Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games (Hunger Games #1)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Rating: ★★★★★
Genre: Young adult, sci-fi, dystopia
Description: (From Goodreads) In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

~*~

Rarely does a book live up to the hype for me - and this was recommended to me by so many people that I had really high expectations going in - but this book just blew me away. It was amazing. I was hooked right from the beginning and I ran through an entire gamut of emotions while reading this. There were parts when I was so nervous I could actually feel my stomach clenching, another part had me sniffling into a tissue as I tried to keep reading, and the ending literally made me want to scream. I don’t think I’ve had another book affect me this strongly in recent memory. Despite the fact that it was not only in first-person, but also in present tense, I didn’t have any issues getting into it. And that’s saying something because there was a time in my life that if I picked up a book off the shelf and noticed it was in first-person POV, I would put it back down without giving it a chance. I’m so glad that I finally decided to read this book.

When I first read the description, I did notice the similarities to the idea behind “Battle Royale,” a Japanese novel that was turned into both a series of graphic novels and a film. I haven’t actually read “Battle Royale” yet, but I’d heard enough about it that it immediately came to mind when I initially read the description of “The Hunger Games.” I can’t say how similar the books might be to each other for obvious reasons, but I do plan on reading “Battle Royale” in the future and I’ll make my judgment then.

As for the this book, the setting is Panem, which is what remains of North America after a series of natural disasters nearly destroyed the entire continent. Initially the remnants were separated into 13 districts surrounding the Capitol, the central city and home to the President and other officials. During an uprising against the Capitol, twelve of the districts were defeated and the thirteenth was completely annihilated. Now, as a reminder of the Capitol’s supremacy, there is a yearly event referred to as “The Hunger Games.” Each district has to offer two tributes, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18, picked at random in a type of raffle. The twenty-four kids are then sent into an arena to battle it out to the death. Both the winner and the district he or she comes from are rewarded with money, prizes, and prestige. Because some districts are used to winning and consider it an honor to participate in the Games, people regularly volunteer in place of whoever’s name was originally drawn.

In the 40 years that the Games have been going on, District 12 has only ever had one winner. This district, which is where the heroine is from, is basically the laughingstock of all of the others. Most of the residents are dirt poor and people regularly starve to death from the shortage of food. Many are probably not happy to call District 12 home, but the condition of her district and her family’s lack of finances has forced Katniss to become a hunter to keep her family fed.

When Katniss was younger, her father taught her some basic hunting skills and how to forage for fruits, vegetables, and useful plants/roots before his death in a mine explosion. Now, though it’s forbidden and punishable by death, Katniss and her friend Gale regularly hunt the forest surrounding their district and trade their kills/finds for money and supplies. The book starts off with Katniss meeting Gale to hunt on the morning of the reaping, the event during which the names for “The Hunger Games” are drawn. Since her younger sister, Prim, has only just turned 12, her name is on only one slip in the raffle. Katniss thinks the odds are so high against her sister’s name being drawn, that she doesn’t even contemplate what she would do if that were the case. Naturally, her sister’s name is chosen and Katniss immediately volunteers to go in her stead. The male tribute who is chosen is the son of the local baker, who Katniss knows in passing and has no wish to fight against because of something he did for her several years before. She doesn’t have a choice, though, because in the Games it’s kill or be killed and there can only be one winner. She goes into the Games grimly, knowing that she’ll do her best to survive for her family, but doubting her ability. Once she’s inside the arena, though, things take an unprecedented turn and she begins to believe she might just have a chance of surviving after all.

I thought the pacing of this book was pretty much perfect. There was no surplus of unnecessary information - everything in the book needed to be there. I really liked Suzanne Collins’s writing style. It takes skill to make the reader feel truly nervous for the main character, even despite the fact that the book is in first-person POV and you know in your head that the heroine isn’t going to be killed in the middle of the novel. I love the heroine and Peeta, the other tribute from District 12. I thought Katniss was one of the better heroines I’ve read in a long time. Her reactions and emotions felt real. She really came alive in my head and I love it when I feel bonded to the character like that. It was like everything she felt, I felt with her and that definitely made for a more intense reading experience. Really, I can’t recommend this book enough. It was very much a character driven story, but it had enough suspense and action to keep you on the edge of your seat. Whether you like the young-adult genre or not, I think this book is worth reading. I’m sure I’m going to be one of the numerous people who consistently recommend this book from now on.

Content Description

Sex and nudity - No sex. Some mentions of nudity.
Violence and gore - Moderate. Some violent deaths involving children are described.
Alcohol and drugs - The main character drinks some wine during one scene. Drugs mentioned only in a medical context.
Profanity - Little to none.
Frightening/intense scenes - The very concept - children being put into an arena to fight to the death - can be disturbing for some readers. Reading from the POV of the main character, a participant in the Games, might be intense and/or frightening for some.

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