The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins
Published: 2008
Website: Wikipedia Page (by the way, the description of this book as science fiction is laughable)

Yes. Now I, too, have bought into the cultural mania that surrounds the newest, hippest, low-barrier to entry fantasy since Harry Potter. Well, that was probably actually Twilight, but we won’t go there. I had somehow escaped the obsessive subculture that has grown out of this series, and had no interest in it until I spotted it at The Strand (my new favorite bookstore) and realized it was written by Suzanne Collins, whose Gregor series I greatly enjoyed. I was right to trust in her again.

The Hunger Games is written in a similar style to the Underland Chronicles: fast-paced, character-focused and conversational enough to make for very fast reading. Despite the straightforwardness of the plot and execution, which led to a largely predictable set of events, at several important moments there were multiple options for a conceivable way forward, allowing for suspense and excitement even for a seasoned fantasy reader. The language and description are at a sufficiently advanced level for these books to appeal to an older demographic than the Gregor books, with all the same engaging escapism.

The plot was clever and, despite similarities to Battle Royale (though not, as I expected, Lord of the Flies), had many original touches. Collins clearly enjoys throwing her characters into difficult-beyond-reality situations which test their every physical and emotional capability. This permits her to employ active description of strategies and interesting activities, which not only is she quite competent at but also engages the kind of fascination I had with The Hatchet. Readers will likely never have to fend for their lives in a sadistic death match executed for sport and entertainment of an entire nation, so there is a fascination with the minutiae of skinning and hunting and healing quite apart for the general plot.

Unfortunately, all this description takes time away from character development. For this kind of fiction, that emphasis is entirely normal, but it meant that Katniss Everdeen, the main character, is sympathetic but not well-understood. To induce contradictions in character as a way of building complexity is an effective strategy, but only when sufficient time is lent to the endeavor. Her romantic foil (one of them, at least), Peeta Mellark is interesting at first for the surprises in character and action he keeps throwing out, but ceases to be more than one-dimension once it becomes clear that not only is he in love with Katniss, he is somewhat useless as a Games partner.

Much more interesting are Katniss’s internal struggles at the beginning, end and a few points in the middle, which are probably easily identified with by any teen who has struggled with unclear romantic impulses and identity issues. Which is to say, all of them. This, of course, provides a great deal of fodder for sequels, so it remains to be seen what Collins does with it.

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One Comment to “The Hunger Games”

  1. I pretty much completely agree with Stephen King on this one: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20223443,00.html
    and somewhat with John Green. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/books/review/Green-t.html. I actually thinks he gives it too much credit, but his point about missed allegorical opportunities is right on point.

    – Chana

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