The Hunger Games (Spoilers)

Written by Suzanne Collins

From the Back:  In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

My wife’s family had their Christmas get-together this past weekend and I was given the chance to continue reading The Hunger Games.  I had started it just before Christmas, but only had a handful of days to read it and those days were quite busy, so I was forced to return my borrowed copy.  This past weekend, however, was ideal and I tore through the book in a couple of days.  It is hard to dismiss the hype.  The book is fast-paced and the plot does not thematically wear out its welcome.

As far as youth fiction goes, the thematic material is surprising to me.  First of all, it involves children killing children.  Often we are hyper-sensitive to this subject in the U.S.  I remember about a decade ago when Warren Ellis wrote an issue of Hellblazer which dealt with a school shooting.  It was tastefully done as it dealt with the aftermath and John Constantine was brought in to discover what sort of evil would have caused this tragedy.  The answer came down to a superficial society and indifferent parenting.  The issue was cancelled due to concerns over sensitivity.  Curiously, this past television season saw the debut of American Horror Story on FX.  This show portrayed a school-shooting that was obviously referencing a Columbine-style shooting.  Has the climate in the U.S. changed so much that this subject is now digestible by the mainstream, able to be included in youth fiction without a public outcry?  It seems that the biggest controversy surrounding the novel is its similarity to the Japanese novel Battle Royale (a criticism which is largely ridiculous, in my opinion).

A second theme that caught me off-guard was the genetic manipulation of the children who were killed in the games.  Near the end of the game all those killed returned as mutated wolf creatures, a hybrid of wolves and humans.  While the book does little but portray the shock and action surrounding the revelation, I found this one of the more disturbing elements of the novel.  It doesn’t dwell on it, however.  In fact, this could be a perceived weakness of the story as Collins does little in the way of social commentary.  The reader can make links to the real world, but I don’t see attempts by the author to do so.  This isn’t a grievous crime, however.  The story is still entertaining.

Final Verdict: The Hunger Games is a great weekend read.  Suzanne Collins does some great world-building, creates a compelling scenario and characters, and keeps the novel moving along at a near-perfect pace.

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