It is always a good sign when you read a book in just over a day. This book is extremely easy to read and Collins keeps the tension going almost throughout.
The author says that the idea for the book came as she was switching backwards and forwards between reality TV in which young people were competing for prizes and a documentary programme about a war, showing young people fighting. In the Hunger Games, twelve teenage girls and twelve teenage boys are released into a controlled environment and required to slaughter one another until there is only one left. This is televised.
It is set in a dystopian future. Unusually for so many books like this, the back story is told lightly and the details are allowed to percolate out throughout the narrative. The US has been replaced by a capital and twelve outlying districts; there used to be thirteen but one rebelled and were exterminated, shades of the twelve tribes of Israel and the annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin. But there are far more echoes of Ancient Rome: for example, the stylist who prepares Katniss for the television appearances before the games (including a procession in a chariot) is called Cinna. Each district is organised around a particular service, thus one district is Agriculture and district twelve, from which the heroine, Katniss, comes, is mining. She herself doesn't mine, her dad did and died in an explosion; Katniss hunts (illegally) with a boy called Gale. At the annual Reaping the names of all the teenagers in the district are put into a hat and one girl and one boy are drawn at random to represent the district in the Hunger Games. The name of Prim, twelve year old sister of Katniss is drawn, and Katniss volunteers to take her place.
She and her fellow tribute, Peeta the baker's son, travel to the Capital where they are interviewed and prepared for the Games. During the interviews Katniss discovers that Peeta is in love with her. But is this just a strategy? Is he attempting to lull her into a false sense of security so that he can kill her? Remember: only one will survive. But the theme of the star-crossed lovers plays so well on television that Katniss is persuaded to play along with it (although she worries what Gale might think). After all, during the early stages of the games tributes often form alliances to eliminate the opposition before, inevitably, having to fight among themselves.
What is about this book that has made it so successful? Clearly the idea of crossing a TV gameshow with war was a brilliant idea but gladitorial contests to the death in a dystopian future is not exactly new.
The story itself is well told. In chapter one (23 pages) we establish that Katniss is an expert hunter and that she (intriguingly, it is not until page 11 that we can be certain that Katniss is a girl) has a very good friend called Gale. Her father is dead and she had to look after herself and her little sister as well as her motherwhen her mother was distraught with grief. At the end of the chapter, Prim is chosen for the Games. All the chapters end of great cliff-hangers, encouraging you to read on straight away. In chapter two, Peeta is chosen and we are immediately into conflicting emotions: Katniss is grateful to Peeta because he kept her alive when she was starving but she knows she might be forced to kill him (and he will try to kill her). The games themselves don't start until page 172 and on page 187 we discover that Peeta has allied himself with a group of strong tributes.
There is, of course, twists and turns throughout the story and some lovely twists near the end. The final page, even the last sentence, is all about the emotions, preparing for the sequel.
The tension of a Games where the protagonist is hunting and being hunted is well told and keeps you reading. But what makes this book special is the emotional side of it all. Can Katniss trust Peeta? He claims he loves her, does she love him? Is his love, as she initially suspects, just a way of lulling her into a false sense of security? Does she actually (although she certainly wouldn't acknowledge it) love Gale, the boy left back home? And what Peeta actually does when they are in the arena make the reader ask the same questions: what game is he actually playing? And what will happen in the end when only one player can survive? Star-crossed lovers indeed.
Katniss is a wonderful personality. She is incredibly protective of her little sister Prim but she also has a lot of anger inside her. She is angry with her mother for failing to look after Prim and her when her father died. She is angry with the system. She doesn't like feeling obliged to people. She hates being put on show. She is afraid of being killed but she also feels guilty when she kills. She is wonderfully teenage in every way: surly and sullen, oscillating between loving beautiful clothes and wanting to run off into the woods and get dirty, hating and caring, wanting to love and to be loved but scared of trusting.
The other characters are nicely drawn but we only ever see them through the eyes of Katniss (and she doesn't like many people!)
The writing is good with sentences averaging about ten words but with a nice variety of length; the paragraphs are also mostly short but varied.
Fun to read. April 2016; 436 pages
Here is my review of the sequel: Catching Fire and of the third book in the trilogy: Mockingjay
This is a great book as a really well-written teenage thriller but for raw young adult emotion I would recommend The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and for the world's funniest teenage road trip Paper Towns, also by John Green
Vernon God Little is another novel which has a reality TV element to it (when Vernon's trial is televised) although it is set in a modern America. Vernon's friends and neighbours are hideous but instantly recognisably comic grotesques and the writing is alittle more literay than The Hunger Games.
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57