
It’s gruesome. The children die in horrible ways, from getting speared to poisoned bee stings. Katniss finds herself thrown into the arena with Peeta, the boy from her district, who has a crush on her. They get through the tournament by playing up a half-fake romance (for the Capitol’s entertainment) and through the hunting skills that Katniss has developed over years of feeding her poor, starving family.
The reason the romance actually works in this book (as opposed to, I don’t know, Twilight?) is that it happens naturally and does not take over the plot. Peeta really does like Katniss, but Katniss herself struggles to pretend to be in love with him for the cameras all around them. She does grow fond of him, of course, but it is not some ridiculous love at first sight nonsense. She has a good head on her shoulders and is simply trying to survive the Games.
I’ve only read the first book, so I can’t say how this continues to play out in the sequel. Many people probably enjoy this book for the romance factor (blargh), but I appreciated the well-handled elements of horror and sci-fi along with the strong feminism that many current romance-driven books seem to lack. There is much more to Katniss than romance; in fact, she herself admits that romance is the least of her concerns right now, as it should be. She doesn’t want to get married, and she doesn’t want to bring children into the world only to have them potentially get pulled for the Hunger Games. I like this girl. This is a heroine I can get behind.
Storyline: 9 out of 10 poisoned bee stings
Characters: 8 out of 10 poisoned bee stings
Originality: 8 out of 10 poisoned bee stings
Writing Style: 7 out of 10 scrpoisoned bee stings
Scare Factor: 6.5 out of 10 poisoned bee stings
Overall: 8 out of 10 poisoned bee stings