Background: This book isn't out yet, but rarely have I seen so widely reviewed (and praised) an advance publication. The reviews listed below are just a subset of the many references to and reviews of this book that I've seen. I was fortunate to get a signed hardcover copy of this one from Scholastic at ALA. I am a big fan of Suzanne Collins's previous series, the Gregor the Overlander books (reviews here, here, and here), but I have to tell you that The Hunger Games is in a whole different class. I wasn't actually sure I wanted to read it, when I first heard the premise. Kids in competition to kill each other? Seriously? But oh my goodness, this is a phenomenal book. Even though there are already tons of reviews, I couldn't resist sharing my thoughts here.
Review: Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games is one of the best books that I've read, not just this year, but ever. Collins' writing simply blew me away. I would stop periodically and shake my head, wondering how on earth she was able to pull this book off. The story is set in a Dystopian future North America, in a nation called Panem. Panem consists of a high-tech, wealthy Capitol, surrounded by twelve outlying districts of various fortune. Sixteen-year-old Katniss lives in the poorest of the districts, District 12, where people mine coal, and struggle each day for survival. Katniss works as an illegal poacher to support her mother and her beloved younger sister, Prim. She has a partner in crime, Gale, a boy a bit older than she is, who is her best friend.
The districts are heavily regulated by the Capitol. At one time, years earlier, the citizens of Panem's districts rose up against the Capitol. They were soundly defeated. As a reminder of the penalties of treason, the Capitol imposed the annual Hunger Games. Explains Katniss:
"The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins." (Page 18)
In this book, the first of a trilogy, Katniss learns first-hand about the Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games is beautifully written, taut, but with description that brings the scenes to vivid life. It is highly suspenseful (I stayed up very late finishing it one night), yet filled with heart, too. There are themes of loyalty, friendship, sacrifice, and determination. Katniss is almost unimaginably strong, but the first-person narration lets the reader see her insecurities, loves, and mistakes, too. Several of the other characters are compelling, heartbreaking, and/or surprising. The Hunger Games explores what people are willing to do to survive, how people respond when they have limited options, and the limits to which people are willing to push their humanity. This moral exploration never feels the least bit message-y, because everything happens in the context of Katniss's own quest for survival.
The Hunger Games is not for the faint-hearted (or the very young reader). There are grim passages, recounting deprivation and deaths. But somehow, Katniss's narration keeps the bleakness at bay. She has a wry humor and a stubborn spirit, and you want to keep reading as much to hear what she has to say as to find out what will happen next. You want to keep reading to bear witness.
Panem is a futuristic nation filled with glitz and glamor, with some creative touches. Here's an example:
"My quarters are larger than our entire house back home. They are plush, like the train car, but also have so many automatic gadgets that I'm sure I won't have time to press all the buttons. The shower alone has a panel with more than a hundred options you can choose regulating water temperature, pressure, soaps, shampoos, scents, oils, and massaging sponges. When you step out on a mat, heaters come on that blow-dry your body. Instead of struggling with the knots in my wet hair, I merely place my hand on a box that sends a current through my scalp, untangling, parting, and drying my hair almost instantly. It floats down around my shoulders in a glossy curtain." (Chapter 6)
But Panem is also a nation in which people watch teenagers die as a form of entertainment, a nation where kindness is cause for suspicion, and cameras everywhere record any misdeed. In District 12, "the boldest form of dissent (people) can manage" is silence. The world that Suzanne Collins has created with The Hunger Games is not, in short, a world that I would want to live in. But it is is a world that I feel privileged to have had a chance to visit, and that I look forward to visiting again in the remaining books of this trilogy. This is a book that should be in serious contention for the Printz Award, and one that I think is destined to be a new classic. I simply can't recommend it highly enough, to teens and adults.
Publication Date: Conflicting reports, but sometime between September 14 and October 1, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: YALSA, nineseveneight book reviews, Kids Lit, We Know Books at HPL, Reading Rants!, Librarilly Blonde, The Reading Zone, Oops... Wrong Cookie, Abby (the) Librarian, A Fuse #8 Production, The Compulsive Reader, Satia's Journal, YA Book Realm (and more)
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.