The Hunger Games is one of those books that is so powerful and moving, it feels like a treasure, a reminder of the reason we read. It is near perfect–and I don’t say that about many books. You won’t want to miss this one.
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press (September 2008)
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
I prop myself up on one elbow. There’s enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother’s body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as a primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.
—The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, p. 3.
The Hunger Gamesis one of the most gripping, moving books I have read in a long time. It kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time; it’s a real adrenaline pumper and a deeply satisfying read.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss lives with her mother and sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. The Capitol controls its working masses through controlled starvation, rigid laws, and a horrifying yearly ritual, The Hunger Games, while the people in the Capitol live with excess (not unlike most of us). The Hunger Games is an annual televised event where, each year, each district must send one boy and one girl to the Capitol to fight to the death. Only one child may remain alive as the victor. The children are picked by their names being drawn–and this is rigged against the poorest. Since so many of the families in the poorest districts are starving, the Capitol allows them to draw a monthly ration of grain and oil for each child–but each time they do, that child’s name is added, again, into the pot for the Hunger Games. Katniss is protective of her sister, and never allows her sister to draw rations for the family; instead, Katniss selflessly does, and also hunts for her family. So when Katniss’ sister is chosen for the Hunger Games, Katniss offers to go in her place.
Collins pulled me into her story world and kept me utterly immersed. I cared about the characters strongly and what happened to them. Since the stakes were so high (my three favorite characters might die) it made me care about them–and worry about them–even more.
Katniss is an immensely likable and believable character who readers will root for. I grew to really care about her throughout the book. Katniss is loyal and loving, and willing to risk her life–even sacrifice it–to save her sister, Prim, who she loves and is fiercely protective of. She is also protective of others. Katniss is brave, resourceful, determined, and strong. She’s very intelligent, and able to not only analyze and figure out what’s going on in the Hunger Games, but to use that knowledge. She’s incredibly skilled with the bow and arrow, and at climbing trees, which helps the reader like her more. And she has compassion and caring for others, even though she sometimes gets confused about or doesn’t want to admit what she’s feeling. Katniss is a spunky, fiesty, admirable hero.
Katniss also has a temper, and she rebels in various ways against the Capitol, which is refreshing. Katniss has trouble trusting people, holds a grudge against her mother, is angry with her, and has kept herself emotionally distant from her ever since her mother abandoned Katniss and Prim for several months. This anger and resentment makes Katniss more rounded and believable, with some understandable “faults.”
Collins knew what she was doing; she helps the reader like Katniss more fully and more quickly through having so many people in the book who respond so well to Katniss, treating her with kindness and respect. Katniss has many unexpected allies. The kindness she receives also helps to offset the horrible circumstances that Kitniss is in, and helps to keep the book from becoming too painful. Some small bits of humor are woven into some of the worst moments, such as the choosing of the “tributes”–the children who will have to fight to the death–which also helps offset the horror.
Collins also quickly makes the reader care about Peetah, the boy from Katniss’ district who is also chosen for the Hunger Games, and who Katniss likes and has a history with. Collins reveals, through small bits of backstory woven into the story, the kindness and generosity Peetah showed Katniss at a time when she desperately needed it. Perhaps because that kindness involved a basic need–food (to offset starvation)–it is especially moving. Collins makes the link clear for the reader between the kindness Peetah showed Katniss and her regained hope and ability to keep herself and her family alive. This makes the link between Katniss and Peetah even stronger, and increases the bond, confusion, and tension when they enter the Hunger Games together. It makes the reader want to root for Peetah, too, and hope that he somehow comes out alive as well. Collins also makes us care for Rue, a fellow tribute in the Hunger Games who reminds Katniss of her sister, and who is young and somewhat vulnerable. All three characters are likable, empathizable, and well drawn, and the reader will root for the safety of them all.
Collins deftly draws on reader emotions, masterfully ratcheting up the tension and then providing relief for the reader, then increasing the tension again, making The Hunger Games a wonderful ride. The story is so moving, it made me cry a few times throughout the book. There are great highs and lows–and high stakes for the characters that you come to intensely care about. Despite the horrible events in the book, and the abject cruelty and inhumaneness of the Capitol, the story holds a lot of hope–through Katniss’ humanity and compassion, and through the compassion, kindness, and respect from others. That hope is what helped pull me through.
Collins creates a great atmosphere and believable setting, bringing in details that help you feel, smell, and see the place. She uses foreshadowing well, and consistently has fantastic cliff-hanger chapter ends, where you want to turn the page quickly to find out what happens next. Collins’ use of backstory adds layers and depth the story, and the scenes link together to create a larger picture. It works incredibly well. There’s also a thread of romance, more from the boys’ perspective than from Katniss’, though Katniss slowly begins to look at her feelings–and this adds another layer to the story and some needed distraction from the horrificness.
Collins made starvation, dehydration, physical pain, hallucinations, and the state one gets in when threatened with torture or death very believable. She also gave Katniss emotional reactions to the murder of a tribute she cared about, and to the first hand-to-hand murder she committed in the games, which puts the murders into context, helps the reader care and feel along with Katniss, and brings depth to the book. She also, through Katniss’ working out of her own grief, allows the reader to work through that grief with her.
The Hunger Games has many parallels to our world–people starving while others have riches of food and wealth–not just between North America and some poorer countries, but within our own country; people’s attraction to violence; broadcasting The Hunger Games like reality TV while people struggle; and the horrific acts of cruelty, torture, and murder that people are capable of, and that happen around the world, even in our own countries, as well as the incredible acts of compassion, kindness, and resistance to cruelty that people are capable of. All these give The Hunger Games greater meaning and potency–most especially if any of those things have touched the reader personally.
One small thing that didn’t feel quite right to me was the weight Collins gave to a bird pin that Katniss received early in the story. That importance didn’t seem to be followed through with. Yes, it allowed Rue, a fellow tribute, to trust her–but it still didn’t seem to be as important or as pivotal as I was expecting, given the attention that was placed on it. Also, there’s danger for Katniss even after everything seems like it should be safe–but though we’re told of the danger, I didn’t feel it as much as in the rest of the book, and I wondered if it was only there to keep reader interest.
I completely believed in the world Collins created almost every moment of the book, but the appearance of the dead tributes as mutations felt unbelievable and took me out of the story. It felt forced, like a way to try to hype up the emotion, when there was already enough. Or perhaps it felt just slightly too sci-fi to fit the rest of the world Collins created, though she did lay the ground with lab-created birds and bees. It just didn’t work for me.
The ending wasn’t satisfying for me. It felt cut off mid-story, leaving some story threads hanging, and though I can see that that’s a hook for readers to buy the next book in the series, it marred the ending of what was close to a perfect book for me. I don’t like being left hanging–it doesn’t seem right in a book (but that’s my personal opinion). Still, I enjoyed the book immensely; it was so well written, powerful, and moving. Of course I’m going to get my hands on the next book when it comes out–but I wish the ending of the first book had been more satisfying.
The Hunger Games is one of the most gripping, enjoyable, emotional books that I have read in many months. It’s a book I didn’t want to end, and I wish the next book was out already. It’s a book I’ll keep talking about and recommending to my friends for a long time. Get yourself a copy! Highly recommended!