Jeff Walden's Reviews > The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
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Apr 20, 12

bookshelves: post-apocalyptic, dystopian, scifi, young-adult, hunger-games
Read from April 05 to 06, 2012, read count: 1

It's been a rather long time since I did that -- read a reasonable-length book in a single sitting. Last time I did that was...maybe Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? In any case, it's been awhile since I read a true page-turner I wouldn't put down. (Although I'm certain the relative brevity of this book -- I have read Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, and the Wheel of Time lately -- had something to do its being awhile.)

How to describe this book plotwise? Think The Lottery meets reality TV, or think kids meet the gladiator arena. Basically, the one far-dominant nation-state in North America -- the Capitol -- has utterly subjugated twelve subordinate districts (and reduced a thirteenth to irradiated embers). Each district must annually send two "tributes" -- a male and a female between the ages of 12 and 18, chosen by lottery -- to fight to the death in the arena in the Hunger Games. The Games are a pageant from start to finish to entertain the Capitol, which eagerly watches (and forces the districts to watch) until one tribute remains (to be showered with honor for life, and whose district will be honored for that year). The arena itself is a massive tract of land under the total control of the Capitol -- terrain, vegetation, weather, and resources. The tributes learn skills and acquire supporters (who can sometimes send supplies), then they are deposited in the arena. It's a fight to the death -- first for a Cornucopia of supplies positioned at the arena entrypoint, then a protracted strategic dance to attack, and survive the attacks of, the other tributes.

A logical plot? Well, not entirely. The Capitol and districts occupy much of the United States and/or North America, but the impression is that at most total we're talking a few million people, with the rest of the area wild. Given the state of Capitol technology at least, this underpopulation is implausible. And it's hard to think the brutality of the Games a believable possibility in some distant future of our world. (Judged closer in proximity to the original gladiators, maybe. But evil today is generally much more subtle than it was back then -- or at least concerning the United States area particularly -- and I see little reason to believe that subtilty might disappear.) But it's enough to hang a story on it -- and a good story, too. The action comes steadily once the contestants enter the arena, and before then the slow reveal of the mechanics of the game remain captivating. The heroine's cleverness abounds, in a way that naturally fits her youth (and probably would not fit an older, wiser character), and the tactics are a pleasure to consider.

This said, this remains a young-adult novel. The action is mostly for action's sake. We don't learn enough of the underpinnings of the world to truly understand how it has come to be, or why it truly is so, or how it might be (at the far periphery, of course) even ambiguously "moral". We aren't left with much in the way of poignant questions to ponder, of the sort a far better book like Ender's Game (or even the later Harry Potter books) offers. The heroine has some depth, and some of the Capitol stooges surprisingly acquire a little personality by the end, but characterizations are mostly shallow. We're mostly left with a lot of grit (they're trying to kill each other, remember? and of course pageantry will demand it sometimes be brutal) and a dilemma that gets solved. Which is all perfectly fun, to be sure -- but it's not the sort of thing that would cause me to sidetrack reading a hundred pages of the book just because I happened to rearrange it on my bookshelf. (Which happens with all too much frequency for me...)

It was a two-month wait for the hundred-odd people ahead of me at the library to read this so I could borrow a copy; I'm currently 58 of 72 for the second and 22 of 31 for the third (having not considered that, given queue lengths, I should submit holds early, "freezing" holds if needed before they might prematurely vest). Will I wait for my name to move to the front of these queues to continue reading? It seems likely I will, rather than buy the later books to read them faster. I found the characters interesting, yet I'm not emotionally invested in them, and the ending is not a cliffhanger of the sort demanding immediate resolution. I can wait.

(...and, two weeks later, I find myself buying the entire series in Kindle editions on Amazon. Because the library queue is still huge, instant gratification is irresistible, and I keep having to watch out for spoilers when reading things online. Perhaps I should add another star...but no. This book was what it was, and needing to read further doesn't change that.)
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