Book review of The Hunger Games

Ah, The Hunger Games. If you haven’t yet heard of the name Katniss, you will soon. She is set to become as famous as Hermione Granger and Bella Swan: the new female protagonist in a very successful series of books by the former children’s tv show writer Suzanne Collins. But what is all the fuss about? And is it all justified?

The Hunger Games has taken the world by storm. Its simple story line, a kind of cross between a simple love story/love triangle (very reminiscent of much of Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ novels) and dystopian fiction, allows it to tackle weighty subjects without getting too bogged down in a moralistic and political approach.

Photo of The Hunger Games original book cover

A simple synopsis

Katniss and Peeta, the boy-with-the-bread, are forced to compete in the terrifying Hunger Games, a reality tv programme that is streamed live to all citizens of the Capitol (the main ruling class of people who live in luxury and control the 12 districts that lie beneath them on the hierarchical ladder). This is no Big Brother, though. Each contestant must survive and kill the others so that the last man or woman standing is the sole victor.

The Good

1. One aspect on which Collins cannot be faulted is her ability to create a suspenseful and dramatic tale. The plot propels its readers forward at breakneck speed, and it is a classic page-turner. The ethical issues it raises are profound – not just for children or teenagers, but for adults, too. I will not elaborate lest I slip in some spoilers, but this is a moving novel about the struggle for identity and survival in conditions that scream worthlessness and the negligible value of human life.

2. In my opinion, this book has much more going for it than others in its genre, and it would be unfair (as many have) simply to categorise it under the same bracket as ‘Twilight’ because its themes reach more deeply into what it means to be a human being, and simultaneously force a reader to contemplate his or her own position as an interpreter of the events that unravel in each chapter. Anyone who enjoys certain aspects of the novel must question the pleasure felt whilst reading it, and an engagement with the text will definitely provoke careful and rigorous thinking upon the prejudices and preconceptions one held when one first encountered the novel.

2. As you are reading the text, look out for the names that are used. Peeta (pita, like the bread), Katniss, Prim (rose), President Snow and Coin – in the sequels – have very symbolic names that are interestingly deployed for dramatic effect. I also think that the name of the series, The Hunger Games, is particularly powerful, and the repeated ‘g’ sounds reflect a sense of harshness that typifies the subjects discussed within the works.

3. There are also examples of genuinely good writing from Collins, for example the moment when Katniss asks Peeta what his favourite colour is, and he replies that it is orange (‘Not bright orange. But soft. Like the sunset’), and she has some effective aphorisms about what it means to kill and what it means to be treated as savagely as the contestants with the brutal Hunger Games.Photo of Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games trilogy

The Bad

But too often the writing is forced – after all, Collins chooses a 1st person perspective and frequently tries to bend around this position in order to describe events in a more objective way. Katniss is used as a vehicle through which the plot can be narrated, and, in the heat of a battle or a climactic moment, the verisimilitude is somewhat lost due to lengthy descriptions of the surrounding flora of the environment or of the suspense felt by other characters.

Final thoughts

However, in general, one major plus in Collins’ work is the fact that the protagonist, Katniss, is strong, resilient, and believable. In contrast to Bella Swan, for example (who, even in the recent feminist documentary ‘Miss Representation’ was given as an example of a successful female protagonist despite the fact that she spends every single day waiting around for the love of her life to come and save her), Katniss is pro-active. The focus is not so much on the love, which is forced at the start and develops up until an ambiguous end (even at the culmination of the trilogy). Katniss is not even sure that she likes either of them in reality, and she is most firmly the centre of attention. She stands up for what she believes in, and, personally, I would much rather she were given as an example of a female role model than Miss Swan. In the movie, too, Katniss is portrayed as self-willed and confident, and is juxtaposed sharply with her mother who is weak and frail.

Assessment

So, in conclusion, this is a great book that I would give 4/5 stars. Don’t be put off reading it if you are not a teenager any longer, for the writing is sharp and thought-provoking, the characters are well-defined and developed, and it will leave you pondering the way that entertainment and the class system work in the 21st century.

Source of both photos: 1

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