Friday, April 23, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collin's book The Hunger Games, the first book in The Hunger Games Trilogy, is classified as a young adult book, but the subject matter is bleak, dark and fatalistic, and one that I wish had been in print when I was a young adult.

The Hunger Games is the story of a 1984 inspired world, where the ruling power keeps the various districts under its iron heel by isolating them from one another and keeping them on the brink of starvation and poverty.  To keep control, the Capitol organizes an annual event in each district to pick what it calls "tributes" through an elaborate lottery system called The Reaping.  A boy and a girl tribute are pulled from each district to participate in the Hunger Games, where they will fight to the death in an outdoors arena that is as deadly as the children competing in the games.  Everything from the drawing of the participants, to the moment that one victorious tribute emerges from the game is broadcast to all of the districts, and to the exceptionally rich and lazy living in the Capitol.  The children are assigned personal assistants consisting of past Hunger Game victors, stylists, fashion coordinators and are lavished with gifts, food and drink like they have never had before.  Winners are rewarded with a home, some degree of wealth and the promise that their family and friends will never again go hungry so long as they live.  Some of the slightly wealthier districts even go so far as to train children at a very young age to prepare them for survival in the games, giving them a distinct advantage over those from the poorer districts, such as the mining District 12, where the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, lives.

Katniss is a brunette 16-year-old girl, who through many hard years of near starvation, has learned how to survive.  With the loss of her father and having to care both for her little sister, Prim, and her mother, who has nearly given up on life, Katniss has become a surviver and mastered the art of hunting.  The community of District 12 respects the young woman's ability to bring in the rich and rare game from outside of the District's walls despite knowing that going beyond District 12's borders is strictly forbidden.  When Katniss' sister is chosen to attend The Hunger Games, Katniss steps forward to take her place and the tragedy of her choice is cheered and admired by the rich.  Katniss reluctantly joins in an alliance with her male co-tribute, the well-spoken baker Peeta, and forms a shaky alliance with the boy who she will eventually have to kill if she is to become the 74th winner of The Hunger Games.

To say that I loved this book is an understatement.  At times a mixture of Running Man, Battle Royale, American Idol, Survivor and Seasame Street, this brutal tale is not too far a leap from the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the controlled powerless, and people's voracious desire to constantly be entertained.  Ratings and viewer sympathy are a key component of winning the game, and with the appropriate backstory--oftentimes fabricated for dramatic effect--, elaborate costuming, heartwarming televised interviews, and compelling actions during the game itself, the children will hopefully attract the rich sponsors who can deliver needed items to their favorite tributes during the course of the event.  Who would not be able to sympathize with the girl in the costume of flames, who took the place of her sister during the time of The Reaping, who has had to fight to live for the entirety of her life, and who is supposedly in love with the baker boy from her district, but will inevitably have to kill him?

I could almost see Paris Hilton glued to the television with her equally atrocious friends, sipping her cocktail and eating her decadent appetizers, cheering on the "Girl on Fire," while the less fortunate starve and their children kill one another for her entertainment.   Would Paris cry when another of her favorite tributes died?  Would she send a flask of much treasured water into the battle?  When the games ended and one child lived, would she cheer and comment on how excited she was for the next years games?  Probably, and that is where the true horror of this incredibly well-written and absorbing book lies.

The final book in The Hunger Game Trilogy by Suzanne Collins will be released on August 24, 2010 and I am counting the days to its release.


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