With all the hype surrounding the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, I broke down and decided to read it. I was a little worried I was getting myself into the next Twilight, but I’m glad I picked it up.
Set in a post-apocalyptic alternative (or is it??….it is) future of our world, a new country of Panem is under rule by a totalitarian government. This government occupies the central capital, whose technology is so advanced as to seem alien to us, and the twelve surrounding districts live in squalor. Seventy-five years ago the districts rose up against the capital in revolt and were crushed, and since then as a punishment and a reminder, they’re forced annually to participate in The Hunger Games.
Each year a male and a female child between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen in a lottery from each district to participate in the games. Each year a child is within the eligible age, an entry is put in the lottery for them, and every entry stays until they enter the games or reach the age of 19. So a child of 12 will have one entry in the lottery, and a kid of 18 will have 7 entries. The kids can also put extra entries in each year, each entry earning them enough grain to (barely) feed a family member for the year. So a child trying to help support a family of 4 could have 35 entries when he’s 18. This makes it much more likely for the poor to be chosen.
The story is from the view of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl from District 12. She’s poor and has to feed her family by illegally poaching in the woods outside the approved boundary, and as a result she’s grown strong and independent, which makes her a formidable foe and a trustworthy ally when she finds herself in the games.
It’s a fun look at a warped future of reality television, complete with how they work behind the scenes to give false impressions to the audience. The story moves along very quickly, and Collins does a great job of building suspense and making you care about the characters. Some of it did feel predictable, but there were a few moments that took me by surprise.
A lot of people seem to be focused on stating how derivative this story is, which gets on my nerves a little. I’ve only read the first of the series, but a story is not Nineteen Eighty-Four because it has a totalitarian government, it’s not The Running Man because it has a televised reality contest in which people die, and it’s probably not Battle Royale because the government is forcing a group of kids to fight to the death, although to be fair I haven’t actually read or seen that yet. I am willing to guess that while the main device of the books are similar, the tone and the characters and the message and how the plot moves along is likely sufficiently different.
I remember an English instructor once saying that if you gave a class of students a basic frame of a story and asked them all to write a novella around that, you’d end up with a different story from each student, and I think that’s true. I don’t think it’s wrong to bring up parallels and discuss them, but when people start drawing conclusions and making accusations based on (often superficial) similarities it comes across as a hipster trying to be clever. Art inspires more art, and coincidences happen, and neither are wrong. Take a deep breath and think of is as a type of parallel or convergent evolution if that helps.
Anyway, enough with the ranting. I really enjoyed this. It’s essentially every daydream I had between the ages of six and fifteen packed into a novel, so it was quite fun to read through that. I’ve heard the series goes a bit downhill from here, but I’ll likely take the chance and pick up Catching Fire sometime soon.