The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My 8th-grade book-talks buddy had me read chapter 3 for one of our weekly discussions, and that was that. Two days later I read this whole book and most of book 2 in the series in a single lazy day.

A few qualifications first and then I’ll just rave: Collins’s writing can occasionally be a bit awkward, syntactically speaking. A handful of times I noticed her phoning in some of the details so as to move on with the action. The writing style overall ran toward the simple (which I suspect is just a feature of YA, keeping it easy for younger readers), which I guess I noticed coming from often more convoluted styles; but there’s nothing wrong with simple when it’s clean and effective, which this writing almost always is.

And there’s no question that this is a compelling plot. I was quickly absorbed in the world of District 12, the last of the twelve districts of Panem that serve the Capitol, a city of riches and leisure built on suffering and privation. Panem was formed from the former United States, and District 12 was once Appalachia; its main contribution to Panem’s wealth is coal mining, which has gone on here for many hundreds of years, “which is why our miners have to dig so deep.” The main action is the Hunger Games themselves, an annual fight-to-the-death, survivalist, reality-show-entertainment, punishment-for-rebellion event the Capitol inflicts upon the districts. Each district provides two tributes each year, a boy and a girl, ages 12-18. These 24 teens are thrown into an arena (designed by the Gamekeepers) until only one emerges. The whole thing is televised in fine detail; when things get dull, the Gamekeepers spice them up with extra challenges, manufactured “wild” animals, “natural” disasters, and the like.

Note the conflation of “reality television” with the battle royale. Violence as entertainment (for the Capitol) and violence-as-entertainment as cautionary tale (for the districts, a repeat of whose long-ago uprising these Games are meant to deter). There is some level of metaphor and real-world commentary available here for those looking out. I think most pointedly, the reader is never allowed to forget that these are games, and that there is an audience to play for. Tributes can be supported during the Games by gifts from sponsors, dropped by parachute; they’re motivated to play for the cameras, appeal to prospective sponsors and be likeable for the Gamekeepers, who have the power to skew things toward life or death.

If Collins’s sentence-level writing is not the finest I’ve read lately, her imagination and execution are excellent. The world of Panem and the Games, the drama and spectacle, and her characters are completely engaging. Our first-person narrator and hero is Katniss, who’s been supporting her mother and younger sister since she was 12 years old. Her fellow tribute in these Games is local baker’s son Peeta, with whom her relationship will be complicated. She must leave behind not only the beloved younger sister but her hunting buddy and possible budding romantic interest Gale. Some of the staffers who make up the workings of the Games will become personalities of interest, as well. The worldbuilding is solid, as are both plot and character development. Pacing and suspense are expert; again, I raced through this book in part of a day and then rolled straight into book 2.

I’m very impressed, frankly, and reminded that we shouldn’t undersell YA. I love being absorbed into a new world – even a dystopian one. And I can’t wait to find out what comes next.

Rating: 8 grooslings.

One Response

  1. […] didn’t even pause between The Hunger Games and this book 2 in the series. Hmm… I don’t guess I can do this without spoilers from […]

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