A dystopian future. An ancient-style blood lust.
Age: Young Adult
First Published: 14th September 2008
Date Reviewed: 9th July 2014
The reaping. Every year the Capitol picks from each district two children, a boy and a girl, to face all the others in a fight to the death. Whoever is left last wins and is ensured food and shelter for the rest of their days. This is the final year Katniss is eligible to be chosen. It’s her sister’s first. Her sister wouldn’t survive, but maybe Katniss can.
The Hunger Games is the first book in a trilogy about a deprived dystopian world. With a big helping of Battle Royale, a seasoning of Lord Of The Flies, and a side dish of reality TV, the book is an unapologetic violent young adult novel that brings horror, suspense, and fine characters to an often-lacking list of books.
That it is violent is of course something to be considered, but in a way you could say that Collins is respecting young people’s intelligence. Young people know a lot about violence and horror, with video games and advertisements never far from view, and by not treating her readers with kid gloves, Collins better aligns herself with her target audience. Yet, whilst violent, The Hunger Games doesn’t linger over the gore for very long at a time, only once spending more than a couple of pages on a scene that even then is told whilst narrator Katniss is hiding from it. The gore is often something the reader conjures up themselves – the first bloodbath is related third-hand.
The characters win you over, whether they are good or ‘bad’ (because the villains are only villains because they have to be). Katniss is a hunter, a poor person transported to a rich person’s world. She never succumbs to the damsel-in-distress syndrome that claims so many other intelligent young women in today’s YA, and the stereotypes remain flipped over. Peeta may be a hero, a protector, but the terms are equal. Despite the fact that many characters will die before this first book ends, Collins give each a personality. You might not know them for long, but by and large you would be able to take a fair guess of who they were in life.
The plot keeps moving; the pace is pretty fast. The author has split the story into sections, meaning the the Games themselves are not too long. (It’s fair to say that if it had been the entire content, you may have become almost used to the horrors.)
This being used to horror, this immunity, is a fascinating aspect of the book – the way Collins interacts with her readers. Through the not long but long enough Games, and also through the relative lack of (reported) gore compared to the numerous deaths that occur, Collins effectively exploits the idea of normality. What I mean by this is that the reader won’t ever see the violence as okay, of course they won’t, but because you get all the extra plot threads you start to see how the horrific practise has become acceptable to the city residents. And the part of your reader-self that is involved in the bare basic task of reading the book from start to finish does become somewhat immune.
Awful, isn’t it? To think that there might come a point in the reading when the horror ceases to affect us so much. But whilst this could be attributed to a lack of knowing when to call it a wrap on the writing of the Games, given that Collins’s book is to teach children about war (further information here) it could be said that this immunity was planned. (As I learned after writing this, it was indeed planned, as this interview implies.) It is such that you know it is happening to you and you wonder why you’re not as moved by it. Isn’t this what happens in real life? We see so much war that we can often just turn off the television, make a coffee, forget about it. Then something ‘worse’ is reported and the immunity is gone. And the cycle starts again.
Back to the writing. Collins’s text focuses on story and meaning rather than sounding nice. The balance of the sections works well, as said, and the build-up to the Games leaves you fully informed. The reality TV nature of the book keeps you in context.
Beyond all this it must be said that the book offers some true survival tips. This is not nearly as important, obviously, but readers interested in roughing it will find an additional source of reader pleasure.
There is so much to his book, both in-text and otherwise, that you will be spending a lot longer than I have here, discussing it all. And I think I’ve discussed enough. The Hunger Games is excellent, no matter the comparisons to other works. It has much to offer even as it forcibly takes away. As a reader you are in a similarly safe position as the city dwellers. Make the most of it – even if this sounds bad, enjoy the book.
July 11, 2014, 1:20 pm
You make a good point about becoming used to the horror as you read the book. This is something I like in books and particularly dislike in movies made from those books–it’s horrifying how we can get used to images of people being hurt and killed. It makes it thinkable. While reading about it obviously makes it thinkable, that’s only to the extent that the reader has ever seen or imagined such images before.
July 11, 2014, 9:39 pm
I really liked book 1, then it got worse
July 12, 2014, 11:21 am
Great review! I often have such a difficult time writing reviews for books that have already been reviewed by so many others…I feel like what I’m saying isn’t original or important. But I think you did a great job adding fresh perspective here.
July 12, 2014, 11:48 am
I really like this series (even though like seems the wrong word for such violent books as you said). I didn’t always like Katniss but I loved how she was a strong young woman. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the other two books.
July 13, 2014, 10:13 pm
Katniss wasn’t always a favorite of mine as well but I appreciated her and I thought that Collins’s characterization was very strong throughout the series (which sadly took me years to read…I just couldn’t get into the third book). I hope you continue to enjoy them! The movies are a bit jarring but I love how they provide a visual for the wacky and insane descriptions of the world Collins created!
July 14, 2014, 2:51 pm
I loved the first of this series, it goes downhill (for me) in the net two books, but it was just so wonderful to read. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it too, there is something about YA distopia’s that really get at me.
July 15, 2014, 6:39 pm
Great review, Charlie. I especially like what you said about how Collins’ normalizes the violence over the course of the book–at least shows us how a society can get to that point.
I enjoyed the trilogy quite a bit. I am one of the rare few (if you go by blogger opinion) who enjoyed all three books, the second perhaps being my favorite.