The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In a dystopian future, America is now Panem, a nation divided up into divisions that are all oppressed by a central and ruthless government. As punishment for an uprising several decades earlier, the government forces each sector to submit two children - a boy and a girl - and forces them to fight in televised gladiatorial combat. The annual event is known as the Hunger Games.
At first, I thought this book's success seemed to defy its subject matter. One wouldn't think so many people would want to read about kids killing each other. The secret is the way the death is handled. Collins made sure that the heroine Katniss mostly kills by accident or is forced to by circumstances. Really, she spends most of the games hiding from the others. The real appeal of the story is the powerful social commentary. The central district lives in gaudy luxury while the subservient districts live in poverty. To the center, the Hunger Games are entertainment. To everyone else, it's a nightmare.
The story is well-written with some genuine surprises. For example in the beginning, we're introduced to Katniss and her hunky friend/boyfriend, and I thought, "Okay, they'll get chosen for the games." When the selection occurs, it doesn't go as expected.
Likewise, the romance isn't a conventional romance. Peeta is deeply in love with Katniss, but Katniss is mostly contemptuous and confused by his affection. At the same time, we sense that she has feelings for him that she doesn't understand.
There are parts in this book that are hard to read. It is, after all, about children dying and being killed. But it makes a powerful impact. It reminded me of Ender's Game in that it shows children being forced to deal with adult problems.
The only problem I have with this book is that it's very derivative. It's basically The Running Man with children. Also, the world-building is not fully developed. The idea of a ruthless dystopian government felt like a cliche' at best, and unrealistic at worst. For instance, I didn't find a good explanation for why the people agree to the Hunger Games except, "They're scared not to." Well, I'm sorry, but as a parent, I know protecting my children is my number one priority. Nobody could force me to put my kids in the Hunger Games, unless they killed me. And even then, I'd fight to the last, and I'd also fight to protect other people's children. I don't see how any government could survive for long executing children without a bloody revolt. I know that's where the books go later on, but I'm saying the Hunger Games couldn't last seventy years. And why is it called the Hunger Games? No idea.
But all in all, very well done, and well deserved success. I won't be reading the rest of the trilogy, though.
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