Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins didn't need a movie to make her books fly off the shelves. Not long after her break-out book "The Hunger Games" was released, Collins became a name familiar to all. If you hadn't read the book, you knew at least five people that had or were reading it.

I hate to say it, but this was the primary reason I stayed away from the series for so long. I'm not a fan of following hype, and this book seemed to have a huge following of young adult readers with much different tastes than I. Finally, after being persuaded by my brother and some coworkers, I gave in and bought the first book. I would have borrowed it from the library, but I wanted to be able to read it sometime this year (the reserved list is very long for all of Collins' books.)

Two chapters in, I was hooked. The imagery was fantastic, the character development detailed. Flashbacks or memories of any kind were very subtle and tastefully done. The plot was well thought out, and the outcome (I thought at least) was not expected.

If you haven't read this one, I suggest you stop reading at this point: there will be a few spoilers and I don't want to ruin one bit of the book for you.

First, let's explain "The Games":

The Hunger Games were established seventy-four years before at the start of this book. There was a great war in Panem (formerly known as the USA) between the producers (also known in the books as Districts) and the government (known here as The Capital.) There were thirteen districts, each in charge of making something for the Capital. For example: District 12 (Katniss' district) was in charge of coal mining, while District 7 was in charge of fishing. The Capital came out on top in the war, demolishing District 13 and created The Annual Hunger Games as a reminder to the districts: We are in charge: resistance is useless.

While the Hunger Games might seem like just a heartless ploy from the Capital to show the Districts who's in charge, it becomes clear that is not the games only function. While putting the Districts 'in their place,' it is also setting them against themselves. The Districts are all pretty far apart for a reason, and when the war broke out the Capital saw just how powerful the thirteen were together. After years of seeing one District's kids kill others' kids, it was enough to create a clear divide between them all.

Now, let's take a look at the main characters:

Fan art by 
Protagonist Katniss Everdeen is just sixteen when the story begins. She is the oldest of two and, while she has a mother, she clearly feels she cannot rely on her for much. She took to hunting years back to help feed her family. Her weapon of choice: a bow and arrow crafted by her father before he died in a mining incident. Being the great and protective sister she is, she volunteers to take her sister Prim's place when she is called in for The Games - unintentionally winning the hearts of not just her District, but of the Capital citizens as well.

Katniss is a very unusual lead character for several reasons. One, she is not made out to be overly attractive. She isn't described as ugly, but more just as a plain, short girl. She is also very tough. It was on her shoulders and no one else's that her family survived her father's death. While most female lead characters tend to be more girly and boy crazy, the idea of dresses and kissing is far from her mind. She is assertive, hot-headed, and very logical: my kind of woman.

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Next, we have Gale. Gale has been Katniss' hunting partner for quite some time when we join the story. He is tall, statuesque, and stubborn. He has a much larger family than Katniss, and is also the breadwinner of his bunch. From the description we get from Katniss, you might think he was her older brother, and that all of his siblings were hers as well. Gale has one thing though that has always troubled her: a very rebellious heart. There are penalties for bad mouthing the Capital - the Capital has many, many ways of finding out if you have been doing so, and Gale does not usually trouble himself to keep quiet.

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What becomes apparent pretty soon into the story is Gale's affection towards Katniss. In his ideal world, he and Katniss would just run away together and live out their days in peace. Katniss, for one reason or another, is confused when he brings this up. She tells him everything, so he should know she doesn't want that at all. She doesn't want to marry, have kids, or anything like that. She just wants to lay low and make sure her family doesn't starve.

Then we get to Haymich. Oh Haymich. The town drunkard. He is the only Victor (winner of The Games) District 12 has ever had, and our protagonist cannot imagine how he managed it. After the tributes are picked, Katniss and her fellow Tribute, Peeta, have to bully him into staying sober long enough to help them try to win. Inspired by their spunk, he agrees. He proves to be a valuable resource to them; especially Katniss as they seem to understand each other more than either could have imagined.

Fan art by thathapachick
Peeta is a man who seems to spring out of the clear blue for Katniss. He is a far back memory she cringes to remember. This memory is what gives us a clear glimpse at what kind of guy Peeta is. He may not be as statuesque as Gale, but he makes up for it with kindness, thoughtfulness, and tact. He is very simple in his thoughts, which is incredibly hard for Katniss to understand.

He doesn't play games, and he doesn't like tricking people. Of course, he is forced into a scenario where you play games or die, and he is obviously out of place. When you add to all of this his long-standing crush on Katniss, playing the Game becomes a whole other story, where he either tries to save her, or save himself. He never fails to show throughout the book his struggle to hang on to what little humanity there is in the Game, and it is his spirit and his wisdom that begins to fire the flames of a revolution.

Fan art by kmurphy

While there are several other characters I could go on and on about, this review is getting very long. So let's talk (finally) about my personal favorite: Cinna. Cinna is Katniss' designer for the Games. He is new to the team, and clearly less insane than other designers in 'the show.' He has a touch of humanity that doesn't seem to exist elsewhere in the Capital. While other designers vie to make their tributes wild and eye-catching to the point of extravagant tackiness. Cinna, on the other hand, doesn't seek to make a name for himself. Rather, he does everything in his power to make "The Girl on Fire" memorable.

I would definitely rate The Hunger Games 5 stars. This is a very powerful beginning of a very moving series. It is not meant for the squeamish or for younger children that might not be able to understand the bigger picture. If you are looking for a light read with a happy ending, this book is not for you. If you are looking for a page turner that will leave you on the edge of your seat (or sofa) for more than half of the story, be ready to invest in the next two books because you won't be able to wait another minute to find out what happens next.

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