In anticipation of the upcoming movie due to hit theaters on Friday, March 23rd, I decided to post on each of the books of The Hunger Games trilogy. Over the next three posts I will cover The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. Even before I knew there was to be a movie I wanted to read these books, and in late January I finally got the chance to and am so glad I did. I finished all three books, a total of 1200 pages, in less than six days, because they were so engrossing and so intense, and Collins writes in such a way that you just have to know what happens next.
The Situation: Every year the nation of Panem conducts the annual Hunger Games where 24 contestants, or tributes as they are called in the book, are chosen (two from each of the 12 districts, a boy and a girl) to compete so that their district can receive extra rations of food from the Capitol for a full year until there is a new winner of the Hunger Games. The winner, however, becomes exceedingly wealthy and it lasts for the rest of their lives. They get a new house and everything and are basically celebrities in their own districts. This year, Katniss Everdeen has volunteered to be the female tribute.
The Problem: The Hunger Games is actually a death match in which the two tributes are chosen at random from a bowl where every child's name (ages 12-18) in the district is submitted. And yes, I did say child...it is a death match for children. And even if both tributes from one district are the last two left standing, there can only be one winner.
So why would Katniss ever volunteer for something like this? In some of the wealthier districts that are often favored by the Capitol, some kids have been training their whole lives for this, so having kids volunteer in these districts is not as uncommon as it is in District 12, which is Katniss' district. But Katniss has not made the Hunger Games her life's mission. She volunteers because it was originally her 12 year-old sister's name, Prim, that was drawn out of the bowl.
The book follows Katniss as she meets up with her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta, and their mentor, Haymitch, a former winner. Before they even have to face the reality of killing other children or being killed, they are paraded around the Capitol in an opening ceremony, which is also being broadcasted to every district. Actually, the Hunger Games themselves will also be broadcasted to every district. That's right...the entire nation gets to sit at home and watch as children murder each other for sport. And that is exactly what they do when the 24 contestants finally reach the arena and the Hunger Games begin.
Genre, Theme, History: As absolutely horrifying as this book is and no matter how unable I am to picture this as a movie being shown on the big screen, this is in fact a young adult novel. And actually, I was glad for it because I cannot imagine how much more real this book could have gotten if Collins had targeted adults.
For me, the book is like a crash course in social justice. The Hunger Games are a weapon used by the Capitol to remind the Districts of their failed rebellion years ago and also remind them that the Capitol is ever present and has complete control. And it is a control they are not afraid to use as they take your children and use them not only as a weapon against you, but as a weapon you can use against each other. It paints this picture of almost utter hopelessness and how the oppressed are often forced to make terrible and horrifying decisions: in order to survive, Katniss must kill other children. Also, throughout the book there is such a focus on hunting and food and finding water and just staying alive. It is interesting that while this focus makes sense in the Hunger Games arena where Katniss is very literally trying to stay alive, this has also been her focus all of her life because of the extreme poverty her and her family lives in everyday.
The book is set in the future and Panem is supposed to be what used to be North America (chew on that one for awhile). Because of the way they talk and the way Katniss lives, this idea of it being set in the future can be hard to grasp because while they have a television, very few people have a phone. And Katniss' family are able to eat what little they have everyday because she goes out hunting with a bow and arrow and trades at the black market (oddly enough, it is because she has to become good with a bow and arrow in order to eat everyday that she is able to survive and win the Hunger Games). Not until the story reaches the Capitol does the reader get a glimpse into surroundings that feel more like our own.
My verdict: Definitely worth the time and the spike in your blood pressure. Adults and teens should read it.
Favorite Moment: Hard to say really...most of it is so terrifying. I guess I will go with 12 year-old Rue singing to the mockingjays and them singing back. Probably the most tender moment of the whole book.
Favorite Character: As endearing as Peeta is, I would have to go with Rue. I do not want to say too much and ruin it, but how anyone could think that putting someone like her into a death match and watch it for entertainment is beyond me.
Recommended Reading: This should be fairly obvious but the next book on the list should be Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy.