REVIEW: THE HUNGER GAMES
It's not often that I go into a book KNOWING that I will love it. I've gone in confident I will love something, but even with sequels, there's never really any kind of surefire guarantee. That's all a bit different when I am re-reading something. Such is the case with Suzanne Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES. This is a book that I actually originally read for a class on popular fiction and I loved the book every bit as much as I loved the movie. Each new film that comes out, I promise myself I'll read the book first, but that has yet to happen so I have vowed to read through the trilogy before I go watch MOCKINGJAY PART 2 once it comes out. In doing so, it felt right that I should review all of them despite their widespread acclaim and to do that, I wanted to do a re-read of the first in this trilogy. Now that I am all brushed up on the details of this book, I am ready to do a review and to move forward with the other two books, both of which now sit on my shelf ready to be read.
HOW I CAME UPON IT
This really just goes without saying. Basically it is worth noting that I did watch the movie first and absolutely loved it. I think the book and the movie are really different, but I like that I can enjoy the same story from two different angles and I wouldn't necessarily say that one is better than the other, they're just different.
HOW I RATED IT
5/5 This is one of my all-time favorite books and there's really not much more to say about that. I generally don't enjoy YA novels. I feel like the younger language just doesn't appeal to me and while there is a distinctively YA feel to the book's writing quality, this is one of those rare cases where the story is just too good for me to even care that this isn't written at an adult level. I don't mean to put down this style of writing or anything like that, I've just personally never liked it, even when I was within the young adult age range. I think what does it for me with THE HUNGER GAMES is that there are such dark implications that come with the story. Panem is a dystopia through and through. I love dystopias, always have. I think they just speak to how we ourselves are kind of living in a dystopic world of sorts and there are some genuine fears of our own governments that are kind of expressed through this fictional space. I could just go on about this book for hours and hours, so without further ado, here's the rest of the review...
What is one of my major complaints about a lot of YA casts is that they just seem a little 1 or 2 dimensional. A lot of the time, I feel like they are supposed to represent an idea or maybe a type of person, but just fall too flat to really be taken as an actual character. This really isn't the case with the majority of the personalities that one will find in Collins' twisted world. Some are certainly more prominent and/or interesting than others, but the characters are so vibrant and diverse that I never felt like there was anything to be desired at this end.
Katniss herself is just an absolutely fantastic character. She's innocent in some ways and flawed in others. She has a grim outlook on life, but rightfully so and I felt myself really connecting with some of the resentment and distrust that she holds in her heart. She's also not a super emotional character, but rather one that is a bit hardened and maybe a little distant. She can be soft and caring too though, which creates a contrast which feels genuine rather than forced. In short, Katniss feels like a real person.
Peeta is arguably a character that is not as interesting as others mostly because he's a bit naive. His pure heart feels starkly out of place in a world that enjoys throwing children into an arena to kill each other, but it works because for much of the book we aren't really sure about his true nature. While I watched the movie and knew what to expect from him, I found that he is written in such a way that he still felt like a threat to Katniss's survival. This is one area where the book definitely outshines the movie because here we have access to Katniss's inner thoughts and opinions of "the boy with the bread." I got to distrust him, I got to be scared of him, because his good boy routine feels a bit too good to be true. Once we get to know him better, we find that he is a highly emotional character whereas Katniss is far more practical. He's a lover and she's a survivor which is frankly one of the most interesting romantic setups I have ever seen in a book - primarily because it is largely one-sided.
Then there's Gale, the kinda-sorta-not really boyfriend from back home. I liked that him and Katniss were just really good friends, but then we are led to question if he isn't another boy in her life that she's been indifferent to despite possible affections on his end. The darling Prim is another character which nicely contrasts with Katniss. Then there is Haymich who really redefines what it means to be a train-wreck. Despite this cartoonish veneer, Collins smartly transforms our perceptions of him later in the story and shows us that there is a lot of pain beneath the clown that stumbles drunkenly about. The flamboyant Effie Trinket, the calm and cool Cinna, little Rue, and a whole host of well thought out characters are what help define Katniss as a person and are what make the world of Panem feel so alive and so important.
Panem, like I have mentioned, is a dystopia. There are bits of science fiction woven into it all which made for a really interesting and insanely unpredictable setting. It is a world where the wealthy few impose their will upon the poor masses who are herded into districts. All roads lead to the Roman-esque Capitol which is as horrifying as it is colorful. The disparity between the lavish life that the Capitol enjoys as opposed to the grungy struggle for survival that takes place in District 12 is enough to make any stomach churn, mostly because it feels so in line with human nature. Each section of the world feels like a totally different planet all together, all equally interesting. The main attraction here though, is the arena.
Every year, there is a new arena filled with hazards which threaten to kill contestants ("tributes") before they can kill off each other. A lot of time is spent inside of the forested arena of this particular year's Hunger Games. While it might not immediately seem like an especially interesting location, what readers and the tributes soon discover is that none of it is really all that real. It is a controlled environment where the Gamemakers manipulate the backdrop to liven things for the audience and drive tributes together. There are insidious traps, fierce creatures, and weather that seems designed to either kill the tributes or make them miserable trying.
The narrative woven here is the real standout above all else. All of the pieces connect so seamlessly and it builds at a staggeringly perfect pace. The tension rises and falls with each new twist that emerges. Nothing is really as it seems in Panem. Despite Katniss being a very reliable narrator, readers find themselves surprised at every turn by just how dark this place can be. Collins really doesn't hold back any punches when it comes to the content of this book. While the language is distinctively YA, I felt like there was quite a bit of adult material to be found in here, from nudity to violence, not to mention substance abuse. At the heart of it all is really just human greed and wickedness.
Panem is a world used to death and destruction. It is a land torn apart by war and now under the lock and key of a ruthless dictatorship. Those in power will settle for nothing less than absolute control. What humanity seems to never be able to properly remember is that while mankind is born with a lust for power, it was never suited for ruling over others nor can it be oppressed without a resistance arising. The subjugation of a people and a subsequent rebellion is part of nearly every nation's history and is perhaps not far off in the future for some. THE HUNGER GAMES takes this idea and runs with it. It gives us wicked and/or people who we grow to hate, as well as earnest citizens who we can't help but route for. I mentioned before how vibrant this cast is, but it is worth noting that it is also quite sad. Each and every character is struck with different forms of hardship. Every soul that Katniss encounters bears the burdens of a life lived either in destitution or blissful ignorance. Sorrow hangs as thick in the air as suspense and I felt myself wishing I could swoop down and make everything suddenly better, but of course such a feat would not be possible. It is the struggle that define these characters and the sadness that shapes their world.
I think this is one of the few YA series I have ever been able to get into and probably the only one I would avidly recommend to pretty much anyone. The cast is beyond memorable, the world is compelling and disturbingly plausible, and the story is just too good to pass up on, The grammatical flow of this piece might be inescapably reminiscent of other YA works, but I can promise that the narrative is not. I can't wait to dive into the next two books now that I have refreshed myself on this one and really just can't say enough good things about this story.
This book is available in just about every format your heart could ever desire on Amazon.