Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Winning will make you famous.
Losing means certain death.

May the odds ever be in your favour

-The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a 2008 science fiction novel by the American writer Suzanne Collins. The novel is the first in The Hunger Games trilogy, followed by Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010). I CANNOT fathom why it took me so long to read this book. The reason I say that is because I am currently wholly consumed by it! I had heard of the books and the motion pictures based on the books but that was about it. A few weeks ago, I happened to watch the first part of the movie i.e. The Hunger Games. I had no idea what it was about so I didn't know what to expect. A few minutes into the movie and I became aware of the whole dystopian sensibility going on and that made me a bit weary. I have watched movies based on a similar concept like Children of Men, V for Vendetta and Cloud Atlas to name a few and although I consider these movies to be good, it frankly, isn't my cup of tea. Well, I ended up having to eat my words. I found the concept, storyline and characters in the movie so unique and intriguing that I immediately rushed to my bookshelf and fished out the book. I felt like an idiot knowing that this ground-breaking trilogy was idly sitting there all along. I don't know how I will feel about the but for now atleast I am thrilled with how the story has unfolded. I wish someone had yelled at me for being so clueless, given me a good shake, thrust this book into my hands and ordered me to read it much earlier!

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian society based in the nation of Panem, a place once known as North America. The rich and thriving Capitol is the governing body of Panem and is surrounded by 12 subservient districts. The main protagonist Katniss Everdeen from the poorest District 12 is a tough, taciturn 16-year old who struggles to keep food on the table, is weary of her widowed mother and dotes on her 12-year old sister Prim. Katniss and Prim are getting ready for the annual "reaping", a balloting system in which one boy and one girl aged between 12-18 are picked from each district to compete in a barbaric televised reality tv show called The Hunger Games in which the selected candidates (also called tributes) battle till death until a lone survivor remains. The games were started as a punishment for an earlier uprising by the districts against the Capitol which also resulted in the complete annihilation of District 13.

At the reaping, Katniss is horror-struck when Prim is picked to represent District 12 among the girls. Katniss immediately volunteers to be a tribute and has to bid farewell to her family and her hunting partner/ best friend Gale. Her fellow tribute is Peeta Mellark, the local baker's son who accompanies Katniss to the Capitol. Together with their stylists Cinna and Portia, chaperone Effie and mentor Haymitch, they must prepare for the games as best as possible to look good, gain sponsors, adopt survival strategies and train for combat.

At the pre-games parade, Katniss and Peeta stun the cheering audience with their flaming costumes designed by Cinna. At training, Katniss impresses the gamekeepers with her superior archery skills gaining the highest score among her fellow tributes. During the pre-games live chat show with flamboyant television host Caesar Flickerman, Katniss tries to be her charming best despite the fact that she loathes the Capitol and everything The Hunger Games represent. She is stunned when Peeta reveals to Caesar on-air that he has had feelings for her since they were children. Katniss is conflicted whether this is a strategic ploy by Peeta to gain favour with the sponsors as well as to soften her or if his feelings are genuine.

The games begin with a bloodbath in the arena within the first few minutes in which half the tributes are killed. Katniss flees towards the forest where her hunting skills, knowledge of edible plants and ability to deftly scale trees keep her protected from the other tributes. Some of the aggressive District 1, District 2 and District 4 tributes (also called career tributes), headed by a menacing boy called Cato, form an alliance and begin hunting Katniss. After a nail-biting game of cat and mouse, an unlikely alliance with 12-year old Rue (a tribute from District 11) and thrilling encounters where she outwits the other tributes, killing some and stripping the remaining of their supplies, Katniss marks herself as the prime target. However, in the ensuing mayhem, Rue is killed and Katniss loses the only friend she has in the arena.

When it is announced that this year's games can have two winners if they are from the same district, Katniss goes in search of Peeta who is grievously injured by Cato. She nurses him back to health and for the sake of obtaining gifts from sponsors, plays into the "star-crossed lovers" drama that the Capitol is lapping up in the name of entertainment. After a few more of the tributes die or are killed, there are only three left standing. The gamekeepers send a bunch of ferocious werewolf-like creatures chasing after the three tributes in an attempt to draw the games into a thrilling climax. As Cato perishes, Katniss and Peeta are the last two tributes to survive the games. The twist comes during an announcement declaring a change in rules and the only option of a sole survivor. Katniss suggests a double suicide so that the games would end without a victor. Just as Katniss and Peeta are about to swallow a handful of the deadly berry nightlock, an hasty announcement declares them joint winners. Katniss and Peeta are taken back to the Capitol where they are crowned the winners of the 74th Hunger Games. Her relief is however short-lived when Haymitch tells her that she has become a political target as the Capitol is enraged by her upstaging them at the games. How Katniss deals with the repercussions of her rebellion forms the premise of the next book - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

My thoughts....
The book is written in the voice of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen which gives the story-telling a personal touch. The author’s prose is extremely simple yet effective and the pace is just perfect. She weaves in the unusual storyline effortlessly with a perfect mix of empathy, humour, adventure and thrills. This is one of those books that you can't put down once you start reading it. The story is the absolute highlight of the book. Apparently, the concept of the book isn't exactly original with a nearly identical premise explored in a Japanese novel titled  “Battle Royale,” but to be honest, I couldn't care less. The description of a life of poverty, starvation and oppression in the districts (a stark contrast to that of the Capitol), the almost tangible terror-fueled reaping, the extraordinary preparation before the games and the sadistic  "kill or be killed" concept of the games itself with its Roman gladiator inspired combat, life-threatening situations and survival strategies are simply mind-boggling. It is brutal and unnerving yet somewhat inspiring at the same time. The staged events that the tributes partake in exclusively for the benefit of television audience is reminiscent of the innumerable reality shows that we are inundated with. It is in-keeping with today's unfortunate entertainment scene where being fake and superficial can actually be rewarding. A sad case of art imitating life.

The characters are well-defined with those of Katniss, Peeta, Cinna, Haymitch and Rue particularly standing out. Katniss is a heroine unlike no other. The best part is that she is heroic in a refreshingly unassuming way. She is headstrong, sullen, rebellious and yet you root for her like you probably would never have rooted for anyone else. Her backstory gives the reader sufficient insight into her life and draws a comprehension for the reason why she is the way she is. Her bravery, self-sacrifice, loyalty and resourcefulness makes her one of the most endearing female characters to ever be written in young adult fiction. I conclude by saying that this is one of the most engaging books I have read in recent times, and I cannot wait to read the next two. The reviews will be up in due course of time so stay tuned.

I highly recommend this book, especially for young adults. Do NOT miss it!

My rating for this book is

Have you read this book? If yes, what did you think about it? I would love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment to let me know....


1 comment:

  1. "Apparently, the concept of the book isn't exactly original..."

    Neither was Battle Royale. Stories about people being forced to fight each other to the death and children being sacrificed have been around for thousands of years (see: Everything is a Remix).

    Aside from that, I agree wholeheartedly with the review. I'm a 45 year-old confirmed book whore and have thoroughly enjoyed reading and re-reading the first and second books of the trilogy I would only add that if, like me, you're a person who is always disappointed by screen adaptations of books, then watch the movie first. As good as the first 2 movies were, I'm glad I saved the books (and am saving the 3rd book also) until after seeing the screen adaptations.


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