Quick summary time: Thanks to an unspecified apocalypse, the United States no longer exists; instead there is Panem, made up of 12 poor Districts and the Capital, the decadent and oppressive ruling state. As a result of crushing the Districts’ rebellion, every year the Capital demands tributes in the form of a girl and a boy from 12 to 18 years old. These tributes from each District are forced to compete in the Hunger Games, where the goal is to be the last one standing.
So yeah, it’s somewhat similar to Battle Royale, but with some very major differences: The Hunger Games has Americans teens instead of Japanese, much less gore and violence, no sex, and no rule that at least one person has to be killed a day. In Battle Royale, you get to know a whole swath of characters well; in The Hunger Games, there are two main characters, with the other tributes remaining mostly sketches. I’d call The Hunger Games Battle Royale for the younger set. But uhhh not too young because kids still die, some in particularly nasty ways.
Where The Hunger Games really succeeds, for me, is with heroine and narrator Katniss. She is HARD. CORE. And unlike other “OMG look at what a badass magical female hunter hero I am” characters, Katniss is NOT ANNOYING. That gets caps because so many other iterations of this kind of character are grating. Katniss isn’t. She’s gritty. She’s dirty. She’s starving half the time. She hunts and trades out of complete necessity. Her life is hard, and you really believe it. Everything she has, she has earned with blood and sweat. (I also LOVED Katniss’s lingering feelings of resentment for and distance from her mother. So angsty, so teenage girl, so believable!) In a literary world that seems flooded with Bella Swan knock-offs, it’s refreshing to have a strong, intelligent, and independent female character whose life doesn’t revolve around her vampire/werewolf/fae/mermen suitors, and who isn’t defined only by her relationships to men. Because choosing who you’re going to be with 4-everzzz kind of takes a backseat when a pack of kids are trying to fucking kill you with spears. Priorities, people, priorities.
The other characters are great too, though they all tend to be dunces when it comes to emotions and stuff (like I have any room to talk–repressing your feelings FTW!) Peeta’s cleverness and will to survive were a nice compliment to Katniss’s own; I liked that he couldn’t rely on his physical strength since he was so outclassed by almost everyone else. (To be honest, though, I went back and forth between admiring him for playing the game the only way he could, and being annoyed at him for being weak. ) I imagine him being a hard character to write, but that’s just me. Gale was cool for being the male version of Katniss. And Cinna, for being a Capitol/Hunger Games lackey, was unexpectedly interesting. Seriously, A+ for Susanne Collins for creating some believable, well-rounded characters that the reader quickly becomes emotionally invested in.
The only part of The Hunger Games I didn’t like was the appearance of the wolf “muttations” near the finale, and not because they ended Cato. They actually yanked me out of the flow of the story, and brought up questions that there wasn’t time or space to address. Were they wolf muttations mixed with the dead tributes’ DNA? Or were they just given certain aspects of the other tributes (eyes, hair color) to fuck with the survivors? Were they created after those tributes were killed, or before, and just held in reserve–and would that mean there’s wolf Cato, Peeta, and Katniss in some lab somewhere? Is this a new thing for the Hunger Games, or has it happened before? And the most important question of all: UM, WTF? I really would rather that they were straight-up muttations, without the aspects of defeated tributes. Because a giant wolf with flowing blond fur and green eyes was LOLZ-worthy, and I’m sure that was totally NOT the reaction that Collins was going for.
It seems weird to complain about something being unrealistic in a book that freakin’ has kids killing each other in a game televised for a post-apocalyptic US, but whatevs. I make no apologies: the wolf muttations were lame.
It’s really a minor quibble though, the fact that I just wrote a thesis about it notwithstanding. (I like to complain!) A day after I finished The Hunger Games, I had ordered the second book in the series. If that’s not a stellar recommendation, I don’t know what is.
Bookwanderer Rating: Four out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: Come for the kids killing each other, stay for the character development and interpersonal drama!