Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hunger Games

I read a lot. I mean, really a lot. This is no surprise to you, S, because we have lived together, and you have seen the state of my bookshelves, and you have often been the beneficiary of my cast-offs, but I thought I should preface this with a disclaimer so that everyone else knows that when I say that Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the best book I have read this year, they will understand the number of other very good books I have read which were passed over for this distinction.

The premise is this: At some point in the future, after the world as we know it has been destroyed, what is left is divided up into 13 districts and a Capitol. Each of the districts specializes in producing something for the Capitol, which produces nothing itself and is a entirely consumer society. The districts are kept completely separate from each other and on the brink of starvation. They are not allowed to keep what they produce and hunting is punishable by death. All they have is what the government gives them, which is to say, not much. About 75 years ago, District 13 revolted and was obliterated for their trouble. How dare they want enough food to keep their children from starving, and all that. In response, the government instituted the Hunger Games.

In each district, all children between the ages of 12 and 18 are entered into a lottery. One male and one female from each district at chosen as tributes. For an extra portion of grain and oil, you may elect to have your name entered more than once, thereby increasing your chances of being selected, but also increasing your chances of survival if not selected. After a cursory training session, the tributes are dumped into an arena where they fight each other to the death. The winner is rich and taken care of for life and their district receives extra food. The others are dead. The whole thing is televised as entertainment for the Capitol and as a warning to the Districts about the kind of control the Capitol exerts over their life. As if sending their children to their deaths wasn’t enough, the Districts are forced to celebrate the Hunger Games as if it were a big party.

The story is told from the point of view of 16-year-old Katniss, a tribute from District 12. Her deep love for her family and self-awareness make her a thoroughly sympathetic character. Her journey is intense to say the least, and the pacing of the book is incredible. Hunger Games has overtones of Orson Scott Cards’s Ender’s Game, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” and more recent books like Scott Westerfield’s The Uglies and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russel. Though there are echoes and themes from all of these stories, Hunger Games transcends any comparison. It is totally its own, and adds an element that resonates strongly in today’s culture – reality TV.

I should also give you a warning. Do not start this book before bed, lest you still be reading the next morning. Do not read this book if you are planning on doing anything else on a certain day. Set aside a day, and read it. Maybe a dreary, rainy, cold November one. Because you won’t be able to put it down. Oh, and you might consider having the sequel, Catching Fire, very nearby because this is a story you won’t stop thinking about.

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