Sunday, April 28, 2013

Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, written by Suzanne Collins, takes place in the nation of Panem, a land built on the ruins of North America after an unknown apocalyptic event. The nation consists of the wealthy Capital and the twelve outlying, poorer districts under the Capital's totalitarian control.

As a punishment for a past rebellion in with a 13th district was destroyed, the Capital demands that each district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in a brutal fight to the death on live TV known simply as the "Hunger Games."

The story focuses on Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl from the coal-rich District 12 who volunteers for the 74th annual Hunger Games in place of her younger sister. In her eyes, this is a just a death sentence. However, Katniss has been close to death before and survival, for her, is second nature. However, if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weight survival against humanity and life against love.

The Hunger Games is an interesting novel. The book, like Ender's Game, is targeted at teenagers. Seeing as a majority of young adult literature nowadays is badly-written supernatural romances, a book about teenagers fighting to the death as entertainment for the Capital and punishment for the Districts is rather refreshing and a welcome change of pace.

While the basic premise has been used before (Battle Royal and The Long Walk both focus on deadly competitions featuring adolescences), The Hunger Games presents its own take on the premise that allows it to stand on its own two feet. The book, like other stories with this premise, focus on what someone is willing to do when placed in a life and death situation and are they willing to sacrifice their humanity to survive? The Hunger Games also presents a fun satire on game shows and reality television, proposing a future where these forms of entertainment have returned to days of the gladiators of Rome. Both ideas are interesting to see and its nice to see them appear in a book meant for a younger audience, showing they too can handle mature topics.

It is also nice to see a female protagonist who isn't overly sexualized and can handle herself in a tough situation. While there were a handful of times where I found Katniss somewhat annoying, she is still a well-realized character who actually feels like someone who could exist in the world that Collins has created and generally acts like a real person would in the situations she is forced into. It's just nice to see a character who is strong and not exploited to make her appeal to a "broader audience."

With all that being said, the book still has problems. The first part of the book has an incredibly slow pace and tends to meander at times. Most of this probably has to due with the fact the book is written in a first person perspective and the only way we can learn more about Panem and the way it works is by Katniss telling us. This tendency to "tell" instead of "show" is one of the problems that tends to come up in first person narratives because we only have one perspective to see the story and the world its set in. Because of this, the perspective character sometimes has to tell us a piece of exposition, which causes the overall narrative to come to a halt for a moment and slow down the pace of the story. However, this problem slowly disappears once the Games actually begin and Katniss only has to explain minor things that have an immediate affect on the current situation.

Even with its pacing issues, The Hunger Games is still a book worth reading. I'd highly recommend it to its targeted teenage audience because it's a book that presents some mature issues and doesn't treat the reader like their idiots, and I'd even recommend it to adults just because its a rather fun read once you get past the rather slow first half.

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