Two readers of this very blog introduced me to The Hunger Games, a trilogy by Suzanne Collins that’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where the US has collapsed and folded itself into 12 discreet districts overseen by a Big Brother-like Capitol. I need to thank those two readers. The first book of The Hunger Games, which I wrapped up very late last night, was fantastic.
Their recommendation came about when I was complaining that Richelle Mead’s Succubus series wasn’t up to her Vampire Academy series’ scratch. What the hell, I wanted to know, could I read to fill the Vampire Academy-shaped hole that had punctured my reading life?
I saw an ad for The Hunger Games’ film adaptation when I was suffering through the after-midnight previews before Breaking Dawn kicked off. How had I missed a series that was successful enough to warrant a silver screen version, I wondered. And when I asked a friend and fellow editor if she’d heard of or read the series her response was: ‘I have friends who literally won’t talk to me any more until I read The Hunger Games. It’s on my list.’
Uhuh, I thought. Guess I’d better get reading.
Collins’ young-adult series was inspired by—what else?—late-night TV channel surfing. She was flicking back and forth between a reality TV show where young people were competing for money and fame and footage of young people fighting a real-life war.
‘…I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story,’ Collins writes in the Getting To Know Suzanne Collins at the back of the book. It perhaps explains the dark and haunting themes of near-future The Hunger Games, which is both the name of the book and the gladiatorial battle to which its protagonists are subjected.
Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark come from District 12, a poor mining town where most of its residents are living hand to mouth. Since her father’s death during an explosion in the mines, Katniss has hunted illegally in the nearby forest in order to help her family survive. When her 12-year-old sister, Prim, is drawn by lottery to be the town’s ‘tribute’ or effective sacrificial lamb to The Hunger Games, 16-year-old Katniss volunteers to go in her place.
It’s effectively a death sentence as, under The Hunger Games rules, competitors are placed in an arena and left to fight to the death until only one remains. With 23 others to contend with, including Peeta, the son of the District 12 baker and someone who gave her bread when she and her family were close to death from starvation, Katniss will be lucky to survive.
On a scale of one to Vampire Academy, The Hunger Games is probably an eight, but that’s huge kudos as that’s the closest any young-adult series has come to date. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to stomach the gruesome parts—logic, after all, dictates that the book has to catalogue 23 characters’ most likely harrowing, bloody deaths. But it was smarter than that, with the focus not on the deaths but on the battle of wits and survival.
Collins’ tale surprised me at every turn, with both her writing and her execution lending new life to an age-old tale of survival of the fittest, albeit one set in the future. It’s better written than Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and Katniss is everything you could ask for in a female protagonist—she’s smart, self-reliant, has spunk, and doesn’t pine for a physically and emotionally unavailable boy (well, not much).
In fact, I couldn’t help but note that if you put Bella in the arena, she’d kill herself tripping over or by giving herself a paper cut long before the other competitors got to her. I have to admit that I also chuckled at Meyer’s inadvertently amusing book blurb: ‘The Hunger Games is amazing’. Like her entire writing style, it’s not exactly the most sophisticated, mind-blowing, or insightful statement.
Still, Meyer has a point: The Hunger Games is amazing and gripping from the very first paragraph of the very first page. I was, thankfully, and in this one instance, forward-thinking enough to order all three books in one hit. Instead of scurrying online to order and then wait for the second book in the series, I’m immediately able to pluck it from my to-be-read pile and crack its spine. I’ll check back in once I’ve read it, which should be, oh, in about two days’ time…