The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
I have to admit I am not this book's target audience. As a thirtysomething man, I'm pretty far from this book's target audience. In fact I wouldn't have bought this except it was on sale and with the movie coming out and whatnot I decided to see what the hubbub was all about. I was more than a little surprised to find it engrossing enough that I decided to forsake going to bed tonight to finish the last 15%. I can't remember the last time that happened.
The story itself isn't all that new. There's been natural disasters and wars and a fascist regime has taken over what used to be North America but is now called Panem. There are 12 "districts" that each supply the Capitol (formerly Denver) with goods and materials. While people in the Capitol live high off the hog, possessing technology that sometimes rivals "Star Trek," the people of the districts live in practically the Middle Ages.
In District 12 is a girl named Katniss Everdeen. After her father died, Katniss took over raising her family--her mother and her younger sister Primrose (Prim). The situation reminded me a lot of "Winter's Bone" and like the elder daughter in that book/movie, Katniss is the one who puts food on the table by hunting and foraging with her friend Gale.
Then along come the moment of the Hunger Games. Each year there's a sort of gladiatorial fight between a boy and girl taken from each district. The 24 "tributes" fight to the death and the last one standing lives a life of comfort, which reminded me of Stephen King's "The Long Walk." When Prim is picked to go, Katniss volunteers herself instead. (I don't consider that as a spoiler since it's in commercials for the movie...) Katniss and a boy named Peeta are shipped off to the Capitol where they are eventually herded into "the arena," a landscape that if not artificially created is at least artificially controlled.
From there it's basically like the TV show "Survivor" mixed with Stephen King's "The Running Man" where the tributes are all trying to survive the elements while also trying to kill each other. As a skilled hunter Katniss has an edge in that, but she's reluctant to kill human beings.
Anyway, unlike the over 5000 5-star reviewers I'm not going to gush about how amazing the book is. It's not really. The writing is plain and there were at least four errors I highlighted on my Kindle. It's certainly not Hemingway or Faulkner or Proust but then again the book's audience has probably never heard of any of those gentlemen.
So really taking the book at what it is, it is an exciting story of survival and romance. The romance is a little blah but then I'm a bitter old man (at least to the target audience) so what do I know? Once the Games begin, it's hard not to get drawn into Katniss's struggle to survive.
One of the things that annoys me though is that she gets a lot of help in this. It reminded me of Perseus (the guy in "Clash of the Titans" for all you kids), who was given all this stuff by the gods: a magic sword, a shield, a helmet, a Pegasus. For Katniss it was more down-to-earth things like medicine and food, but still there was always someone to bail her out. It devalues her struggle a little when she has to rely on the kindness of strangers.
Also Katniss seemed a little dense at times, especially regarding Peeta. I suppose you could chalk it up to her lifestyle in District 12, but really it was pretty obvious what was going on with Peeta. Why was she the last one to see it?
Anyway, I'm not sure what the sequels are about and I don't really care. Maybe they explain why that pin the mayor's daughter gave her was so important? I thought it must be some talisman for certain rebellious elements, but nothing really happens with it in this book.
Still, even for this bitter old man it wasn't a bad read.
That is all.