My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There has been so much hype about The Hunger Games that I wanted to read it myself to see what all the fuss was about. I enjoy dystopian fiction so I was hoping that it would live up to the good reviews I have read.
The story takes place in a future nation called Panem which is composed of a wealthy and controlling Capital and twelve poorer districts that each specialise in a different trade. The main character, Katniss Everdeen comes from district twelve, a very poor mining district. As punishment for a past rebellion against the Capitol in which district thirteen was obliterated, one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen are selected from each district to be participants or ‘tributes’ in the Hunger Games -a fight to the death in an outdoor arena which is watched by the citizens of Panem like a reality TV show. Despite only having her name in the drawing once, Katniss’ little sister Prim is selected, and Katniss volunteers in her place knowing that it will probably be her death sentence. I could really relate to her need to protect her sister and her pain at having to sacrifice herself.
Also selected from district twelve is Peeta Mellark, a kind baker’s son who once gave Katniss bread when she was starving. Their drunken mentor Haymitch convinces them to present themselves as ‘starcrossed lovers’ to gain sympathy and sponsers from the Capitol. Peeta seems to be genuinely in love with Katniss, but she is confused by her feelings for him-never sure whether she is acting for the cameras or not and aware that she will have to kill him if she is to survive the arena. She also has conflicting feelings her best friend Gale who she has grown up hunting with in district twelve, so a love triangle develops. I liked both Gale and Peeta as characters, so I could sympathise with Katniss’ difficult decision as well as disliking her for stringing them both along at times. Katniss is a refreshing heroine as she is brave and in control of her own destiny rather than being dependent upon the male characters in the novel. Her need to protect her family is admirable, but she is not morally flawless. She has her moments of weakness and selfishness which make her human and easier to relate to than other angelic, self-sacrificial heroines that I have encountered in YA fiction.
The games themselves are brutal and many of the tributes are killed in the first day alone, but Katniss relies on her hunting and outdoor skills to survive and it was interesting to read about her techniques. She doesn’t make many killings herself, except ones that seem justified, and conveniently most of the other tributes kill each other off until only her and Peeta are left, which is a little unrealistic and predictable. However, the book is filled with enough exciting moments (like the trackerjackers, the muttations and the fireballs) and poignant moments (with Rue and Peeta) to make up for that. After her clever trick with the berries at the end of the novel, Haymitch warns Katniss that she has become a political target, which hints at the difficulties she might face in the next book. The love triangle is also unresolved as Katniss has to return to district twelve to face Gale after he has seen her pretend to be in love with Peeta, and Peeta is heartbroken when he discovers that her love was just an act. It’s unclear whether she has real feelings for Peeta, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the sequel, Catching Fire.
The Hunger Games was very different from other YA novels I have read, and I can see why it has received so much attention. I enjoyed the fact that it had plenty of action and suspense and that the romance supplemented that rather than dominated it. Although it was unrealistic at times, it provided welcome escapism and, at times, an interesting commentary on our own society. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.