(Please note: Because this review covers a trilogy of books, it required spoilers. Please read at your own risk!)
I came late to the Hunger Games. I am one of those who watched the movie – then figured maybe I’d give the books a go. But once I got started, I proceeded to zip through all three of them in less than two weeks.
Suzanne Collins creates a world in which 12 districts, each producing a different type of raw material, are run by a central, affluent Capital. In this post-apocalyptic world, each district is forced to sacrifice two children – one boy and one girl – between the ages of 12 and 18 once a year to the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are a punishment and reminder of the rebellion that led to massive death and destruction of the planet, and is also intended to keep the subjects in line.
The Hunger Games themselves are a brutal fight to the death, with only one of the 24 young men or women coming out alive. They take place in an artificial environment created inside a domed arena – which can be anything from forest to desert wasteland. In many cases the environment proves to be the most brutal aggressor, making the Games a war of attrition more than combat.
Shocked and terrified yet? You should be. It’s every bit as disturbing and upsetting as it sounds.
In the first book, we meet the heroine, young Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers in the place of her younger sister. To avoid spoilers, I won’t tell you what happens next (read the book!), but as you can imagine, most of the book is devoted to her struggle for survival, made more complex by her friendship with the other contestant from District 12, a young man named Peeta Mellark. Part of the complexity is that Peeta has feelings for Katniss – and over time, Katniss herself begins to suspect that she returns his interest.
Now here’s where you probably want to stop reading if you haven’t read the books. The second book begins with the fallout of the very dramatic ending to the Hunger Games. Rioting has started in some of the districts, particularly Rue’s home. Her death sparked a reaction, and Katniss quickly ends up at the centre of a movement that threatens the very foundations on which the Capital has built up its power.
President Snow uses the Quarter Quell – the 25th anniversary of the Games in which the rules can be changed – to draw names from the existing pool of champions rather than the usual 12-18 year old population. Predictably, both Peeta and Katniss must return to the arena to fight for their lives once again. The plot twists in this book will leave readers dizzy – if anything the climax is even more dramatic than the first book.
The final book in the series sees most of the Districts embroiled in fighting against the Capital, not only to end the atrocity of the Games, but to rectify the vast gap between the affluence of the Capital and the poverty of the surrounding Districts. After the big reveal of District 13’s existence, this is where Katniss finds herself when she awakes from her traumatic experience in the second Games. Her own home has been all but destroyed, and Peeta has been captured. She has become a symbol of hope and freedom behind which the citizens of the District have thrown their allegiance, and she struggles with this responsibility while trying to make sense of her circumstances and find out what has happened to Peeta.
The only criticism I have about the books is the rushed endings of all three, and Katniss’ tendency to take a nap whenever the most important events are happening. Because the books are written entirely from her perspective, when she’s out of commission, the reader misses the action along with her. It seems that she somehow winds up unconscious at the end of every single book, and we have to wait until she wakes up, gets through the grogginess, and then gets an abbreviated account of what actually happened from those who were there. If the book switched between various perspectives – notably Gale (Katniss’ childhood friend and other possible love interest) and Peeta, but also possibly her sister, Primrose, and mentor, Hamish – we would benefit from behind the scenes info of Peeta’s captivity and the events happening in the Districts when she is in the Games.
This would have not only provided a richer plot, but also helped us get to know other characters. Without it Gale is a vague, two dimensional character and we miss much of the context to the events that occur. Not to mention missing the major events whenever Katniss is inconveniently napping. I found this incredibly frustrating. I won’t say it ruined the books for me, but it definitely took away from my enjoyment and left me feeling frustrated and robbed of climactic resolution.
Despite this lack of perspective sharing, I do think these books are worth taking the time to read – particularly since they don’t take long. If you’re looking for a page-turner that will pass the time while you’re traveling or on vacation – or even just stuck inside on a rainy afternoon – I highly recommend giving these a try!