The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Inc., 2008)
Yes, there is a lot of hype about this book. Yes, the concept of it isn’t new. But what Suzanne Collins does with The Hunger Games is to take the whole “death game” idea and turn it totally on its head. And it’s a very, very enjoyable ride.
Katniss Everdeen (isn’t that one of the greatest names for a heroine, EVER?) is a girl fighting for survival in The Seam, the twelfth District in a post-apocalyptic United States. Each of the Districts provides resources to The Capitol, where the leaders and the priveleged reside in extravagant luxury. (The Districts themselves are kept completely impoverished, all of their inhabitants barely able to eke out a living). Katniss’ District is responsible for mining coal, and after her beloved father is killed in a mine accident, Katniss must ensure that her little sister, Prim, and their despondent mother have enough to eat. Fortunately, her father taught Katniss to be a skilled hunter, and with the help of her good friend Gale, she poaches game to keep her family alive. Katniss is determined to continue in her role as provider, but fate – in the form of the annual Hunger Games – intervenes. It seems that the leaders in the Capitol use the Hunger Games as a tool to keep the Districts in line, and every year, two children – a boy and a girl – are selected via lottery from each District to compete. The Games are what the reality TV show “Survivor” would be if the contestants were encouraged to kill each other in various creative ways. Because that’s what Katniss and her fellow competitors must do: eliminate their opponents. For good. On national television, in front of millions of viewers.
And the whole thing is so convincing to the reader, most likely because we’ve grown up on shows like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” and we totally buy into the package: the way Katniss and Peeta Mellark, the boy contestant (and love interest?) from Katniss’ District, are gussied up and marketed to attract sponsorship; the way the Games are manipulated by the creators, with set (and weather) shifts and dangling carrot prizes to drive the bloodshed. We get how there are cameras everywhere, and how Katniss and Peeta must carefully calculate the way they act to influence their viewership and advance themselves in the game, even as they’re trying not to lose their heads. Collins’ plot is altogether clever, and really, really well-executed (pun intended). And, because this is book one of a trilogy, Collins has the luxury of developing the story (I mean, I just HAVE TO know where Gale stands in all of this!) and satiating the reader. Because this book will definitely make you hunger for more. (I know, I know, enough with the bad puns!).
The remaining books in the trilogy are Catching Fire and Mockingjay, and yes, there is a movie for The Hunger Games, set to arrive in theatres on 23 March 2012. Watch the exciting trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRvrz3Fn6qQ&feature=watch_response.