Friday, November 19, 2010

Book review - Seriously, you HAVE to read this

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Children's Books
Year of publication: 2008
Page extent: 400+

I had heard a little bit about The Hunger Games on the internet, but I didn't really know what it was about. Finally, I managed to get hold of a copy from my library. To sum things up, I spent nearly every waking moment (when I wasn't at work) with my head buried in this book for about a week. It. Was. Incredible.
 

Sixteen year old protagonist Katniss Everdeen lives in Panem, a post-apocalyptic land that use to be known as North America. Global warming and natural disasters have eroded the land immensley and the states we know today no longer exist. Instead, everyone lives in a District - there are 12 in all, each controlled by the Capital. There used to be a District 13 until an uprising against the goverment and the population was annihilated, ensuring no other rebellions would occur once the other Districts could see how badly the folks in District 13 had behaved.
 
Katniss lives with her widowed mother and twelve year old sister, Prim. She provides for them by hunting with her trusty bow and arrows in the forest beyond the barbed wire perimetre that fences in the poplation in District 12. Her hunting partner is Gale, an older boy whom she befriended in the forest after her father died. They kill anything that moves, as long as it can provide food for their families, and have a solid knowledge of the plant life in the forest that also helps keep food on the table when a hunt hasn't yielded any results.
 
Each year, the Capital holds a festival known as The Reaping, which is a thinly veiled punishment for the rebellion of District 13 many years before. Townspeople gather in the main square in each District and watch as two children, a boy and a girl, aged between twelve and eighteen are chosen at random to compete in The Hunger Games. The Games are a televised reality show where the children (known as 'tributes') are placed in an arena (which is a man-made enivronment consisting of anything from forest, snow, beaches or mountains) and are pitted against each other with one main goal: kill or be killed. The last child alive wins.
 
When Prim's name is drawn for in The Reaping, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Before The Hunger Games can commence though, the tributes are styled and paraded around for the televison audiences, so people can choose their favourites and sponsors from each tributes' District can decide if they're worthy of gifts while they're in the arena. They are then sent to a training centre where they have a chance to learn new skills and see what their opponents' strengths and weaknesses are, and should they choose to, form alliances. Along with Peeta, a boy her age from their District, Katniss enters the arena suspecting everyone and trying to form a strategy that will keep her alive until the end.

Sounds gruesome? It is. But it's also the most heart poundingly suspenseful action/thriller I've read in a really, really long time. If you want a book that will literally make your heart pound with anxiety, this is it. Suzanne Collins writes in such a way that at times you forget you're reading about children. The basic need to survive is what drives Katniss, not her deisre to end lives. While some tributes train for The Hunger Games their enitre lives, Katniss and Peeta must battle it out using just their instinct (which Katniss has in spades thanks to her talent for hunting) and whatever skills they managed to pick up at the training centre.
 
To be honest, I've never been a fan of sci-fi, fantasy or novels with a distinctly dystopian feel to them, but this book falls somewhere outside of those themes. Yes, they live in a dystopian society, but the universally relatable themes of love, courage and devotion are what make Katniss Everdeen's journey through The Games so gripping. Her constant flux between wanting to give in to the urge to kill her competitors before they kill her, and just wanting to survive without inflicting too much pain so she can go home to her family and Gale create such an emotional roller coaster for the reader that the book is an instant page turner from the get-go.

If you haven't checked out these books yet, I highly recommend you do so, but make sure you also get the second and third books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay as well, because they're the kind of books you HAVE to read one after the other, they are that intense.
 
In a word: Incredible.
 
Spoiler alert! If you want a little taste of the book in movie format, check out this amazingly well crafted fan video. Be aware that it does contain strong violence (against children) though, and has some major spoilers for a certain part of the book. The Hunger Games is has already been bought by a production company, so expect the movie version in a year or so. I hope the producers see the fan video though, and realise that someone found their Katniss for them

And on that note...

"Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favour!" - Effie Trinket
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2 comments:

Shannon said...

I have heard about this book but you have prompted me to go buy it, thanks for the review!

Julia R said...

No worries Shannon, thanks for stopping by!