YA Book Review: "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins
In distant or even not so distant future, the United States of America no longer exists. Instead, after some sort of ecological disaster, civilization collapsed and out of the chaos and the battle for survival, rose the nation of Panem, with a Capital and thirteen encircling districts. There was a time of peace and prosperity and then came the "Dark Days" of rebellion. The rebellion was crushed and the 13th District as well as its residents was obliterated. In the aftermath, thanks to the "Treaty of Treason" the remaining twelve districts agreed, through a lottery style drawing to surrender a male and a female child between the ages of twelve and eighteen to compete in the annual Hunger Games. A televised spectacle used to punish and remind those who live in the districts their place in the nation of Panem where everything exists to serve and entertain those in the Capital. The 24 contestants, known "Tributes" are placed in an outdoor arena capable of sustaining any environment those in charge want, while they battle to the death in order to be the sole survivor.
Katniss "Catnip" Everdeen lives in District 12 with her mom and younger sister, Prim. Despite the fact Prim only had one chance to be selected for the annual Hunger Games, she was. That isn't going to work so Katniss volunteers herself in her sister's place. This is an act almost unheard of and guaranteed to draw a high degree of media attention to her. Soon the male, Peeta Mellark, son of a local baker is chosen as her companion representative. After a few heartfelt goodbyes with family and others, 16 year old Katniss and Peeta are traveling on a high speed train from their home somewhere in Appalachia to the distant Capital somewhere in the Rockies to compete. That train trip begins to heavily illustrate the novel's main idea of two societies where desperate want and a daily battle for survival is a fact of life in the districts and opulence and excess is a fact of life for those of the Capital.
Post apocalypse novels are nothing new and this one certainly isn't. The 374 page book is a sort of odd combination of the television show "Survivor" and "Lord of The Flies" as it touches on themes and concepts handled many times before with better results using far more complex characters. While the author tells a decently engaging story in this first of the series, the work isn't nearly as good as the hype in many reviews. The science fiction angle is very weak and stereotypical as are the characters, the character development, and the plot, not to mention the telegraphed and obviously open ended outcome of the book. Utterly predictable throughout with no subtlety or nuance, this simplistic novel doesn't even have any clever lines that mean one thing to adults and another to teenagers as author Rick Riordan does in his excellent " Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series.
And that is the rub here. For adults, especially those of us who have read quite a lot over the years in the sci-fi genre and elsewhere and have seen all sorts of forms of this in movies and television, this book simply doesn't work at all for all the reasons cited. However, for the audience it is intended for, young adults who may not be interested in or ready for these types of themes handled in complex ways by authors such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Robert C. Clark, Harlan Ellison and many others, the book with its fast pace and plenty of action will work. For the audience it is intended for, who hasn't had the in-depth exposure that many adult readers have had, this novel could work as written. Engaging teenagers in reading is important and this book, while a failure for widely read adults, should work for the actual intended audience.
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