I read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games before I went on vacation but didn’t have time to write a book review before I left. Considering that the film adaptation has just made a gazillion dollars, it seems as good a time as ready to give my thoughts on the book.
First, a short summary. The Hunger Games follows a young protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to represent her district in the annual deathmatch/reality show known as the Hunger Games in order to save her sister, who had been drawn at random. There she fits for survival against 23 other competitors from all 12 districts, including Peeta, the baker’s son from her district who she is pretending/actually falling in love with. I know that there’s a lot more details such as the pageantry, social-political commentary, and palace intrigue, but that’s the basic story. Simple, straight-forward, easy-to-understand. Good stuff.This ground has been well-trodden before with Arnold Swartzeneggar’s The Running Man (which I love) and the Japanese Battle Royale (which I’ve never seen). It’s not the most original material but it hasn’t yet been done to death.
So, aside from the unoriginal premise, how was the book?
Pretty good in fact.
While Suzanne Collins is not going to be confused with J.K. Rowling (who I can’t read without staying up all night), she does keep the story interesting and the pace brisk. The language is kept simple and easy-to-understand, allowing you to concentrate on the story and not the prose. The characters, while somewhat stock, are likeable and draw you into rooting for them (especially Rue). The only real problems that I had with the story was that romance between Peet and Katniss seemed a bit forced (maybe intentional considering that they also pretending to be in love) and drags on too long in the third act of the novel. Near the end, we are greeted with around 50 pages of the finally re-united pair resting in the woods and mending their wounds while they grow more and more twitterpated. Given the good pace that Collins had maintained throughout the rest of the novel, this break really breaks the tension just when it should be rising to a crescendo. But it ends strong and sets up some interesting conflicts for the next book.
So should you read it?
Yeah sure. It’s not Lord of the Rings but it is fun and enjoyable because it is well-executive. Give it a shot.
However, that does not say that it’s perfect. There is a couple of things that bugged me as I was reading.
The first, is that Katniss does really kill too many people. If my math is correct, she only kills two people directly. The rest are killed by others or inadvertently by actions that Katniss takes. If you include her dropping the tracker jackers on the other tributes, then that makes four. It’s an interesting choice in that it helps preserve her innocence (she kills only when necessary and only the “bad” characters) but it also makes her a bit of a spectator for most of the games. I would have loved to see her hunt the other tributes more directly (the “bad” ones of course) in order to show off her superior archery and tracking skills.
The second thing that bugs me is the tracker jacker incident. It seems a bit too Deus ex machima for me. Poor Katniss gets treed by the allied tributes and then is saved by a tracker jacket nest that just happens to be there. To this point, we had never heard about tracker jackets (unless I missed something, comments please) until they are needed. It would have been better had we been introduced to them much earlier, say when Gale and Katniss are hunting. This would have given Gale an opportunity to explain what they are to Katniss (and by extension the reader) while setting it up for use later on in the Hunger Games.
But those quibbles are relatively minor in the broader context. The Hunger Games is a good read that won’t take you long. Go out and enjoy it.
PS – Rue is by far my favourite character.