Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins has been on my radar for some time now--I've heard good things from fellow teachers and librarians, and the final book in the trilogy just came out this year. So picking it up was a no-brainer when Lauren saw it as an audiobook at our public library a couple days before we jumped in the car to go--as my mother mis-said it--over the woods and through the river to Thea's grandmothers' houses for Thanksgiving.

The action takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America divided into 13 districts separate from the Capitol, which is somewhere in the Rockies (Denver finally makes good, I guess). There's something rather colonial about the world, with the districts sending their raw materials and manufactured products to the capitol and kept more or less at a subsistence level. At some time in the past, the districts rebelled. When the rebellion was put down, the 13th district was utterly destroyed. The others are forced each year to send two teen-aged "tributes" to the capitol--one boy and one girl--to fight to the death in the televised Hunger Games of the title. It's one part blood-sport, one part reminder of the price of rebellion.

The protagonist is 16-year-old Catniss Everdeen, a survivor who, to provide for her family, has had to venture outside the safe confines of District 12 into the wilderness to hunt and gather since she was 12 years old. With this background, it's no real surprise to the reader that she ends up in the Hunger Games. In fact, there are few real surprises in the course of the novel. That's not a knock on it; in fact, we quite enjoyed the ride. Just because the basic arc of the story (and the basic arcs of the characters, for that matter) was easily predictable didn't diminish our enjoyment of the story. We were still excited by the details of the plot and there were some emotionally powerful moments. With any luck, we'll track down the second book as an audiobook before we head out for winter break.


The novel manages something that I thought was rather interesting: an emotional cliffhanger. By that, I don't mean that the ending was emotional so much as I mean that what was left unresolved at the end was an emotional issue. Although she's survived the Hunger Games (as if you couldn't guess that she would from the beginning!) and done so without killing Peeta (again, not that shocking), she has no idea where things go from here. Her feelings for Peeta (and for Gale, who we've barely seen since the beginning except in memory) are conflicted and barely explored. There was something unsatisfying about this, but knowing that there are two more books in the series allows me to trust that she'll get around to it.

I don't know whether I'd call it unsatisfying or not, but there were a lot of hints dropped, I thought, about possibilities for rebellion outside the basic paradigm of an armed uprising, and that sort of materialized at the end, but I was perhaps a bit disappointed that Catniss never saw those possibilities herself, except in a very reactive way. I'm sure it was intentional, but Catniss--however much we may like her--is a pretty limited character in her thinking. Sometimes that was annoying, when we found ourselves thinking "Seriously? She doesn't get it?" But ultimately, it is what it is. As noted here, we have picked up the second book and even started listening to it--we expect to finish on our Christmas trip--and (spoiler alert) there's a good deal more up-in-arms rebellion shown, but I hope that Collins proves to be a bit more creative with this aspect of the story.

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