Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: YA/ Dystopian
Like many internet denizens, it has not escaped my notice that a certain YA novel seems to be making lots of waves in the world wide web (no, not Twilight). I mean of course, The Hunger Games – a novel I’ll be honest, I’ve actually been trying to ignore for awhile now. Perhaps I should explain – as a teenager I practically overdosed on dystopian novels, and now that I’m slightly older and I guess with more things to worry about, reading dystopian novels has held considerably less appeal. When looking for leisure reading I’ll tend towards escapist fluff, especially when it comes to my YA. But what with the trailer out and all, there has been a flurry of excitement over at Tumblr and I’ve felt compelled to pick it up. And boy am I glad I did. To give you an idea of how much of a page-turner this book is, I bought the book yesterday morning at 11am and finished it the same day by 5pm. I did this when I should have been writing a 2,000 word essay.
So for those of you not in the know, The Hunger Games is set in a not-so-distant future where North America has largely been destroyed and is now called Panem. Panem is made up of 12 districts, all ruled by the oppressive Capitol who forces the other districts to give up a boy and girl each year as tribute to The Hunger Games, a gladiatorial event that is broadcast for the entertainment of those in the Capitol.
Initially I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how I felt about the narration – especially in the first couple of pages. I felt like the narrative voice was bit over-dramatic considering Katniss has only just gotten out of bed. I think you’re meant to get the feeling that this is a character who has been through a lot (and indeed she has), but instead of the kind of world-weariness that I guess I would expect from such a character, it all just feels a bit trite, i.e. “Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we’ll come to love”. That said I suppose the doom and gloom of the narration could be justified considering it’s not just any old miserable day in District 12, but the day of the Reaping. So maybe this is an issue that’s really just down to personal preference.
Once the plot starts moving along though, these concerns are thrown completely out the window. When Katniss’ sister Prim gets chosen for The Hunger Games there’s no more time for mere exposition – it all becomes about Katniss and her will to survive and make it out of the games for the sake of her family.
I have to say that I definitely find Katniss quite a refreshing female main character – not because she’s a warrior (which isn’t an uncommon representation of female characters to be honest), but because of all the YA novels I’ve ever read, she definitely seems to have her priorities set in the way I imagine someone in her position would. I imagine in the hands of another author the relationship with Peeta would have definitely turned romantic, whereas I felt that in this case while you feel that there’s the possibility for romantic development between the two, in the context of their situation there is no way it would have realistically come to bloom. Katniss wasn’t interested in romance, not because she didn’t have the capacity to be romantically involved with someone, but because why the fuck would you if you’re busy trying to fight everyone else in the Hunger Games to the death? Her relationship with Peeta, like her relationship with Rue, developed out of a need for basic human affection and trust; a universal need and one that takes precedence over romantic love when your situation is one of constant danger and the need to make it out alive. And I really appreciated that. I really appreciated that there is a strong relationship between two characters where the basis for the relationship is so much more complex then just attraction; it’s friendship, gratitude, relief, comradeship and very occasionally, self-interest (certainly on Katniss’s part anyway).
Which is the other thing I find refreshing about Katniss. I like that while she does genuinely care for Peeta she’s not above faking a romance if it will get her sponsors and increase their chances of making it out alive. Considering how the media usually portrays women, it’s nice to have the female character be more worldly-wise than the male one for a change (i.e. the way she understands Haymitch will only send sponsor gifts if she plays up the romance, while Peeta is happily oblivious to the strings attached to the gifts) all of this without either character presented as being any less smart or less capable than the other.
As many others have pointed out, the satire on our fixation with reality TV and the way it makes sport of human misery has basically been taken to it’s logical conclusion, with competitors actually having to kill each other to ‘win’. Just like in reality TV there’s a carefully crafted image and appearance each competitor portrays, tactical moves to win favour with sponsors, etc. which is a really interesting take. I also found the examination of class issues fascinating, especially with policies such as the tesserae: where those who are eligible for the Hunger Games get their name put in the Hunger Games lottery an extra time for each tesserae they take out in exchange for basic necessities, such as cooking oil and grain. I’m sure there are plenty of policies in real life we can think up that reflect exactly this sort of mentality, the one where certain people are expendable.
Basically there’s plenty of food for thought, and the plot is very well-paced. I’d definitely reccommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet read The Hunger Games. In the meantime I’ll leave you with a trailer (the white-washing discussion will have to have it’s own post, after I’ve actually seen the movie):