Warning! May contain spoilers!
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the latest iteration of an often-told story; how people who have no beef with one another behave when forced to for survival. Whether it is any number of tales of gladiators, Koushun Tukami’s Battle Royale, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Steven King’s The Running Man or the movie adaptation, it is impossible to say that this topic has not been explored and that the concept is unique in any way. In fact, Collins’ tale of Katniss Everdeen is not unique in the grand scheme of story telling and The Hunger Games reflects many similarities to the stories I just listed. However, despite these similarities the story has enough significant differences from any of them in particular to stand on its own.
In a post apocalyptic America a totalitarian government reigns over twelve districts where residents slave to produce the goods demanded of them. Every year, as punishment for a revolt against the Capitol decades prior, The Hunger Games are undertaken. Sadistically the rulers demand that two children, a boy and a girl, from each district fight to the death until only one remains as a reminder of the power held over them. Katniss volunteers to take the place of her sister, who is initially selected, and thrown into a fight for survival along with her other Tributes from the other districts.
What I liked about the story is that it is told in the first person. Normally I find novels written in such a point of view dull and monotonous. And while the prose of this novel is extremely simple, the first person POV helps this story immensely. So many authors, when dealing with so many characters have the habit of resorting to head popping and flooding the reader with information that comes from too many sources. This has the annoying habit of turning a story into a long, drawn out trilogy of books. Had The Hunger Games adopted such an approach I dare say it would have been unbearably long and dull. Also, what I liked was how Collins kept a good pace to the novel from the mid point to the end. Even the slow points early on have purpose in the story telling.
What I liked least, I won’t say hated because that is too strong of a word, was, again the overly simplistic prose. It worked but there were many points where I felt it could have been better and more detailed. The book was, also, alas fairly predictable. The problem with first person narratives is that you are pretty much locked on to a particular character who you know is going to survive and that death is not going to touch. Sure, Katniss is in danger often, but you never fear for her and the question only becomes how will she escape this time right up until the very end.
Another thing that I liked was that Collins, while she focuses on Katniss throughout the narrative, never really makes you hate any of the other tributes, kids, fighting for their lives against her. Sure, you catch glimpses of Katniss’ disdain for the “career tributes” who, unlike her, are trained for this sort of thing out of pride, but you realize throughout the book that these are just other kids who are fighting for their lives as Katniss is. You are not given insight into the other tributes reasons, desires or particular situations except for when Katniss interacts with them. For example, late in the book, even though you have been drawn to care about Katniss and even Peeta’s, her fellow tribute from District 12, survival you catch a glimpse at how Cato, from District 2, rushes to the aide of the fallen Clove, also from District 2. You do not know what his motivations are, does he really care about her or is he just worried that he will no longer have an ally and be at a decided disadvantage? But you see that he does care about something and is not some faceless foe.
As for rating The Hunger Games as a novel I have had to consider this for a few days since penning this review. It is a good book. Part of me wants to give it three and three quarters stars just because of the simplistic prose, predictable plot and glaring similarities to previous stories tackling similar subject matter. Another part of me wants to rank it at four and a quarter stars because I still found it interesting and a good read from start to finish and one of the best books I have read in a long time. But, to give it such a high ranking would put it in league with some fabulous books I have read in the past which it really is not in the same category with. So, I have decided to split the difference and give it four out of five stars. This means that it is not in the same category as truly great books but certainly much, much better than most of what is published these days. I would highly suggest The Hunger Games.
Note: I have not seen the movie adaptation at this time.