Monday, February 20, 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Hunger Games. NY: Scholastic Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-439-02352-8. $8.99. 14 & up.

The first book in Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic dystopian trilogy is compelling, suspenseful, and thought-provoking.

Collins presents readers with a strong female protagonist and narrator: sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen. As the head of her household, Katniss cares for her mother and younger sister by illegally hunting in their hometown of District 12, just one of the dozen impoverished districts that surround, and support, a lavish capitol city. Every year, to remind the districts of their failed attempt at rebellion 75 years prior, the nation’s oppressive President Snow requires that each district send two tributes, one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, to the “Hunger Games.” When Katniss and her friend Peeta find themselves representing District 12 in the 74th annual Games, they are whisked away to the lavish Capitol, and forced into an arena where they must fight their fellow tributes, and one another, to the death on live television.

Readers are immediately intrigued by the strange world, and unjust circumstances, that Collins puts forth. They are hooked by Katniss’ plight, and are quickly impressed with her maturity, self-sacrificing nature, and the remarkable talents that she exposes in the arena. Collins uses a large portion of the text to successfully develop her characters. Instead of feeling fake or two-dimensional, each member of Collins’ cast of realistic and relatable individuals possesses a great amount of depth. Readers feel intensely attached to Collins’ complex characters, thus they relish every suspenseful twist and turn; however, the dark themes and graphic nature of the text should not be overlooked.

Because the Games are broadcasted live to “entertain” citizens, Katniss faces not only physical torment, but great psychological distress as well. Indeed, Katniss must wrestle with the thought of killing her young peers; and yet, what is almost more damaging is that she must also set her own personality and character aside to portray a different version of herself. If wealthy viewers in the Capitol like what they see on television they can become her sponsors, and send her medicine, food, water, and supplies. Therefore, in order to garner favor with the audience that is watching her every move, Katniss must abandon herself and pretend to be someone she is not. Collins does a wonderful job conveying to the reader Katniss’ inner turmoil as she is incessantly haunted by the requirement to kill or be killed, and continually torn between who she really is and who she must present herself to be.

Part of this inner turmoil and uncertainty is drawn from a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta (her fellow District 12 tribute), and Gale (her best friend, and hunting companion, from home). However, though the appearance of a love-story plays a great role in Katniss’ time in the arena, Collins clearly does not want this love triangle to be the forefront concern of the trilogy. Unlike the Twilight series, which divided readers into clear-cut “teams” that were built upon the protagonist’s two love interests, Collins clearly has more important subjects that she hopes to highlight. As the series continues, it is evident that though the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale is present it is often pushed aside to expound upon greater concerns like tyranny, materialism, conformity, politics, propaganda, starvation, and rebellion.

The Hunger Games does not simply establish a thought-provoking perspective of a dystopian society, or a cast of captivating and complex young characters. Most importantly, the text creates a wonderfully detailed foundation for the rest of Collins’ series.

Caitlin Kennedy

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