Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins #review

Title: The Hunger Games (book #1 of The Hunger Games)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic

A lot of hype surrounds Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy. The novels have been international best-sellers and have spawned a successful movie franchise. The premise for the trilogy certainly isn’t new, however, and it can be argued that it was a case of Collins’s manuscript being in the right place at the right time. In 1999 Japanese author Koushan Takami had his novel, Battle Royale, published, and it follows a similar theme – teens in a dystopian future battling it out to the death, their efforts televised.

In Collins’s vision, the region once known as the US has been reduced to 12 districts subservient to a decadent Capitol. Each year, each district has to send tributes – a boy and a girl – to compete in the annual Hunger Games, the ultimate in reality TV. The winner not only gets to live, but will have enough food to eat for the rest of their life, in addition to being a celebrity.

Indeed, there is little that is more chilling than the individual’s objectification and loss of sovereignty. The novel’s apt nod towards ancient Rome is a not-so-subtle dig at the socioeconomic disparities of those times.

Our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, steps into the arena when she volunteers to take her younger sister’s place as tribute. Her hunting skills also makes her an ideal contender. She is well aware that the stakes are high, but her emotions become conflicted when she gets to know the other candidate from her district – Peeta.

Herein lies the rub – and the almost ubiquitous young adult love triangle. Katniss is in denial about her feelings towards her best friend back in the district, but Peeta has apparently held a torch for Katniss for ages. She just never knew about it until now. While they play out a supposedly sham romance for the benefit of their viewers, Katniss questions her own loyalties. At some point she might have to kill Peeta.

Some might find the casual violence in the novel shocking, but it pales in comparison to the gladiators in the popular television series Spartacus, where main characters kill their opponents without compunction.

The Hunger Games presents an ideal vehicle in which to examine how being in the arena would affect young Katniss. Her kills are mostly by accident rather than design. Katniss faces challenge after challenge, yet one does not step away with the sense that she has grown much as a character. Indeed, in that respect, the ending goes off like the proverbial damp squib.

While The Hunger Games is an adequate dystopian read, by the same measure I feel the hype surrounding it has hugely inflated its popularity. Don’t expect literary fireworks.

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