The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins
Published 2008, Scholastic, Inc.
Paperback, 374 pages
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.Right away this book captures my attention with a quick introduction to Katniss's survival skills followed by the District 12 Hunger Games lottery, a grim holiday that nobody wants to celebrate, but is still mandatory. It does not take long for the reader to feel sympathetic towards Katniss and the hardship she struggles with everyday just to survive.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Every detail leading up to the actual event of the Hunger Games has a surreal feel, as Katniss is primped and paraded like a beauty pageant contestant, as if everyone is ignoring the fact that these are children, with all but one facing imminent death. This is reality television meets the ancient gladiator games of Rome, combined with the sick irony of using a nation's most precious commodity -- its children. As a mother of three, I can not even fathom living in a country that tolerated this year after year. These Hunger Games are the country's way of preventing rebellion in its citizens through fear, brainwashing, and desensitization, as it is mandatory for every citizen to watch. In some districts, this is so successful that children are routinely trained specifically for the Hunger Games, volunteering to face murder and death for a chance at fame and fortune.
The love triangle is obvious early on, though the conflict can't come into play until the second book in the series. Peeta is the one in the spotlight, the one that humanizes Katniss for the viewers and makes her likable due to his own romantic feelings for her. Unfortunately, Katniss is too busy staying alive to be certain of her true feelings, even though she can pretend well enough to convince even Peeta. Peeta is self-sacrificing, while Katniss is observant and resourceful. Katniss is able to avoid becoming a cold-hearted murderer only because of Peeta's presence.
Regarding the actual Game, those that run it operate to keep the entertainment value up, adding to the danger of the contestants still alive, handing out gifts to give one an edge over another, forcing contestants into battle to increase bloodshed and drama, and generally treating the twenty-four as actors and actresses in any other fictional television drama. What Katniss keeps returning to is how "normal" these people of the Capitol see of the deaths of these children. It occurred to me while reading this that it would be better to be one of those that died in the Games, rather than live with being the monster responsible for the deaths of twenty-three other children purely for the entertainment of the shallow and self-absorbed.
This book is both shocking and heart-rending, and I look forward to the next installment, Catching Fire.
The Cover: The cover features the mockingjay pin that Katniss wears, which is a simple design, but it still works for the cover of such a starkly dramatic book.
First Line: "When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold."
Interesting that the author is using present tense, though not a particularly memorable opening line.
Favorite Quote: "It's funny, because even though they're rattling on about the Games, it's all about where they were or what they were doing or how they felt when a specific event occurred. . . . Everything is about them, not the dying boys and girls in the arena."