Monday, August 2, 2010

Book review - The Hunger Games

So I was originally going to review a different book today, but I lost an afternoon Saturday finishing Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games, and I'm still recovering.

All I can say is Wow.

Here's the cover:

Let me preface this--I've been hearing so much about this book, I feel like the last person to read it. But just in case...

What's The Hunger Games, you ask?

Well, take Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game," mix it with Reality Television, throw in a tinge of romance, target it to the young adult audience, and out comes the first book in Suzanne Collins's post-apocalyptic trilogy.

THG is set in a time where western civilization is gone, and all that's left is a Roman Empire-style nation called Panem with a main Capitol surrounded by 12 districts. (There were 13 until #13 was destroyed by the Capitol for rebellion.)

Residents of the Capitol are very rich, well-fed and bored. So every year they hold a big, nationally televised, death match called "The Hunger Games."

The games are also used to reinforce the Capitol's power over the districts because each district is required to send two "tributes" to the games who must fight to the death--only one tribute out of all 24 is allowed to win (i.e., live).

Tributes are chosen via lottery where all the kids aged 12-18 have their names put in a drawing. Your chance of getting picked increases each year because the number of times your name is entered doubles every year.

And if you're poor, your chances of getting picked are even further increased because you can trade putting your name in the hat an additional time for food.

That brings us to the main character, 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen and her little family.

Katniss lost her father in a mine explosion when she was eleven, and she's been the sole supporter of her mom and her little sister Primrose ("Prim") ever since. She's a hunter and she's smart, but she's also had to trade her name for food more than once, so the odds are against her.

Katniss has a hunting partner Gale, another impoverished fellow, who she's been hunting with since she was about 12. The two make a great team, and Collins hints at a romance between them. But they're very focused on their mission: finding food and taking care of their families. (Gale has three little brothers and no dad also.)

So here comes the lottery, and since she's 12, it's also Prim's first year to be in the draw. I won't spoil the drama for you, but ultimately Katniss is the female tribute for District 12. The male tribute is a baker's son named Peeta.

Peeta and Katniss have a history because after Katniss's father died, she almost starved to death until Peeta took a beating to give her two loaves of bread. They haven't really spoken since then--Peeta's from the privileged class--but neither of them have forgotten it.

Now's the part where I get honest.

All that takes place in the first chapter and a half. The next several chapters are focused on traveling to the Capitol, describing the Capitol, describing the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the interviews, the training... mer mer mer...

Then the games start and the first chapter of that part is spent on Katniss with no weapons, hiding and nearly dying of dehydration.

Now I know all that's "tension building," and I also know I'm risking having tomatoes thrown at me by saying this, but at that point in the book I was BORED.

I lamented to a friend that I was starting to think I was the only nerd who didn't get The Hunger Games. Seriously. I was like "When's something going to happen?"

And right then it did.

AND I've got to hand it to Collins. There's this Big Event during the games that's orchestrated by the Capitol because any time the games get "boring" the Gamemakers step in and make something happen.

Ouch! Did you see what she just did there? She made Me, the Reader, identify with the barbaric Capitol. My hat's off to her. Nicely done.

So back to the story, from there to the end, the book literally soars. That's how I lost a Saturday afternoon. You can't put it down.

Don't get me wrong, it's a tough read at times. Tears were on my cheeks more than once. Katniss is an excellent MC. She's a survivor and she's tough, but she's also relatable. And more than once she's put in the position of having to choose whether to protect or kill another tribute.

Her relationship with Peeta is also difficult. He's a sweet boy, and she owes him her life from when she nearly starved to death. But this is a death match, and she's determined to get back to her family.

The story takes some unexpected twists, and I don't want to spoil anything, but for those who've read the book, I understand there's a bit of a "Team" debate. I'm on Team Gale, and I liked how Collins maintained his presence throughout the story. It was subtle, but it was there.

To me, Katniss's life experience has been so harsh. Someone like Gale is really the only person she could take seriously. And yet how could she not form a bond with Peeta under such extreme circumstances?

But I want Katniss to have someone who can take care of her sometimes, too. Although if the need to be taken care of is suddenly removed, how does that change her relationship with her old hunting partner? It's an interesting dilemma.

In case you haven't already guessed, this book gets a big A+ from me. It is so well-executed and Collins covers all the bases. I can't think of a time while reading where I was like, "There's no way that could happen."

There is zero bad language (Moms) or "adult situations," and while it's violent, the nice thing about book violence is you can control it by how much you choose to envision.

The second book in the series Catching Fire is available in bookstores now, and later this month the last book Mockingjay is set to be released.

I do not have time, I have to work, I have things to take care of, I have responsibilities... and if I go off the radar, well... at least you know what I'm doing.

On Thursday, I'll post my previously scheduled review.



Candyland said...

Great review. Love this book!

Unknown said...

Awesome review, Leigh! I'm also on Team Gale :D

I loved The Hunger Games, and I couldn't put down Catching Fire, either. My son and I are both anxiously awaiting Mockingjay -- and we may have to buy two copies 'cause we can't agree on who can read it first!

While I read the books, I continuously took mental notes on narration and tension-building -- two storytelling areas in which, I think, Collins excels.

Can't wait to hear what you think of the next two books!

Elliot Grace said...

Hunger Games is fantastic. Catching Fire is an adequate sequel. Mocking Jay comes out this month...I'd get in line now!

LTM said...

@Candy: Me too! I literally could not stop thinking about it Sunday...

@ND: So glad I'm not the only nerd who does that--LOL! :D I was encouraged by how much description and backstory she includes... ;p And that's cool that you read it w/your son! Boys DO read--I keep saying this.

@EG: Hi, there! I'm reading Catching Fire. Yep. I did it. And I'll probably set up my preorder on Amazon tonight for the last one. I'm in the club now, too! ;o)

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, Leigh-I LOVED this book. I don't think I ever reached bored... for some reason I was really invested in Rue right from the beginning, so maybe that is why. But Collins did an EXCELLENT job of keeping the tension hopping... of keeping Kat both 'emotionally distant, but still sympathetic'--of creating a triangle that the reader had a VERY hard time choosing because the spoiler was just too darned nice.

I LOVED the 'defy the authority' tone of this, probably more than any other piece. Read Catching Fire before Mockingjay is out. It wasn't QUITE the same magic, but still an A.

I think I am most impressed with her writing so well I ignored both first person and present tense narration--both normally bug me.

Unknown said...

I'm so bad! So behind! I've yet to actually read this series *don't throw tomatoes* I really have been meaning to get to it!!!

Thanks for the awesome review!

LTM said...

@Hart--no, I seriously LOVED this book. I think I was just reading at bedtime... But Katniss was SO amazing. You could completely connect with her, and once the games got going, bedtime or not, I HAD to see how it was going to play out! A++ (I think you meant Katniss, not Rue, right?)

@Jen--no tomatoes, but you're really going to like it. I resisted a while I didn't think it would be my "style" of book. I can't imagine anyone disliking these books... Stephen King AND Stephenie Meyer agree! ;p

Natasha said...

I may well be too scared to pick up the book!

Take care, Hon.

LTM said...

good point, Rayna!

Sensitive readers should proceed with caution.

I'd rank the level of violence on par with Lord of the Flies if that helps. (But it's also on par with that book for the message it carries.)

Thanks~ :o)

Beth Fred said...

I loved this book and the sequeal and I'm seriously waiting w/ much anticpation for Mockingjay.

LTM said...

Hi, Beth! yep, I'm flying through #2 as we speak... :D

Carolyn Abiad said...

Interesting comment about Lord of the Flies...that is probably one of my most admired (though not favorite) books. I remember it vividly from the first time I read it, so maybe that is why THG really resonated?

And to clarify...I myself prefer Gale, but I think Peeta is a better foil for her character.

Hart Johnson said...

I have an award for you today, which of course I had a total brain fart about TELLING you about until NOW, even though we've been emailing and messaging... *shifty*