Collins, Suzanne (2008). The Hunger Games. NY: Scholastic.
The only thing that sucks about this book is that, on its last page, it reveals itself to be “Book One” in a series of as yet unestablished length. This means that, while much of the plot of The Hunger Games is resolved, the central conflict–and the one that would seem to motivate the series–has just been established. A dystopian science fiction story (light on the sci-fi, heavy on the dystopia), Collins’ novel is set in the country of Panem, a future United States divided into 13 districts (one of which has been destroyed) and ruled by a West Coast Capitol. As a means of exerting control over its citizens, the government has established “The Hunger Games,” a Survivor-like elimination game involving 24 youths, chosen by lottery from each of the 12 districts, that pits citizens aged 12-18 against each other in a fight-to-the-death competition staged in a large, wild arena. When 16-year-old narrator Katniss’s sister is picked to compete in the Hunger Games, Katniss offers herself as her district’s female participant in her sister’s stead.
The bulk of the novel follows Katniss as she is prepared for and participates in the Hunger Games against and sometimes alongside her district’s other representative, a boy named Peeta. Katniss is well-equipped to participate in the games, as she has supported her family through illegal game hunting in the wilderness surrounding her district. Temporary alliances with other players and uneasy truces abound during the dangerous game and Katniss learns that she must play to the audience of Hunger Games viewers and sponsors to succeed.
I love me some dystopian fiction and it had been a while (since I read Cherry Heaven) since I had been so enthralled by a novel of this type. The juxtaposition of the “futuristic” and the archaic worked well here (and I recognize that this is not a “new” way of presenting the dystopian future) and Collins expressed this in the tension Katniss felt as she struggled with the unfamiliar (and often uncomfortable) luxury of The Capitol. Interestingly, although this novel is definitely dystopian sci-fi (or fantasy), there is a romantic feel to the whole thing, in both the generic and the Northrup Frye senses of the word. Throughout the novel, Katniss’s partner intimates his affection for Katniss and Katniss learns to manipulate this affection to the pair’s benefit in the Games. In the larger scheme, there is a certain reverence for Katniss’s skill in the Games and what might be exhilaration in the competition. This exhilaration is downplayed, likely for the implied audience of YA readers (and the adult critics of the same). After all, what kind of YA book would this be if it allowed its teen character to glory in her deadly victories? And yes, I’m asking that question with deliberate irony.