The Hunger Games is populist fare without question, the kind of book anyone can get hooked by, even people who prefer video games. But even literary buffs can get excited by this: pure storytelling at its very best. Right from the get-go, from Chapter 1, I was so moved by the concept, so immediately invested in the plight of the main character, I felt I’d found the Holy Grail of first chapters, the kind of intro no publisher or agent can possibly pass up. When you’ve been working as hard as I have to win the heart of an agent, it’s hard to not take my hat off to this superbly crafted narrative hook. Suzanne Collins most certainly deserves her success as well as the upcoming movie adaptation.
For those unfamiliar with the story, The Hunger Games is part The Lottery, part A Brave New World, part 1984, and part The Running Man. It is set in a dystopian future America, so the genre may fall into the science-fiction category, but staples of science-fiction are nowhere to be found, aside from advances in medicine only the rich can afford and generic engineering, both of which feel eerily prescient. The government of Panem can only be described as every Republican’s worst nightmare, the most sadistic form of fascism. Since farming and hunting are illegal, citizens are forced to near starvation as they work to pamper the handful of wealthy elite living in the Capitol. To curb rebellion, the Capitol devised The Hunger Games, a glamorized television program where boys and girls are made to fight to the death in often gruesome ways. The ages of these children starts at twelve and works up to eighteen, which begs the question, what kind of sick society enjoys watching a twelve year old get murdered? Even the Ancient Romans had more heart. Wouldn’t adults fare better in combat? Wouldn’t their sacrifice be punishment enough? There’s no in-story explanation to the age range, no internal logic. The decision by the author feels like a cheat to pull heart strings, or appeal to the highly prized young adult market, which is my only gripe about the book, albeit a tiny one. Otherwise, Suzanne Collins tells her tale with delicacy and heart—in fact, the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, displays such compassion and self-sacrifice, the divide between her and the people of the Capitol is the very definition of a literary foil. Just like in Harry Potter, character is the novel’s greatest strength. You can’t help but genuinely root for Katniss Everdeen, suffer with her, and finally rejoice with her as you follow her amazing journey.
The writing style is the very best example of modern fiction. Sentences flow off the tongue, in a conversational tone in first person, which makes everything that happens to the main character feel intimate. I can easily imagine a Stephen King or George Martin version, with elaborate back-stories for each of the twenty-four contestants, but Collins steers clear of such pitfalls, focusing her attention on what readers want most. In this way, The Hunger Games is a great example of economy in story-telling; you never feel like the book needs to get-to-the-damn-point. The only downside to one main character is that the book often feels simple. I wanted to know more about the history of Panem and the inner-workings of the Capitol, but the author leaves you to wonder, which again helps the reader identify with the protagonist.
What really put the book over the top for me is the way Suzanne Collins manages to capture emotion. On more than on occasion, I found myself sitting at Barnes & Nobles, literally choking back tears; I can count on one hand the number of books that have managed to do that to me, so that’s really saying something. There is also a romantic sub-plot which borders on meta-fiction. You can’t help but identify with the “audience” watching the Hunger Games as the romance unfolds, despite the sadistic nature of those watching. You can only hope that the love between the characters is real, and not just a ploy to win sympathy from sponsors who can give assistance to the contestants. The entertainment factor of the Games, winning peoples hearts and minds, is a big theme of the book. In this way, the author, whether intentionally or not, sets a Don Quixote like mirror before the reader, forcing us to examine our own sadistic natures, to ask why we weep for some people, fictional or otherwise, while wishing others dead.
Well, that’s it for my review. Still holding the mouse? GO READ THE HUNGER GAMES NOW!
My Rating: **** (out of four)