February 19, 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I had a paperback copy of The Hunger Games sitting on my shelf of to-be-read books for several months before the series came up in conversation with a co-worker. When I said I planned on reading the first book sometime soon, she looked at me and said, “Just make sure you start them on a day off.”

I was intrigued. So this past Tuesday I picked The Hunger Games off of my shelf and started to read. Four days later, I have just finished the third book in the series. My co-worker was right. These books have momentum. I barely wanted to go to sleep because I was wondering what would happen next, and I certainly didn’t want to go to work. On my lunch breaks I was practically antisocial, my nose burrowed in my book. These are the types of books that demand to be devoured – rationing them seems impossible.

The Hunger Games is a young adult series set in a futuristic dystopian society called Panem, which lies in the vague outlines of what was once North America. The sinister power center called The Capitol controls the outlying twelve districts, which live in poverty and fear. The source of the citizens’ terror is The Hunger Games, an annual televised battle that pits teenagers from each district against one another as amusement for The Capitol and as a warning against rebellion. The society that Collins creates is fascinating: terrifyingly advanced in terms of technology but so barbaric that the main players in Panem seem to leave their humanity behind when they pick up their controllers.

Katniss Everdeen, the narrator, is a fifteen-year old from District 12 when she is chosen, or ‘reaped’, for the Hunger Games. As a protagonist, Katniss is difficult to pin down. She’s tough and determined and isn’t above shooting someone through the throat to save herself or someone she loves. As the series goes on, she’s not always likeable, but she is consistently admirable. There is romance in The Hunger Games, but the book is first and foremost a story of survival. Though the love story is there, it develops out of the plot as opposed to overtaking it. Katniss is a fairly practical person, and she uses her budding romance with another contestant in the games as a tool to keep them both alive.

The first book in the series, The Hunger Games, kept me on the edge of my seat. Suzanne Collins truly has a gift for invention – the arena where the televised death match takes place is filled with twists and turns and fresh horrors for the young characters. She also has a great affinity for cliffhangers. I almost dreaded the end of each chapter because in this series, a chapter break is not meant as a natural pause in the story but as a signal that the tension is only going to build. The second book, Catching Fire, continued in this pace, a little slower to gear up than the first but soon just as suspenseful. The third book, Mockingjay, I found to be almost disappointing in its dissimilarities to the first two. It still follows the same characters, but many of them are altered significantly by the emotional traumas of the events in the previous books. As they should be, given good character development. Yet as their lives deteriorate around them, they become less relatable and more vicious, and at times it becomes hard to distinguish whether their paths of revenge are justified by the horrors they have endured or are simply continuing the cycle. The plot also takes on a different pattern; in the first two books the events build to a crescendo at the conclusion but in the third the events happen sporadically, and there are several climaxes that still somehow manage to be anticlimactic.

I would absolutely recommend The Hunger Games Trilogy to any reader who enjoys young adult books, likes getting sucked into a series, and does not mind a large dose of violence and death in their reading. The trilogy is more often than not as grim as it gets, but it does get the mind racing and the pages turning. I will repeat the excellent advice my co-worker gave me: start these books on a weekend and clear your schedule.

[Note: this is a rating for the series as a whole. Individually, I rate The Hunger Games as 5, Catching Fire as 4, and Mockingjay as 3.]

The Hunger Games © Suzanne Collins and Scholastic, 2008.
Catching Fire © Suzanne Collins and Scholastic, 2009.
Mockingjay © Suzanne Collins and Scholastic, 2010.

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