This is long overdue but since I’m rarely on time for anything, I say, “Better late than never.” Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months, you’ve likely heard of cinematic juggernaut that is The Hunger Games. You probably also know that there was a book called The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins before there was a movie; a book that falls into the “Teen Fiction” category and sits next to the Twilight series in bookstores. I graduated from teen fiction around the time I was in 4th grade so I wasn’t keen to read the book despite all of the buzz it was getting due to the movie release. But I gave in. And I wasn’t disappointed.
For those of you who do not know, The Hunger Games, in a nutshell, follows the main character (Katniss Everdeen) as she is selected for, groomed, and competes in an annual competition called The Hunger Games in which a boy and girl from each of the twelve districts of PanEm (the former U.S. of A.) is selected to fight to the death in a sort of twisted, government sponsored reality TV show. Katniss hails from District 12; a coal mining district that was formerly known as Appalachia. Her father was killed in a coal mining accident so she has for years been slipping through the fence ringing the district with her friend Gale, hunting and gathering to support her mother and younger sister, Prim. The book starts on the day of The Reaping, which is as ominous as it sounds. On that day, all of the district’s children ages 12-18 must gather in the main square as they wait to hear who among them will have their name drawn to compete in The Hunger Games. Each child’s name is entered once for each year they are eligible but a child may have their name entered additional times in exchange for extra food rations, which many of the families must do in order to survive. Prim’s name was chosen despite only having one entry but Katniss steps up and volunteers to take her place. After brief goodbyes, she and Peeta Mellark, the male “tribute,” are whisked away to the Capitol. Along the way, we are introduced to Effie, the government official assigned to District 12; Haymitch, the last winner of The Hunger Games that hailed from District 12 and a perpetual drunk; and Cinna, Katniss’s stylist for the ceremonies leading up to The Hunger Games.
Each of these characters is well-developed, for a relatively minor character, and plays an important part in the story leading up to the actual competition. The book spends a significant amount of time describing the pre-games ceremonies as well as the training that all the tributes go through before the games. Although this may seem odd, this time is well spent developing relationships and tensions between characters as well as the intrigue surrounding the games. Once the games start, the writing is not as graphic as one might expect; however, this does make it suitable for the younger readers for whom the book was intended. Beyond that, Collins does an excellent job of creating suspense about what will happen next; heightened by the fact that The Hunger Games take place in an environment that is not “normal” where very unexpected things can and do happen. There is intrigue and deception; alliances are formed and dissolved; and I was often left with the feeling that I had an understanding of what was happening but that understanding was slightly off. The ending is relatively easy to see coming and doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises but there is a clear setup for the second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire, that leaves you ready to go out and buy it as soon as possible.
Overall, I give this book a 4/5. It’s a really great story that will keep you guessing because, although the games end, nothing is truly resolved at the end of this book. It’s a surprisingly complex plot for a teen fiction book and remarkably little romance. The romance that is a part of the story only adds to the richness of the story instead of serving as a distraction. The only hint that this is a teen book is how quickly it reads. I finished it in two long evenings of reading but I didn’t want to put it down. So if you’re looking for a great story and a quick read, pick up The Hunger Games. You won’t be disappointed.