When I started blogging a few weeks ago, I had absolutely no plans to write a book review. That’s because I don’t consider myself a particularly sophisticated reader. What I take from a book and how I end up feeling about it can depend as much on my mood beforehand as from the book’s subject, characters, or execution.
But some books just defy external circumstance. They suck you in, propel you through an emotionally-charged journey, and dump you out the other end, forever transformed, whether you welcomed a change or not. The Hunger Games is one such work of fiction.
I devoured it in one sitting at my daughter’s horse show this weekend, tearing myself away from the pages only long enough to perform my maternal duties, or to tell anyone who would listen that they must read this book. I figured I owed you the same information.
THG features Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old girl living in post-apocalyptic Appalachia. Following the death of her father in a mining accident four years previously, and her mother’s descent into pathologic grief, Katniss has assumed the role of family breadwinner. She’s good at it, too.
She hunts for food in a nearby forest, navigates the black market for scarce goods and has cobbled together a support network of sorts. It’s enough to get by, but it’s also an intensely lonely existence. That’s because Katniss can trust only Gale, an eighteen-year-old boy who fulfills the identical role in his own family, and the one person with whom she can safely share her loathing of the present government.
The book begins when that government threatens the life of Prim, Katniss’s twelve-year-old sister, and the one person whose innocence remains untouched by the grimness of their surroundings.
Once a year, in an act calculated to remind the twelve districts that surround the Capitol of their subservient status, the names of all adolescents are entered in a lottery. One male and female “tribute” from each district is chosen to perform in the Hunger Games–a televised contest that proceeds gladiator-style until only one contestant remains alive. When Prim is selected as the female tribute of District 12, Katniss knows that will mean certain death for her sister, so she volunteers to go in her place.
What follows is a first-rate adventure story. There are mutant creatures to face down, natural phenomena to overcome, and cutthroat adversaries to defeat, some of whom have trained their entire lives in anticipation of this moment. After all, the winner of the Games will be feted and fattened the rest of their lives.
The story contains a romantic triangle too, for the male tribute from District 12–a socially-adept baker’s son named Peeta, to whom Katniss is already indebted for food–confesses his love for her. Whether it’s a genuine sentiment, or a shrewd marketing strategy designed to win them both favor with their sponsors, is a conclusion each reader must draw for themself.
So, plenty of action, plenty of drama in this book, and let’s face it–that would be plenty-enough to tackle for most authors.
But where the book really excels, in my opinion, is in its searing indictment of Katniss’s society, which bears many parallels to our present-day world: People starve or gorge depending on their geographic location and connections, rather than their intrinsic worth as a human being; survival depends on being branded as appealing, so that cosmetic surgery, public personas, and marketing become paramount. In this world, too, a girl’s first taste of sexuality is fodder for public consumption.
In the end this is a complex book, a modern-day Lord of the Flies, and one that will leave you thinking deeply for days after you put it down. But don’t take my word for it. Just read it. 🙂
Now, getting back to my roots as a die-hard romance fan, for those of you who have already ingested the book I have one burning question: whose team are you voting for? Peeta’s or Gale’s?