Genre: Sci-Fi / Dystopian
Published: September 2009 (Kindle)
Setting: Post-Apocalyptic US
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Back of the Book Blurb:
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual 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 steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
I assiduously avoided this series when it first came out, as I am typically not a fan of science fiction, it is not my habit to read a lot of YA fiction, and the dystopian genre that has become so popular is not something that interests me in and of itself.
These books have met with huge success and almost instantaneous popularity. There again, a reason I tend to shy away until something proves not to be a flash in the pan. But they continue to be bestsellers – all three in the trilogy – and with such rave reviews, I finally broke down and read The Hunger Games. And I loved it. Were it not so widely known to be YA fiction, I would not have immediately recognized it as such. Certainly the two protagonists are teenagers (which is a huge giveaway), but the story itself is not necessarily YA subject matter. Couple that with some tightly crafted writing, and it is easy to see why these books have been such hits.
It is not as though post-apocalyptic settings are particularly new. They’re not. Neither is it a particularly new twist on the socialist, totalitarian government construct. What Collins does here is take old, time-tested themes and weave them into a beautifully constructed story of commitment and love in the face of almost certain death. And it truly is a story of life or death, because the penalty for losing (or being outsmarted) is death…public, (hopefully) gruesome, and brutal. This is not light subject matter for anyone, let alone young adults, and yet it is gripping, captivating, and utterly moving. The more I read, the harder I rooted for Katniss. Collins made me believe she was the angel among demons. She was the bright spot in the dark. She was the one to love…and the one to beat.
This story reminded me so much of The Running Man by Stephen King. A game, set up by a central government, where the penalty is death, and in order to win…to live…cunning and brutality are required. The difference, of course, is that in The Running Man, the game is “voluntary.” In The Hunger Games, it is a part of life, a payback required from the government as a reminder of who had power and who didn’t. I am always amazed, in the dystopian settings, how easily controlled the populations are, but then I am reminded of how most fiction contains elements of truth, and dystopian fiction is no different. We have only to look back in history a few years to Hitler to see the parallels.
All this to say that this is a book worth reading. It is thought provoking, infuriating (in ways), mesmerizing, and in the end, rewarding. I’m looking forward to the second & third installments.