The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (New York: Scholastic Inc., 2008. 384 pp)

Suzanne Collins began her writing career in children’s television. While working for Nickelodeon, Collins wrote for many shows, chief among them Clarissa Explains it All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. Eventually, Collins moved to children’s literature writing a five-part series, The Underland Chronicles. Her Hunger Games trilogy, however, has received high acclaim, and the first book has been adapted into a major motion picture. Collins lives in Connecticut with her family.

A Trilogy

Trilogy is not only a word that piques the interest of an avid subset of moviegoers, but is also a word that equals a goldmine for movie executives. No matter the genre or story the movie business leaves every big budget narrative open ended to ensure unending story-lines and movies.
From a business perspective, I completely understand the strategy. Who wouldn’t want a continuous influx of cash? From an artistic perspective, however, trilogies leave much to be desired.

The Hunger and the Game

The Hunger Games is the latest “it” story for young adults. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games follows the lives of protagonists Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mallark in the dystopian ruins of North America – now called “Panem”.
Set in a period after a failed rebellion, Panem is ruthlessly ruled by The Capitol – a centralized city guarded by the Rocky Mountains. The Capitol reigns over twelve districts pillaging the resources of these communities leaving them barely above subsistence. In fact, the lack of resources leaves many citizens wishing for a quick and painless death instead of starvation. At one point, Katniss states,

“Anyway, Gale and I agree that if we have to choose between dying of hunger and a bullet in the head, the bullet would be much quicker” (17).

As a means of controlling the population and instilling fear in the districts, The Capitol holds “The Hunger Games” every year. By law, The Capitol holds a raffle selecting one male and one female under the age of eighteen as “tributes” to compete in these lethal games. The sole survivor’s region wins one year’s worth of resources.
Describing the influence of The Capitol on her district, Katniss complains,

“Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch – this is The Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. ‘Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen’” (18-19).

As chance has it, The Capitol selects Katniss and Peeta from District 12 (the region inhabited by our protagonists). Swept onto a train, the duo travels to The Capitol to be made over, advertised, and trained to kill. Despite the perpetual underdog status of District 12, Katniss’ hunting ability and Peeta’s brute strength provides a higher amount of hope for their families and friends back home.
No matter the ethical stance on violence, each tribute must fight when they enter the arena. Gruesomely, every second of The Hunger Games is televised with mandatory watching for each district as punishment for the rebellion. Of course, some will find such games entertaining much like the Roman gladiatorial games but most consider watching the deaths of their family and friends to be horrifying. Understanding this voyeurism, the tributes play to the crowds in order to gain favor.
At one point Katniss responds with the viewers in mind,

“The thought makes me smile. I drop my hands and hold my face up to the moonlight so the cameras can be sure to catch it” (248).

  When a Good Plot Suffers from Profit

Despite this extremely compelling plot, I found The Hunger Games lacking. With prose and marketing pointing toward a trilogy, the novel loses its edginess. In a fight-to-the-death battle arena, what fear does the reader have for Katniss, and Peeta to a lesser extent, when he or she knows that two more installments are on their way? Yes, given the rules of the games, a district member will eventually need to kill the other district member.  But what does it matter provided that the district gains resources?
In this simple principle lies my greatest annoyance with The Hunger Games. I wanted to feel the tenseness of the arena as Katniss and Peeta fight for survival, but I didn’t because I knew that death meant no more story, and no more story means no trilogy.
I know the upcoming feature film of The Hunger Games will make everyone involved incredibly rich. Sadly, the pursuit of external wealth inhibits the effectiveness of the story. For this reason, I find it difficult to recommend The Hunger Games.

Verdict: 2 out of 5
Posted by: Donovan Richards
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8 Comments Leave a comment
  • Corey P.

    Hmmm… too bad you didn't enjoy the series. I, for one, found it to be magnificent series – several cuts above the drivel that passes for YA fiction these days. 🙂

    I can sorta understand your frustration, but speaking for myself, the idea of two more installments didn't detract from the story's edginess or intelligence in the least. Perhaps it's a preference thing. At any rate, I strongly urge you to read the rest of the trilogy – Collins' vision for the story is best seen when all three books are considered as one.

    You wrote that “from an artistic perspective… trilogies leave much to be desired.” This being the case, what is your opinion of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings?

  • Jessica

    This isn't one I will ever read as I don't tent to get on with YA books anyway. I have brought the trilogy for my brother for christmas ()he likes this kind of thing) but being in the UK he knows little about them.

  • Donovan Richards

    Corey – Props for an intriguing question regarding Lord of the Rings. Truthfully, I read The Lord of the Rings when I was in the YA target audience. So it's been awhile and my recollection of the series is mostly positive. I do think that its serialized nature took some tenseness away. I recall not being shocked while reading about Frodo and the Shelob in The Two Towers. If the story ended with The Two Towers, Frodo's death would have been a shocker. Knowing that there was another installment left my indifferent to the drama of that scene.

    I must, however, admit that I agree with you. The Hunger Games is a cut above the rest of the YA drivel. I just wanted it to be even better. The idea is brilliant but the need for a feel good ending hurts the edginess of the “games”.

    Jessica – I don't usually read YA either. I chose to read The Hunger Games for two reasons. First, I've read some pretty heady books recently and needed a sort of easy read detox. Second, I have had numerous friends who read similar literature recommend the story so I thought I'd give it a try. The book isn't bad; I just wish it was better.

  • Corey P.

    @Donovan: Ah, okay. I understand where you're coming from; perhaps this is merely an issue of what one looks for artistically in a book. A matter of taste. What doesn't bother me may bother you, and vice-versa.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond – I always enjoy reading your reviews, even when I don't necessarily agree with your conclusions. 😀

  • Andrew Jacobson

    I've heard, though I have yet to substantiate these claims through my own reading, that once you've read the trilogy the first book becomes better in retrospect. Perhaps I need to take a look at all three.

  • Jessie

    As you mentioned to me, it is indeed a page turner. A great read over Christmas break, I am finding. I think the main issue I have with Katniss's character is that she doesn't really seem to be trying very hard to make a difference. Her most defining moment is when she stands in for her sister at the very beginning of the book. From then on it's kind of downhill. I don't feel like I ever get to know her better or see her grow or change. When she returns (especially in the second book, thus far) she is the same girl.

    Also, in regards to the Lord of the Rings trilogy… it was written as a single volume. Not intended to be split into three. That was the publisher's choice. Not Tolkien's.

  • Donovan Richards

    I completely agree, Jessie. Katniss never did anything that made me want to root for her. Her role as protagonist made me root for her by default but I was never drawn to her.

    Also, I just finished reading A Game of Thrones, the first installment in the Song of Fire and Ice series. Considering it has seven parts, color me surprised at the amount of carnage and bloodshed involving major characters.

  • Portugal

    This is one of the best trilogies I have ever read! I couldnt put any of the books down. The characters in this books are so intriguing. The story lines, absolutely amazing! I could reread all three over and over again. Cannot wait to see the movies.

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