Thursday, December 3, 2015

Hunger Games Book Review

by The Wanderer
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: The Hunger Games Book One
Pages: 374

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a young adult science fiction trilogy that focuses on a dystopian society set in a world similar to Earth.  The first book, also called The Hunger Games, and the subsequent books focus on a poor sixteen year old girl named Katniss Everdeen and her struggle against the autocratic government ruling their world.

Told from a first person perspective, readers get to get inside the head of Katniss and see first hand how oppression, violence, and personal losses effect a person (or character in this case) psychologically.

Katniss is a very strong female hero and her struggle can be inspirational for all sorts of people, not just young girls.  However, there are weaker points in the book, such as the development of some of the key secondary characters, and the prose can be a bit melodramatic and stale at certain points and during certain situations throughout the book.

Despite these flaws The Hunger Games still stands out as a very entertaining book, while also serving as a cautionary tale that explores the power of media, the corruption of government, and the oppression of people.

In Panem, the World that The Hunger Games takes place in, the ruling Capitol which is described as a large wealthy city, rules over twelve districts.  These twelve districts have provided the wealth and labor that has made the Capitol prosperous, but the inhabitants of these districts (with the exception of a few) are mostly poor and are abused by the ruling government.

The power of the Capitol is absolute.  The citizens of the various districts live in fear of the power of the Capitol, but at the same time most people have little love for it.  The Capitol maintains its power by forcing its inhabitants to participate in The Hunger Games.  The Hunger Games requires each of the twelve districts to send two tributes, one boy and one girl, between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in a televised battle to the death.  The winner of the Hunger Games is the only person of the twenty-four selected that is left alive by the end.

Katniss Everdeen, the story’s sixteen year old protagonist, is selected to participate in the Hunger Games in place of her little sister.  The story follows her and her fellow male tribute Peeta Mellark as they each plan to survive the Hunger Games with their lives in tact.

The Hunger Games should immediately draw comparisons to Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.  Both books deal with a group of teenagers being forced to fight each other to the death, with only one winner being declared by the end.  Despite the similarities between the two, readers will find that the Hunger Games has a lot more in common with the Ancient Romans and the gladiatorial games.

The wealth and visual imagery of the Capitol bears a lot of resemblance to the descriptions you can find on what Ancient Rome looked like as well as the wealth the city accumulated.  The Roman imagery works well in tandem with the described power that is associated with the Capitol.  The battles to the death, or the Hunger Games, resemble Rome’s gladiatorial games as people were forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses.  Winners of previous Hunger Games become rich and famous, much like certain gladiators were able to do if they won enough contests.

Katniss Everdeen is able to anchor the story effectively.  She is a strong female character and its not surprising to see why so many people identify with her and are inspired by her.  Katniss is imbued with a lot of masculine characteristics, and she is by no means a damsel in distress.  Frequently the damsel in distress role is reversed in The Hunger Games as Katniss comes to save the young men from what would have been their certain demise.

In addition to a great protagonist, Collins take on relevant social issues such as oppression, poverty, and the media.  Her portrayal of the media is especially noteworthy, as she is able to condemn its artificiality while simultaneously showing how powerful the media is in terms of keeping masses of people under control.

The book’s weaker points stem from the fact that the story is not entirely original, which is something that is a bit irritating.  The Hunger Games is by no means a blatant rip off of Battle Royale, but it loses a bit of its sense of originality due to their similarities.

The romance and romantic situations that occur in the novel at certain points can work really well when it is tied into helping people survive the Hunger Games. There are other points, though, where romantic situations don’t work well, and that’s when its romance for the sake of romance.  Yes romance is important in life and a part of growing up, but when the tone of your book is a realistic tone, how realistic is it for kids who are preoccupied with not getting killed to be thinking or acting on their romantic impulses?  I would have guessed not likely, but Suzanne Collins had different ideas.

Secondary characters like Haymitch, Cinna, and Effie are characters that help support the major characters while simultaneously providing new and engaging personalities to the story.  However other characters like Primrose and Gale only serve to support the major characters while not having any personality of there own or having a very lame personality.  Primrose is guilty of having no personality, as she only appears to make Katniss look like a loving martyr for going in her place to the Hunger Games.  Gale has a big-brother type personality and is geared as a potential romantic partner for Katniss.  This character arch mixed with this personality makes for an uninteresting character.

The Hunger Games is a surprisingly violent book for young adults, but that should not sway parents from letting their kids read these novels.  The violence in the books is frequently condemned by the author and her characters, while at the same time it acknowledge the role violence can play in society as well as the psychological issues that can be developed as a result of violence.

Despite its flaws, The Hunger Games is a solidly entertaining book and is recommended to both adults and young adults alike.

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