Book Review: The Hunger Games
Time for audio book review #2. I finished the audiobook version of ‘The Hunger Games’. The first of a trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
It’s a futuristic tale told in the dystopian future country Panem; built in the remains of North America. Years ago, the 12 districts of North America fought with the Capital, and lost. As part of their surrender terms, each district must send one boy and one girl to appear in the annual Hunger Games – a televised fight to the death of 24 contestants until only 1 remains as victor. Katniss is from the poor, coal producing district 12 (which is likely old Appalachia by its description). Through a turn of events, Katniss is elected as this year’s representative for the games. She’s a scrappy, tom-boyish girl who knows how to bow hunt (it’s illegal, but it’s the only way to keep her family fed after their father died in the mines). The rest of the story is how the bloody games, and relationship with fellow tribute Peeta (a baker’s son that showed her kindness many years ago), progress over the days in the wilderness where the competition is set.
First off, this book was written for young adults. So don’t expect a lot of adult themes and a little more on the ‘simple’ side of word/dialogs/story development. I know if I’d read this as a kid, I probably would have loved it; and I wouldn’t say I was at all disappointed as an adult. It held my interest for the 9 hours it took to get through the audiobook version.
The story itself follows much in the lines with such stories as The Running Man or Deathrace 2000. We’re going to follow Katniss through her brutal and poor life in her beaten district. Her selection, the crazy lead-up to the games in which she’s dressed up, paraded around, interviewed on television, and treated something like royalty. This is all to gain ‘sponsors’ who can buy expensive gifts to help particular contestants during the actual battle. Then in they go, and the latter half of the book is all about what they do in the piece of wilderness controlled by the game makers to maximize excitement over the days as the battles unfold. None of the battles (save 1 which I’m wondering how they’ll show on the movie) are overly bloody or brutal – but there is definitely violence – toned to a young-adult level of course. You won’t have people attacking each other with chainsaws; but death does abound.
Overall, it was an imaginative book worth the 9 hours of listening – or about 2 weeks of commuting in audiobook time. 🙂 I have to say I was pleasantly uplifted by this book after having read The Golden Compass series – which left a very poor taste in my mouth for ‘modern’ young-adult sci-fi literature. There is still plenty of good social commentary (poverty and police-states of the districts, the brutality and dehumanizing treatment of the less fortunate by the rich and bored, children being forced into adult roles of supporting and raising families as well as turned into killers, etc), but none of it is so preachy it becomes a theme in itself. It’s the story is what moves the plot forward, and it’s a good story. In fact, in Collin’s descriptions of the things Katniss sees in the capital, I even got a few ideas for software projects I’d like to try out/experiment with. Not bad sci-fi. There were some times when I wanted to put a boot in the rear of Katniss’ character as she waffles between being a hard-as-nails competitor, and second-triple-and-quadruple guessing herself as to other people’s motivations. Some of the ways the fights turn out are a touch unbelievable (she gets a strange reprieve from death at one point that left me pondering for a long time before I could even feel ok with it) and the author does give her some cheats/lucky breaks; but nothing so egregious as to disrupt the story. It ends on a bit of a hanging note; which is fine considering it’s part 1 of a trilogy. But there were a few themes like Katniss’ small shows of defiance to the Capitol’s games/rule that are started in this book, but don’t go too far. I’m hoping those themes are picked up in the next books, as I’ve already reserved the audio versions of books 2 and 3 from the library.
A final, interesting observation. While I was ‘reading’ through the book, there were some definite themes that I don’t think male sci-fi writers would have put in, or spent as much time on. In fact, the whole bits during the run-up to the games themselves were the most revealing to me. Suzanne Collins spends longer with themes like the dresses Katniss wears, the waxing/hair-plucking/’beautification’, the clothing designers and interview show, and the confused feelings/trying to figure out the motivations of others that Katniss has were noticeably different than things I’ve read by other male sci-fi writers. It’s doubtful someone like Ray Bradbury would have spent as much time with those details/parts. While they didn’t particularly change the story IMHO, they were just a noticeable…difference of tone that made me appreciate how many sci-fi stories are by male writers.
Fortuitous timing, as the movie is just about to be released. So far, trailers seem to show it’s a near-exact transfer of the book. Which is a refreshing change of Hollywood’s usual pace of b*stardizing most good books/stories/childhood toys. While some of the production values look a little low, I know I’ll watch it at some point; and get the next two books in this trilogy.
Overall, I give the book a solid B for being a good story.