by Suzanne Collins
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in the poorest area of District 12, which is in turn the poorest district of Panem. District 12 is an area that was known as Appalachia when Panem was North America, and its economy is based on coal mining. Katniss’ family fares a little better than many other families that live near her, because Katniss has learned to hunt, and she makes illegal forays outside the fence almost daily to hunt, trading any excess game for other supplies that her family needs. Even so, life in District 12 is brutally hard, and hunger is never far away.
But as hard as life is for the residents of District 12, the most brutal thing of all is the Hunger Games, which pits children from each district against each other in a fight to the death. As punishment for a long-ago uprising against the Capitol, each of the districts must send two tributes - a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 - each year to participate in this gladiator-like spectacle, in which the tributes spend several weeks trying to kill each other in a huge arena built to resemble a natural environment that could be anything from burning desert to frozen wasteland. Only one tribute can survive, and the games continue until all the tributes but one are dead. The last tribute alive is declared the winner, and receives honors and wealth.
The tributes are selected by lottery, and when Katniss’ 12-year-old sister Prim is selected, Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place. She has no choice, really, although she knows that it’s most likely a death sentence for her. Now, Katniss must learn to play the game in all its aspects better than anyone else. Can she survive? And, perhaps more difficult, can she kill the other children in order to save herself and win?
After seeing reviews of this book around the kidlitosphere, I knew I had to read it. I was a little nervous, because sometimes books that have been highly touted on many blogs turn out to be a disappointment. That wasn’t the case here. The Hunger Games was every bit as good as I had hoped, and maybe better. It turned out to be much more than I expected. It’s not just the “kill or be killed” excitement - although there’s plenty of that. There’s also a lot of depth, nuance, and character development. The Hunger Games, it turns out, aren’t just about the fight to the death. As with today’s reality TV shows, image is vitally important in helping to determine the winner, and the contestants are to some extent fictionalized characters, built up by the producers using sound bites to portray the side of each contestant that they want to show. So Katniss must learn not only the survival and martial skills necessary to survive, but how to project an image that will help her get sponsors. In short, she must learn to play the game.
The first person point of view and present tense bring a sense of immediacy to the story and puts the reader inside Katniss’ head at each moment of the games. Yet amazingly, Suzanne Collins is able, through Katniss’ observations, to convey to the reader information that Katniss herself hasn’t figured out yet. Sometimes the things that are right in front of us aren’t so obvious.
The Hunger Games is an outstanding young adult novel, with plenty of excitement, interesting characters, a touch of romance. and commentary on today’s society that manages to be relevant without being preachy.
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