After falling in love with the Harry Potter books, scowling at the Twilight ones, when a friend highly recommended “The Hunger Games,” I admit I was hesitant.
I don’t necessarily like book series and sometimes things that the public in general gets too excited about, well, I suppose I feel a bit elitist and want to stay extracted from the herd.
But it being loaner and being assured that it’s a great commentary on celebrity and our society — I figured, what the hell.
Turns out, my friend was right. While I’m not sure I would say Suzanne Collins’ book is the best science fiction or young adult piece ever, I also have to admit I’m not particularly well-read in science fiction or young adult fare. (Discover a Sidney Sheldon and a Judith Krantz on mom’s paperback shelf when you’re 15, and well, you get introduced to some pretty adult stuff pretty quickly.) This, however, is a book someone young or old could love.
Some reviewers say there’s a bit of a love triangle and I’ve heard questions raised on whether someone is on “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta.” There is a bit of that in “The Hunger Games,” but ultimately it’s a very dark tale of survival.
In simplest terms, the U.S. as we know it is no more. Through various disasters and upheavals we now have Districts — one through 12 — instead of states. There used to be a District 13, but it rebelled, and the government crushed it and punished the rest of the Districts by holding an annual Hunger Games. Two names, one male and one female, are drawn from each district — an event called the Reaping, and those selected will be sent to the Capitol for the games. There, they’ll be fattened up (or at least well fed, for once, since things are scarce just about everywhere), made over, introduced on TV, and then sent to a huge arena to die — all except for the last one standing — and it’s televised for all the world to see.
In this particular Reaping, two names are chosen. One is the baker’s son, Peeta, and Primrose Everdeen, a 12-year-old with slim chance of survival. Prim’s sister Katniss knows the girl can’t survive in that kind of environment, and Katniss is long used to hunting (illegally, with her best friend Gale) and providing for her family, so she volunteers to take her sister’s place.
She and Peeta are sent to the Capitol for the games, set in a huge forested area where everyone is on camera all the time — all citizens must watch whether they like it or not, they need to know their place, after all — and must battle to the death. The Capitol contributes to the action to keep it interesting — supplies are occasionally provided, or if the pace slows they’ll do something like throw a raging fire into the mix.
Katniss fights the competition, forms alliances with a couple — bringing to mind today’s reality TV situations — and struggles to hold onto her life and her humanity. Throughout it all she knows how sick and twisted this situation is, and she does not kill for glee, merely to save her own skin, and at times, that of two other characters’ — including Peeta, since his story brings an interesting twist to the games.
Collins has crafted something surprisingly dark for the teen — and older — audiences. There’s plenty of food for thought there, too, about our priorities, about government’s role in our lives, privacy, humanity, what constitutes entertainment, and on and on.
Some people mention a “love triangle,” whether Katniss will choose Peeta or Gale — something that will surely arise in the next two books of the series. It somehow seems cheap to just dwell on that, though.
Sure, love is a huge motivator and it’s something we all seek, but to boil it down to teen hormones seems somehow bent on lessening the book’s value. Though I admit I don’t yet know if Katniss chooses Peeta or Gale, but when you’re dodging the machinations of a hostile government, it seems like that’s something that’s going to need back-burner status a good deal of the time — you cant’ snog if you’re dead, after all.
You could say “The Hunger Games” does revolve around love, though, but more for love of choice, of family, of decency, compassion, dignity and, ultimately, of life and freedom.