Monday, January 23, 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

It only took me over a decade to jump onto the Harry Potter fandom bandwagon, and only just in time to catch up with the series before its triumphant finish (that is, the film series' triumphant finish). Then again, with all of its momentum (seven titles in the series, at least four of the books over 600 pages in length), "jumping into" Harry Potter in the middle of its reign over popular culture was a commitment requiring considerable (albeit rewarding) effort. Well, now another popular book series is being adapted to the silver screen (premiering in March!), and with just three modestly sized titles, it's much less daunting. So I'm getting in while it's fresh, though largely at the behest of my brother who rates it as one of the best series of books he's ever read, up there with Harry Potter.

Naturally, you're gonna have some expectations with hype like that, and since I respect my brother's taste (and recommendations), I had no fear of being disappointed. But opening up The Hunger Games, the first book in the series, I couldn't help issuing a silent challenge to the book, akin to whispering into its leafy pages, "show me what you've got!" And I still wasn't disappointed. There's very little to criticize about The Hunger Games. It's well written. It's a very engaging story, with characters you can relate to, and a tempered love affair that feels - in spite of its context - far more real than the typical romantic fiction of death-do-us-part passion. It's got lots of action, but none of it is mindless. In fact, the story is driven by an intellectual backbone of socio-political commentary, but in a matter-of-fact way that is not the least bit pedantic. It doesn't drill its morality into you, it merely presents an immoral world and allows you to position yourself by your reaction to the effects it has on its very human inhabitants. There's plenty of pathos here - more than one section had me genuinely tearing up. And the length and pacing is comfortable; the book spends enough time on personal and cultural details to bring you into its world, but is constantly moving towards the next great scene or revelation, which is always (to an impressive extent) impeccably engineered.

In sum, it's a whole lot of fun to read, and it doesn't require a huge time commitment. As such, I would heartily recommend it to just about anyone. Unless, I suppose, you're the type of person who would cringe at the very mention of a fictional society that would enthusiastically (and sadistically) rally around a sporting event that pits children (technically, adolescents) against each other in a brutal fight to the death while simultaneously braving the elements of a deadly wilderness arena. It's Survivor meets Battle Royale, where the futuristic dystopia recalls echoes of the gladiators of the Roman Empire. The Hunger Games drops you into an unbalanced society where the lower class inhabitants of twelve outlying Districts scattered across what was once North America are so oppressed that, while struggling daily for survival, they can do naught but sit by and watch as the wealthy, technologically-advanced Capitol remorselessly slaughters their children for entertainment. But rather than condoning these "hunger" games, the narrative follows the perspective of one of its unfortunate contestants, who is nevertheless uniquely poised to give the Capitol a show they won't soon forget. And as the story finally builds to its inevitable climax, I am left wanting to know: what will part two of the trilogy have in store - both for us, and for the unfortunate inhabitants of this frightening world?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sooooo glad you liked it. I can't praise it highly enough. It should be taught alongside Animal Farm and Brave New World in Satire classes. I feel the moral nuance is handled particularly well. You explained it with the utmost perfection when you said the morality comes from the readers' own reaction to how these imperfect human characters deal with the events they are given. I mean it certainly had me questioning myself again and again, as the characters would argue with each other.

    I'm actually a little surprised there isn't any uproar over the book.... I was wondering what you might think about it based on my impression that.... frankly, I think it's a pretty clear anti-American satire. An easy argument could be made that The Capitol is (metaphorically) The United States and the various Districts are Africa, South and Middle America, The Middle East, certain parts of Asia. There's even a district I would liken to Europe, Canada and Japan, though I'm not sure they've detailed that district much yet in your reading.

    I deleted my previous comment because I felt my final paragraph -- a description of what Katniss may metaphorically represent -- may act as a bit of a spoiler considering where you are in the series. I'll be sure to post it on one of your other Hunger Games related reviews, although it is likely to get me sent to Guantanamo bay.

  3. I have no qualms about criticizing the United States (as you've probably noticed), but I think I'll refrain from guessing about the political satire until I've read the other two books. When I started The Hunger Games, I thought that maybe the whole trilogy would be about the games, and we'd get a good long buildup. Then it became clear that The Hunger Games was going to be about The Hunger Games, and so now I'm wondering if the other two books are going to go into some kind of rebellion against the Capitol, which is pretty much the only way it could go if the other two books want to compete with the first in terms of bombast. That's also the only reason I can forgive (ending spoiler!) them for not eating the berries, because I think that would have been a much bigger kick in the face to the Capitol (though I could be wrong, had there ever been a Hunger Games without a victor before?), but if the girl who was on fire has an even better role to play alive, then alright. I certainly like her enough to keep her around. ;)