What is it about Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins that enthralls me so much? My husband teases that it’s all the fighting and the killing. He is right that the book is driven by violence. It is also driven by suspense. Which means in either case, it’s not my typical book. I prefer character books; where there is more than action to the story. Hunger Games however is that special hybrid that offers mind-bending and heart-wracking thrills, while also offering up characters to love, settings to absorb, and enough emotional angst and moral probing to leave one slightly unsettled when the book covers are shut.
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Collins reveals much of the depth of her main character Katniss through the memories she relives of family, friends, and neighbors while competing for her life against eleven other selected tributes in the Capitol’s arena of death. Even before being plunged into this nightmare, however, we first see Katniss seek the warm comfort of her sister, anticipate the comfortable presence of best friend Gale, swing by the Hob (a black market) which remains busy even on Reaping Day, and struggling to accept help from her mother. In other words, in just one chapter, Collins successfully presents Katniss as a vulnerable and flawed but likeable character. Then in the very next, her sister’s name is called as a tribute, Katniss volunteers to take her place, and the countdown to the Hunger Games begins. Yet Collins continues to delve deeply into her characters, like a miner burrowing deeper and deeper into the earth, even as the action switches from District 12 to the Capitol and to the Hunger Games arena.
While I also do not particularly gravitate to books about other worlds, setting can enhance a book for me in the same way that large screens and high definition video can enhance the movie-viewing experience. Collins has delineated details so well that her hauntingly medieval but also starkly futuristic setting feels alarmingly real. Each district in her country of Panem lives by a trade, in District 12 children grow up to be coal miners, and suffers from the effects of war. All districts are separated from one another, surrounded by electric fences, and often guarded by Peacekeepers who punish law-breakers with whippings, gallows, or gunfire. Even worse, the Capitol annually requires each district to enter names of children into a drawing, from which one youth per district is picked to compete in the Hunger Games, from which there is allowed to only a single survivor. In ancient times maidens were sacrificed to appease monsters or gods; in Panem, children are thrown into an arena where environmental features such as manufactured wild birds and beasts are dreamt up by the Gamekeepers of the Capitol.
I could rave further about all the positives of Hunger Games. There is Collins’ style: “As I stride to the elevator, I fling my bow to one side and quiver to the other … brush past the Avoxes who guard the elevators and hit the number twelve….” Teachers would definitely praise Collins for her use of WOW words! There is also the thematic undertone: Consider Peeta’s declaration that in the arena: “I want to die as myself.” His stirring words causes a quarrel between him and Katniss that reminds of the varied reactions of contestants on reality shows. Truly Hunger Games holds so many qualities so perfectly blended together that it needs to be your next read.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?