The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins

Rank: B
No. Times Read: 1
Last Read: Fall, 2011

Author Name: Suzanne Collins

Review: There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been discussed by the countless websites dissecting this book. The Hunger Games debuted just a few years ago and quickly sold many millions and was snatched up for a movie. In short, the book’s exposure is universal, and anyone who’s anyone has already read the whole trilogy by now. So when someone finally lent me a copy of the first book (the seven copies at the local library are always changing hands), I felt like I could finally sit at the popular kids’ table. And the verdict: The book is thoroughly entertaining and keeps up the entertainment by following a simple formula—namely, action and violence dished out at a brisk pace. Paul Verhoeven could not do better.

The plot is typical dystopian sci-fi stuff. The oppressive Capitol, inhabiting an area formerly known as the Rockies, forces its 12 starving, conquered territories to each send “tribute” in the form of a girl and boy (picked by lottery) so that they can do battle in an arena, which is the centerpiece of an annual televised event called “The Hunger Games”. Of the 24 teens, the lone survivor gets rewarded with not being put to death and a prefab house, and possibly a pension for life (I didn’t think pensions would survive the 21st century). The games themselves are preceded by opening ceremonies and a pseudo beauty pageant of sorts where the object is to win “sponsors” who’ll send you gifts during the course of the games. While the Capitol revels in the fun of the games, the 12 oppressed districts acquiesce to the Capitol’s barbarity, knowing that the games exist to punish the districts for rebelling decades ago. Of course, there are a few districts that actually look forward to the games by having their most brutal kids volunteer as tribute. These “career” tributes are the most dangerous game.

Anyway, the arena takes place in a large, natural landscape where each tribute must gather weapons, food, supplies, etc., and either hide or hunt each other. The book is devoted largely to the struggles of Katniss, who volunteered as tribute in place of her young, helpless sister. Katniss, from the impoverished district 12 (formerly known as Appalachia), gains an edge by using her poor person’s skills to ferret out food and adapting her poaching skills to decimate her opponents. The violence isn’t gratuitous, but it’s there. And being 21st century residents, we should be desensitized to violence by now, so it should not disturb us to read about a girl whose head was dented in by a rock; a boy pierced by throwing knives; a girl stabbed by a spear; a boy mauled to near-death by animals; a girl stung to death by mutant wasps (whose body crumbles by wasp poison); a boy whose neck gets snapped Steven Seagal-style; etc. If this sounds like Fukasaku Kinji’s Battle Royale, Arnold S.’s The Running Man, or even Ender’s Game, that’s not surprising, because the concept of pitting people in a fight to the death for entertainment is what sets us mighty humans apart from the savage animals.

Despite/in spite of the pervasive killing, the book is targeted towards teens. For that matter, the writing is simple but clumsy, and downright lackluster at times. It’s not great writing, but the plot and the pace keep the pages turning easily. By all accounts, the 384-page book can be completed in a few days; reading it is absolutely effortless, easier than watching a movie. Also, since The Hunger Games is a teen novel, there are a few eye-rolling moments of a budding teen romance that arises for the simple reason that a boy and girl share the same space (the author is like that lady at the school dance [possibly the art teacher] who shoves the boys and girls onto the dance floor right when the Boyz II Men song starts). Some plot devices are downright silly, like the use of gifts from sponsors who send deus ex machina-ish items parachuting to the tribute in need of help. Even more silly are the means by which Katniss must elicit sponsors, which I won’t give away. The book has its flaws, yes, but the entertainment value, suspense, and excitement, combined with its simplicity in form, keep the book in solid B-level territory. Who says literature, literature, literature has to be boring?

2 Responses to “The Hunger Games”

  1. David J. Peterson says:

    Got to tell you: This sounds like another one I wouldn’t want to read. I can see how someone who’s favorite movie in the entire world is Battle Royale would go for something like this. Sir, you disgust me.

  2. John Yap says:

    Zinged. By the way, I have the special edition DVD of Battle Royale for our next movie marathon. I can bring over my spider collection.

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