Published by Scholastic
Hardcover, September 2008
A post-apocalyptic, dystopic future with a refaced global map where children fight to the death for entertainment of the masses might sound harsh and unforgiving. Well, if one were to make such an assumption, one would be correct. This description applies to one of the most popular and acclaimed young adult novels of the recent past – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
In this future, following a major collapse, the nations of North America have come together as the super nation known as Panem a nation divided into 12 districts. Every year one boy and one girl is chosen from each state to participate in the Hunger Games. Think something like the competition depicted in The Running Man, but rather than hardened experienced men, you have young boys and girls fighting for the entertainment of the general populace, and a chance at a less harsh life.
Our view point character, courtesy of an incredibly engaging first person narrator, is Katniss Everdeen of District 12, the poorest district in Panem. Although Katniss is the primary participant from the reader’s perspective, the name of her younger sister Prim was actually pulled out of the lottery. As is Katniss’s right, she stepped in and took her sister’s place to fight in what amounts to the largest television set ever created – a fully functioning environment known simply as “the arena.”
The boy chosen from District 12 is Peeta, a young man of Katniss’s age with whom Katniss shares a special bond. Peeta is the son of a baker and provided Katniss with a free loaf of bread to save her family from starvation. I won’t be spoiling anything if I say these two characters find themselves in something of a romance. Though that essential element is fine in its predictability, where Collins’s narrative excels is in the strings she pulls in the plot bringing the two characters together, apart, and together again.
The plotting throughout the novel is brisk and Collins’s style has that page-turning quality that proves ever more addictive the deeper into the story one delves. Through Katniss, we learn bits and pieces of how the world crumbled – at least North America – and rose into the nation of Panem. What makes Collins method of informing the reader about the world is that we don’t know much more than our protagonist, and this puts the reader ever more into the story.
We also learn of the hybrid creatures that populate the world – mockingjays, which are a cross between a mockingbird and a genetically created jabberjay; Muttations and Wolf Mutts – creatures that can best be described as synthetically engineered werewolves; and trackerjays, wasps that make killer bees seem as painful and harmful as a baby moth. Moreso than the creatures, where Collins succeeds in posting this future world is in the everyday life of its characters and how it is a reflection of the world at large.
The Hunger Games is one of those rare books that has received a lot of buzz and garnered something of a cult following and at this point two years after its initial publication, brand recognition. Collins has succeeded in creating something worthy of that recognition. The Hunger Games is effective with its mythic overtones and as a powerful science fiction novel that warns of the dangers of too much government control and how much worse things can get.
© 2010 Rob H. Bedford