I’ve been hearing good things about The Hunger Games for a couple of years now, and I always meant to read it, but never got the chance. Now that the final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, is about to make its way into anxious fans’ hands at midnight release parties across the country, I figured it was time to start the series and see if it lived up to all the hype.
The story takes place in an undetermined future where Panem, “the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America”, and its central Capitol rules over 12 outlying Districts, each of which is required to send one boy and one girl each year to participate in The Hunger Games. Broadcast nation-wide, the Games feature the 24 “tributes” battling to the death, with the winner being set for life, and bringing wealth and glory back to their District.
We follow Katniss Everdeen, tribute from District 12, as she is thrust into the games, and fights, literally and figuratively, to stay alive, and to somehow show the Capitol that the people are not totally at their mercy.
On the positive side, I read three-quarters of book in one day; it’s written that well. The story moves quickly, and had enough action and little “twists” to keep it interesting. The world of The Hunger Games, and it’s 12 Districts, is well fleshed-out, even though most of our interaction is with just a few characters.
The negative side isn’t so much a negative per se, it’s just a matter of perceptions; it’s very much a “young adult” novel. Don’t get me wrong; I love YA fiction, some of my favorite post-apocalyptic books are YA. But you have to realize going in that some of the details of the story may be “smoothed over” so to speak, and there may be elements of the plot that don’t seem very realistic, but are necessary for the story to progress.
For example, the District where Katniss lives has been sending two of it’s children to die every year for 75 years. But there’s no talk of families trying to flee, or anguished mothers wailing in grief as their child’s name is called at the Reaping. And after being chosen, Katniss, and the other tributes, don’t seem to be really taking the situation seriously. If I knew I had barely a few weeks to live, and was likely to die a horrible death, I’d be haunted, and would devote every waking moment to planning and strategizing. Katniss and the other characters acknowledge that they’re not likely to win the Games, but almost seem to brush off that fact. And the interaction between Katniss and the Gamemakers and the Capitol is a bit simplistic and contrived.
But like I said, as long as you know going in what you’re likely to get, none of that really matters. Even though you know the chances of a 16 year old girl challenging a long-standing dystopic government hover around zero, you can still cheer for her each time she’s able to stick it to them, however unlikely it would be. You can enjoy it simply as an action story where the underdog makes good, and where personal independence trumps the evil Big Brother government.
So even though I doubt that when I get to book 3, I’m going to think of it as “the end of an era”, I’m definitely looking forward to finishing the series, and seeing what happens to Katniss and those around her.