Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 of Panem with her mother and little sister Primrose. After the death of her father and her mother's subsequent breakdown, she has had to take charge of her little family, risking the death penalty daily by entering the woods with best friend Gale to hunt for food.

Every year, one boy and one girl from each district aged between 12 and 18 are selected to take part in The Hunger Games - a fight-to-the-death reality show where there can only be one victor. Once you turn 12, your name is entered and is again with every birthday. There are also ways to buy food, which is scarce in many districts, by adding your name even more times.

For 16 year old Katniss, the odds are not in her favour. She has been getting food and supplies for her family by adding her name to the pot and for her age has been entered five times already. 12 year old sister Prim has only been entered once. But when the name for the girl Tribute in District 12 is called out, Katniss is horrified to hear that of her little sister. She immediately steps forward and volunteers as Tribute in her sister's place - becoming one of the 24 young people who will, in a few short days, be dropped into the games.

In Katniss Everdeen, Collins has created a fantastic female lead. She is flawed in her social skills, cold and harsh with her mother and does not really understand the world, romance or love. But at the heart of it all she is a survivor. She loves her sister in a protective maternal way, but other than that she looks at each day as a battle, a hunt for food, for trade, for carrying on whichever way she can.

The reality show style of the games means that she quickly becomes more a pageant show contestant than a fighting machine, trying to win the affection of sponsors who will then drop things into the game to help her along the way. Though she knows she must ultimately kill him, she is advised by her team to befriend Peeta, the boy chosen to represent District 12 alongside her. The two are the only District pair to enter the procession holding hands and they share their training time, while others work alone.

"They want a good show" she is told. And so, because she will do whatever she has to to survive, she goes along with it. She blushes, flirts and plays up the romance to the cameras. Anything to put the odds more in her favour. The relationship that develops between the two, and all its hidden understones, is a fascinating one as Katniss starts to realise that perhaps it is not all just for the cameras.

The book also has an incredibly fast pace, even for the massive stints when Katniss is alone in the games. She is always thinking, always planning, so there is always something to do, some plan to follow. When each chapter ends, you just want to keep reading to see what is around the next corner.

The book has striking parallels to Battle Royale but fans of the book and film of the Japanese hit should not be put off. The Hunger Games is an entirely different approach to the same concept. It is a young adult fiction book and set in a dystopian fantasy style reality instead of the "real world" of the Battle Royale. By doing this, it manages to be different enough that fans will not be constantly comparing the two. Battle Royale is a much darker novel and though the violence still exists in The Hunger Games, it is not nearly as terrifying. A few nasty deaths did make me wince but they are more ugly than scary.

The fantasy element is not just in the customs, clothing and names of Panem's inhabitants but in the creatures. There are genetically modified birds that mimic song, the muttations - creatures that are wolf-like in nature but also walk like humans, and tracker jackers - wasps that have an enhanced sting that can easily kill a person.

A superb, clever and imaginative book that left me dying to read the following two books in the trilogy.

I cannot WAIT for the film in March 2012!

4.5/5 FOBLES

Read my review of Book 2 in the series Catching Fire here

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review. You nailed it without giving anything away! We haven't had any decent female sci-fi or fantasy leads like Sara Connor, Morgan Adams and Charly Baltimore for some time so if will be interesting to see if the Katniss character can pick up where they left off. I don't think she will pull any bad punches ;)