Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review by JD: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins



This is a clever and intriguing story with a strong character that you really root for

John’s Thoughts:  With a little prompting by Shellie I read my first Young Adult novel, a dystopian story by a New York Times bestselling author – and I must say that I enjoyed the read.

It is set in some undisclosed time in the future, a long time after America (and the world?) has been beset by some catastrophic events. The specific cause and nature of the catastrophic events are not disclosed, but what we do know is that in the remnants of the land that used to be America, there now exists the nation of Panem – an autocratic Capital city with twelve distant districts that it rules with a rod of iron.

There used to be a thirteenth district, but after they staged an unsuccessful rebellion against the rule of the Capital, the thirteenth district was totally destroyed to teach them all a lesson. Furthermore, to serve as a constant reminder of the social structure and to help keep the districts in their place, the Hunger Games are initiated. Each year every district has to send one boy and one girl to the Capital, to take part in a televised fight to the death. The competition takes part in a different arena each year, and the Gamemakers ensure the game takes several days and is full of surprises to keep the viewers entertained. The last living competitor wins personal fame and relative fortune, not to mention kudos and prizes for their district. The Games are the social and entertainment highlight of the year, and no efforts are spared in the buildup to each year’s event.

Katniss is a young teenage girl who lives in the downtrodden twelfth district, which specializes in coal mining. Her father died in a mining accident and she has become the main breadwinner for the family, leading to a life of illegal hunting in the woods surrounding the district. This makes her tough and resilient and she feels particularly protective of her weak younger sister, Prim. When Prim has the misfortune of being chosen as district twelve’s girl competitor in the Games, Katniss has no hesitation in volunteering to take her place. And so begins the strange process leading up to the Game and the desperate struggle to stay alive. The story builds to a climax, where the competitors try to maintain some dignity and pride and even start to rebel against the Gamemakers.

This is a clever and intriguing story line and Katniss is a strong character that you really root for. While she has some strengths and skills that can help her, Collins makes her a very human and believable figure, and she clearly has weaknesses too. Katniss doesn’t believe that she has any real chance of winning, but she keeps on plugging away. Importantly, she learns two lessons. While she hates doing it, she has to play to the camera which can result in some small assists to help give her an edge. She also realizes that the only way to keep progressing is to team up with other smaller/weaker competitors – despite the fact that only one person can ultimately survive.

This is a strong book that I think many people will relate to – either young adults or older adults. It’s a powerful story that certainly makes you think. And however outrageous the Hunger Games may sound, you can look at what has happened to reality TV over the last twenty years and you can’t help but fear what it might be like twenty years on from now.

On the downside, there are one or two key characters that didn’t quite feel right, and the book ended with some irritating loose ends that were not tied up. It wasn’t until I got to the end that I realized this was the first book in a series. Even if a book is part of a series, its always nice if the book stands on its own and you don’t feel pressured to have to read the next one.

Overall I’d rate this 3.5 stars. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes dystopian fiction. I’d also recommend it to anyone who likes a strong female lead – Katniss is a great character.

  • The Hunger Games
  • by Suzanne Collins
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-439-02349-1
  • Pages 374: hardback
  • Scholastic Press, 2008

Links for purchasing:

  • Amazon purchasing links for The Hunger Games #1 are US/UK/Canada.
  • Purchasing links for Catching Fire #2 are US/UK/Canada.
  • Purchasing links for Mockingjay #3 are US/UK/Canada.

As always John/JD will be addressing your comments. He almost always responds,  so please remember to check the follow up box.

Thanks for reading Layers of Thought.


logankstewart said...

Hey, great review, JD. I don't delve often in YA, but The Hunger Games was one book that I tried and loved. My review is up here on my blog if you're curious. And by the way, the next book, Catching Fire, was quite good, too. Now I'm eagerly awaiting the concluding volume this fall.

John D said...

Thanks Logan. I'll swing by and compare notes! My "to be read" pile is getting a bit over the top so it may be a while before I get to the sequels - it's good to know you enjoyed the next one too.

Serena said...

I really enjoyed both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I'm really looking forward to Mocking Jay when it is released later this summer. I rarely read YA fiction before this series, but now I've found that there are other strong writers in this category.

Nice review.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed this book and its sequel. I heard its being made into a movie.

Blodeuedd said...

The only YA books I seem to like is Dystopian ones.

As for loose ends, yes, sadly that sells in a way cos you need the next

John D said...

Hi Serena - thanks for checking in and for the nice words. You're the second person who's responded saying that they enjoyed this and Catching Fire. Maybe ths will work its wy to the top of my pile sooner than expected!

Hi Shelley - make that three votes for this and the sequel! It's funny you mentioned it being made into a movie; all the while I was reading it I kept thinking it would make a really strong movie plot. I also thought back to the Runing Man movie, which had some similarities. Well, sort of.

John D said...

Hi Blodeuedd - with me loose ends tend to have the opposite effect. Because they can be so irritating (to me at least) I tend to avoid reading anything that is part of a serial.

Having said that, three of my all-time favorite reads have been trilogies. So bang goes my consistency and credibility.

Madigan Mirza said...

I really liked the heroine of this book. As others have said, the sequel is very good as well. There's a certain art to writing books that are dystopian, yet not too depressing, don't you think?
I like that Katniss is facing terrible odds but perseveres anyway.

John D said...

Hi Madigan - the heroine is a terrific character. For me that was the best aspect of the book. While the story is fantastic, she is believable and has some nice rough edges that make her real.

I agree about the diificulty in getting the balance right in dystopian novels. It's not been a genre I've paid much attention to and it's probably the "depression factor" that has kept me at bay.

CGLnyc said...

Great review! Dystopian novels have a lot to offer, I think, and I'm waiting to get back home to my library, where it's on hold for me. Glad to hear from others that the second novel is also good. Some seem to lose steam over the course of the series.

John D said...

Hi Topher. Thanks for the nice words. I hope you enjoy the read. If you get to the second in the series before I do (which is highly likely), it would be great to hear what you think about it.

Jessica said...

I'm anxious for the final book in the trilogy. I'm a big dystopian fan and this is one of my favorites. I enjoyed reading your review!

John D said...

Hi Jessica. Thanks - I hope the third book lives up to your expectations.

Aarti said...

I recently read this one and its sequel, and much preferred the first to the second. I completely agree about it seeming incomplete, but the second one does that to an even greater extent!

John D said...

Hi Aarti - the voice of dissent! It looks like I'll be doing a bit of homework before I decide whether or not to jump Catching Fire up my reading list. Thanks for the comment.

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