Sunday, December 04, 2011
Book Review: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008)
Welcome to Panem, the post-apocalyptic United States of America, divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Every year, two "tributes" between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from each district to take part in a brutal contest called The Hunger Games, where they fight to the death. There is only one winner. Sixteen-year old Katniss volunteers to her district's tribute after her 12-year old sister's name is drawn.
The Hunger Games is the brutal version of a reality game show - think of Stephen King's (written as Richard Bachman) novel, The Running Man and you'll have a good frame of reference. The tributes are given mentors - former winners, condemned to preparing future tributes for the games - and stylists to make them look good. The contestants have to project personality in the week of interviews and preparation so that they have a chance at receiving help from sponsors, who can send food, medicine, and supplies to their contestants during the games. The games are televised for all the districts to watch. Katniss struggles to keep her humanity in the midst of the game and rails against being the Capitol's pawn.
The book moves at a breathtaking pace with an intensity that starts mere pages in and doesn't let up until the book's end. The main characters have a good base for character development that will likely continue in the two following books in the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay; the others are as developed as they need to be in order to further the story and keep the pace. Ms. Collins makes her point about valuing bloodsport over humanity as eloquently as she is brutal in several key scenes in the book. With a strong mix of violence and compassion, boys and girls have both seized on this series and catapulted it to the top of their reading lists. Katniss emerges as a heroine not only for her strength but her ability to retain her sense of self in the middle of the games. She is a complex, conflicted heroine who resonates with 'tweens and teens alike.
The Hunger Games has won multiple awards and honors. It is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal besteller, and was one of Kirkus and School Library Journal's Best Books of 2008. It is an Americna Library Association (ALA) Notable Children's Book and one of the Young Adult Library Services Association's (YALSA) Teens Top Ten for 2009. Lionsgate Studios will release a movie based on the book in March of 2012.
A comprehensive wiki exists for the series and the author's website offers author and book information. There are many teacher's resources for teaching the series available on the Web, including Scholastic's and Hunger Games Lessons.