Monday, August 3, 2015

Book Review: THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Warning: As always, I try to stay relatively spoiler free. But it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution.
Rating:  Five Stars—ajklsdflk (when words fail to describe how wonderful a book is)

Ah, the book that started it all—the iconic story that set the Dystopian Golden Age in motion. (I realize Koushun Takami’s BATTLE ROYALE came first, but by pointing that out, you’re wrecking my glorious introduction—could you not?)

I know some people who hate this book—I know others who would willingly maul anyone who spoke ill of THE HUNGER GAMES. Fortunately for you, I’m somewhere in the middle. While I love the book—and I’ve read it about a bazillion times (numbers not accurate)—I won’t attack you like a rabid animal if you don’t feel the same about it.

However, I will be doing some flailing, so if you aren’t prepared to flail along, you might want to step back so I don’t whack you in the face (accidentally of course, but these things happen).

The Arena. I love the training bits, don’t get me wrong. Like an approaching thunderstorm, the build-up to the actual Games is rife with delicious tension. But, while thunderclouds are all well and good, it’s the storm itself that’s the most impressive. I love that the time in the arena could almost feel like a stroll through the forest if it weren’t for the fact that heavily-armed tributes might be hiding behind every tree. Somehow that always gets to me, the difference between the peaceful greenery and the raging bloodlust, the growth and life of the woods as opposed to the violence and death of the Games. Though I don’t know whether Suzanne Collins was intentionally going for this effect or not, the contrast of the seemingly harmless arena and the anything-but-harmless Games is astonishing.

The Games. At the risk of sounding like a child-murdering monster, I loved the Games. Not for the violence—no, I loved the stark, scary message of the Games. Every time I read the book, I have to stop and ask myself, “How did it get to this point where some watch the Games for entertainment and others fail to stand up against this atrocity?” I mean, think about it. We’re talking about the seventy-fourth Hunger Games here—the seventy-fourth time tributes have been drawn in the reaping and then carted out to die. The fact that this has been the case for so long leaves me wanting to pry open the minds of those involved just to get a better understanding of their emotions and motivations.

The Deaths. Now I know I sound like a heartless, soulless monster, so let me explain myself. Each death means something—each death feels like a loss. Each death sends the same message, loud and clear—all is not right with the world. I respect Collins for this, for making her tributes more than just cannon fodder—for making them people—and for making her book more than just an impersonal obituary.

The Contrast. Of course, I already mentioned the contrast between the calmness of the arena and the violence of the Games, but there are other contrasts as well. For instance, there’s the blatantly obvious one: the separation between the poverty-stricken, oppressed districts and the flashy, filthy-rich Capitol—the people who die and the people who watch. If Collins had decided to write a spin-off narrated by someone from the Capitol, I would have knocked over my own grandmother just to make sure I got to it first. The distinction between the two classes, and the way it seems so wrongwrongwrong, is coldly horrifying, and thus something I need to have on my bookshelf.

But there are other, smaller contrasts as well, like the difference between Katniss and the Careers (those from the more well-to-do districts who generally train and volunteer for the Hunger Games). On the one hand, Katniss is in the Games because she could not bear to see her sister die, but the Careers are there because they actually WANT to be there. While every death bothers Katniss to a degree, the Careers see this only as a sport. So again, I want to climb into their minds and figure out how they tick.

The Roman Flavor. This makes the book so much scarier. After all, the idea of humans fighting and killing each other for entertainment is hardly new. The Romans took their Gladiator games very seriously, and I think this is exactly what Collins wanted us to think of when she doled out Latin names like Cato, Plutarch, Seneca, Portia, Caesar, and let’s not forget, Panem. (Oh, and the term Avox, which could be translated “without voice”.) Like those in the Capitol, the Romans failed to value life; though they fell, it’s scary to consider that history could repeat itself and that their old ideals could rise again.

Katniss. Some people don’t like Katniss because she’s prickly, insensitive, and blind to the emotional needs of others. Honestly, this is why I loved her. Given the circumstances, it only makes sense that she is the way she is. And yet, for all her hardness, she is willing to risk her life for her sister, Prim, without a second thought. Furthermore, I love how she never blames Prim for what has happened, never wishes she hadn’t taken Prim’s place. She is sensible and straightforward, smart and relatable, and my cold Vulcan heart aspires to be like hers.

The Peeta and Gale Angle. Normally, I am not a fan of love triangles. But I couldn’t roll my eyes at this one, because it made sense. From the beginning of the novel, Katniss has Gale, her hunting partner and close friend. They have a deep bond forged by mutual suffering (they both lost their fathers) and mutual need (they both have families to feed). But then there’s Peeta. He is the only one who can understand exactly what the Games are doing to Katniss because he is right there, living them alongside her. People, having someone who gets that peculiar sort of pain is priceless. I don’t blame poor Catnip for getting her head a little dizzy trying to figure out her feelings toward the two of them. (And you can be sure I’ll talk about this more when I review the sequels.)

The Symbolism—ie, The Mockingjay. I liked this understated message. It’s more obvious in the sequels, but its quiet meaning might be more powerful here. When the Capitol engineered the Jabberjays, the project ended up backfiring, so they released the birds, expecting them to die out. Instead, they crossed with Mockingbirds to create an entirely new species—Mockingjays. (Scientifically speaking, I’m not sure this would actually happen, since most hybrids are unable to reproduce. But hey, it’s just a book—and it’s a fun idea.) Now here they are, something the Capitol had no hand in, a piece of the nation that they failed to control. Like the Mockingjays, Katniss is a variable that the President neglected to factor in, a spirit that—like the Jabberjays—refuses to die out but instead becomes something new and unique. I love this little spark of hope, this little idea that says, “The Capitol is not all-powerful like it would have you to believe.”

I only had one issue with this book.

The nudity. Call me squeamish, but I’m not a fan of nudity, even if it’s only in a novel. I could have done without it. Although, come to think of it, it is an excellent symbol of the invasiveness of the Capitol, so there’s that.


You know, sometimes I think about books like Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD and George Orwell’s 1984 that have become classics, and I wonder if kids will study THE HUNGER GAMES in school thirty or fifty years from now. And if they do, I wonder what lessons they’ll learn.


  1. JADSLKFAD I AM SO GLAD YOU LOVE THIS BOOK. I AM ONE OF THE RABID FANS. Okay. Maybe not rabid?? Just rabidly excited. XD I will not maul a non-fan, but I just won't talk to them about it because all. the. stars. FAJDSLKFAD I FREAKISHLY LOVE IT SO MUCH. *calms self* And I totally agree with all your points *nods* and those reasons you listed of why some people don't like Katniss...they are EXACTLY WHY I LOVE HER TOO. I totally relate to Katniss. :') I mean, I'm not half as awesome with a bow (though not as bad as my brother, tho, who nearly shot me when we were doing archery once...ah, fond childhood memories) buuuut I love how stoic she can be and strong and her thought process and just fjdsaklfs Katniss is my hero.
    Loved your review! Obviously. :D

    1. I'M SO GLAD YOU LOVE IT TOO. Yes, mauling is excessive, but it is perfectly acceptable to give non-fans the cold shoulder about it. :P Well, the rest of the world can hate her, but at least we love Katniss for who she is. Seriously, though, she feels a lot like me, though I'm not /quite/ as insensitive. Well, your brother sounds dangerous--are you sure he wasn't aiming for you? :P I'm halfway decent with archery, but nowhere near as good as her. If only... And yes, Katniss my hero too.
      adflkasdflkj I'm glad you liked my review!