The Hunger Games

If you don't mind crying and howling with anguish (not at the same time) you'll want to run to your book store and pick up a copy of Suzanne Collins' fantastic novel The Hunger Games. (I'm tempted to say she calls it that because she knew damn well she was leaving me hungry for more but I will resist the temptation.) I saw the book suggested in the same blog post as Robin Wasserman's Skinned, which you may remember left me a tad cold, so I wasn't expecting to fall in love with The Hunger Games, but I did. I was absolutely swept away by the story, really only stopping my reading to try and figure out how in the world Katniss, the protagonist, was going to try and survive her ordeals.

The Hunger Games is set in a post apocalyptic world, after famine, war, and ecological collapse have destroyed the old civilization. There is a ruling city surrounded by thirteen districts. Twelve of these districts have separate functions, each fulfilling one need. Katniss hails from District Twelve, the lowliest of them all, set in the former Appalachian Mountains, where the people struggle to make their living mining coal in mines that have been long played out.

There used to be thirteen districts until all of the districts rose up and rebelled against the Capital. A devastating war followed and the Capital won. It destroyed district thirteen as a lesson to the other districts. The surviving districts must make a tribute to the Capital on a yearly basis. Each of them must send two children, a boy and a girl, to the Capital to take part in the Hunger Games. These children will spend the next few weeks fighting each other until all but one are dead. The winner is feted and their district is showered with food and oil while the other districts mourn.

As the story begins Katniss is worrying about her best friend and hunting partner, Gale. Like Katniss, Gale partially supports his family by hunting. They both bring home food and oil for their families by trading extra chances of being chosen as the District's tribute. This year there will be 42 tickets with Gale's name mixed in with the names of the other children. Katniss has twenty, enough to worry about but still statistically unlikely. Gale and Katniss spend the morning together, then Katniss goes home to prepare with her fragile mother and her much loved baby sister, Primrose. Then they head off to the drawing, where the entire village is horrified to hear Prim's name drawn.

Katniss panics and lunges forward, volunteering to take Prim's place; something that's allowed but rarely happens. Soon Katniss is bidding her friends and family goodbye, preparing to go to the Capital where she will battle 23 other children ranging from the ages of 12 to 18, including a boy called Peeta who played a positive pivotal role in Katniss' childhood. In order to win the games she will have to kill him. If she does not he will have to kill her.

This book raises all kinds of interesting and important issues, asking questions about the value of survival, the cost of ruthlessness and the price of being vulnerable. Ever since her father's death in the mines Katniss has tried to deny her tender heart. She treated her severely depressed mother coldly. She tried to drown her little sister's cat, because it was just one more mouth to feed. But in the end her heart betrays her and she not only takes Prim's place in the Games but she is also drawn to a young girl called Rue who is one of her competitors in the Games. She is also conflicted about her feelings (or even whether she has any) for Peeta, the baker's son, who is her competitor, but also possibly her ally.

As is the tradition, Peeta and Katniss are helped by a former winner of the Games for District 12, Haymitch Abernathy. In the beginning Katniss is disgusted by this man, who drinks to the point of vomiting and passing out, but once she has been dumped into the wild and is quite literally fighting for her life, she gains some empathy for him. Maybe he drinks so much because he has survivor guilt. Maybe he drinks because every year he has to coach two children from District 12 and every year they die. Maybe winning these Games isn't really winning; maybe it's another form of losing.

When dealing with big issues it's so easy for an author to be preachy or dull but Ms. Collins isn't at all. By sticking very tightly to only Katniss' unique perspective, showing us everything through her eyes, Ms. Collins gives us an unflinching look at a cruel world without alienating the reader. This book has plenty to keep the reader occupied; fascinating characters, high stakes, loads of action, an intriguing universe, and lots of ethical dilemmas. I was kept guessing from start to finish of The Hunger Games. At some points I wasn't even sure what to wish for as all choices seemed ultimately bad for our heroine, whom I adored as she is extremely tough yet still caring. I also couldn't figure out how on earth Ms. Collins was going to manage to wrap everything up in such a short book. Of course she couldn't, I should have realized The Hunger Games is book one of something larger. The next book, Catching Fire, is due out in six months and I'll be waiting, eager to get my grubby paws on it.

You can read an excerpt from The Hunger Games here: http://www.scholastic.com/thehungergames/

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from SteamFiend who writes in about a video game platform for the PC, saying, "I have been playing Steam for years, the way that it allows you to download any of the games you have bought in their store makes it extremely useful when you are going on a vacation and will have a different computer. But at the same time this is very problematic if you want to play your games, but you don't have internet, because then you cannot access your games, and it means that you are stuck with nothing to do." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.