Wow. I was barely able to put this book down for a second after the first few pages got me completely hooked. Suzanne Collins narrative here has an immediacy to it that, when combined with the very dramatic life-or-death plot, is incredibly compelling. It's entertaining, and incredibly disturbing all at once. If this was merely a good read, I would have given it 4 stars, but they say great art leaves you changed after you experience it... and this book definitely did that. Suzanne Collins has, with one amazing work, propelled herself onto my top shelf.
Parents, caveat emptor! The storyline is brutal. Even though the writing is geared for young adults, the main characters are teenagers, there's very little physical romance, and the actual violence would probably count as PG-13 nowadays... it's probably one of the most terrifying books I've read in a very long time! Right up there with George R.R. Martin, if not more so. Remember what we learned from Jaws: you don't actually need to SEE the shark in order for it to be terrifying. Sometimes not seeing the shark is even worse.
The story is basically about a teenager who is forced to compete in a 24-man-enter-1-man-leaves event. I don't want to spoil it by saying any more, but if you liked The Running Man, you'll definitely like this. And if you're young enough that you don't remember The Running Man, nor did you get the Thunderdome reference, then I'm just way too old. But take an old fogey's advice and read this book.
Amazon, when can I preorder book 2???
Clearly Gregor was merely the prelude. Suzanne Collins, you've been holding out on us, missy. As an author we were accustomed to your fun adventures involving a boy, his sister, and a world beneath our world. I think it's fair to say that we weren't really expecting something like The Hunger Games. At least I wasn't. But reading it gave me a horribly familiar feeling. There is a certain strain of book that can hypnotize you into believing that you are in another time and place roughly 2.3 seconds after you put that book down. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer could convince me that there were simply not enough canned goods in my home. And The Hunger Games? Well as I walked down the street I was under the disctinc impression that there were hidden cameras everywhere, charting my progress home. Collins has written a book that is exciting, poignant, thoughtful, and breathtaking by turns. It ascends to the highest forms of the science fiction genre and will create all new fans for the writer. One of the best books of the 2008 year.
Life in District 12 isn't easy for Katniss and her family. Ever since her father died the girl has spent her time saving her mother and little sister Prim from starvation by hunting on forbidden land. But worst of all is reaping day. Once a year the government chooses two children from each of the twelve districts to compete against one another in a live and televised reality show. Twenty-four kids and teens enter, and only one survives. When Prim's name is called, Katniss exchanges herself without hesitation to compete alongside the baker's boy Peeta. To survive in this game you need to win the heart of your audience, and so District 12's trainers come up with a plan. Why not make it as if Peeta and Katniss were in love with one another? But in a game where only one person can live, Katniss will have to use all her brains, wits, and instincts to determine who to trust and how to outwit the game's creators.
I described the plot of this book to my husband, particularly the part where Katniss and Peeta fake being in love to gain the audience's approval and the very first thing he said was, "Oh! That's the plot of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" Then I mentioned that it took place in the future and that government leaders set up teenagers to fight one another to the death and he said, "Battle Royale". So sure, there are parts of this plot that have been done before. You could say it's The Game meets Spartacus with some Survivor thrown in for spice. But that's not what makes a book good or bad, is it? Some of the greatest works of literature out there, regardless of the readerships' age, comes about when an author takes overdone or familiar themes and then makes them entirely new through the brilliance of their own writing. Harry Potter wouldn't have been any great shakes if it weren't for Rowling's storytelling. Similarly, Collins takes ideas that have certainly seen the light of day before and concocts an amazingly addictive text. About the time you get to the fifth chapter that ends with a sentence that forces you to read on, you're scratching your head wondering how the heck she DOES that.
Your story often rests on the shoulders of the protagonist. Is this a believable character? Do you root for him or her? Because basically it is a very hard thing to create a "good" person on the page that your reader is going to fall in love with. Because we readers know that we are flawed, we are often inclined to side with the similarly flawed people we meet between a book's covers. Katniss, on the other hand, is so good in so many ways. She sacrifices herself for her sister. She tries to save people in the game. But there's almost a jock mentality to her too. Katniss can figure out the puzzles and problems in the game, but when it comes to emotional complexity she's sometimes up a tree. Most remarkable to me was the fact that Katniss could walk around, oblivious to romance, and not bug me. Seriously, nothing gets under my skin faster than heroines who can't see that their fellow fellas are jonesing for them. You just want to bonk the ladies upside the head with a brick or something. The different here is maybe the fact that since Katniss knows that Peeta has to play a part, she uses that excuse (however unconsciously) to justify his seeming affection for her. Thems smart writing.
Oh! And did I mention the dialogue at all? The humor? Yep, there's humor. We're talking about a story where adolescents hunger for blood, and Katniss is getting in lines about her trainers like, "And then, because it's Effie and she's apparently required by law to say something awful..." Good stuff. The words pop off the page. And then there's the fact that we're dealing with a dystopian novel where the author has somehow managed to create a believable future. No faux slang here, or casual references to extinct dolphins. There are some animals that were scientifically altered, but you can't have a future without a couple cool details like that, right?
In general, this book throws a big fat wrench into the boy book/girl book view of child/teen literature. People love to characterize books by gender. It stars a boy? Boy book. A girl? Girl book. Now take a long lengthy look at the first book in the Hunger Games Trilogy. It stars a girl... and a boy too. There's a lot of hunting, fighting, and survival... and a lot of romance, kisses, and cool outfits. There's strategy, the world's most fabulous fashion designer, weapons and a girl who knows how to fight. This is not a book that quietly slots into our preconceived stereotypes. And you know what happens to books that span genders? They sell very well indeed. That is, if you can get both boys and girls to read them.
The age range? Well, for most of this story I would have said ten and up. I mean, yeah the basic premise is that a lot of teenagers go around killing one another, and sure there's some romance to deal with, but none of it really seems inappropriate... until a final death scene appears in the book. I won't give any details, but suffice it to say it is gruesome. There are definite horror elements to it as well, so with that in mind I am upping my recommendation to 12 and up. I'm sure that there are 10-year-olds out there who've seen much worse stuff on cable, just as there are 12-year-olds who'll freak out ten pages in. Still, I'm more comfortable recommending it for the older kids rather than the younger. You'll see why.
It occurs to me that there has never been a quintessential futuristic gladiator book for kids. That is undoubtedly the roughest term you can give this book. Now I'm not a person who cries easily when she reads something, particularly something for kids. Yet as I was taking a train to Long Island I found myself tearing up over significant parts of this story. It's good. And it's so ridiculous that a work of science fiction like this could even be so good. You think of futuristic arena tales and your mind instantly sinks to the lowest common denominator. What Collins has done here is set up a series that will sink its teeth into readers. The future of this book will go one of two ways. Either it will remain an unappreciated cult classic for years to come or it will be fully appreciated right from the start and lauded. My money lies with the latter. A contender in its own right.
on July 10, 2009
You've got to hand it to Collins: No one can plot a fantasy novel like her. Nobody. She has you not from the first page or the first graf, but the first *word*. She creates believable, likable and riveting characters, ridiculously addictive survival scenarios and a rich world to boot. If you aren't up until 4 a.m. finishing this thing, you're a corpse.
My only problem with this novel also happens to be a very big problem: the overall premise. I'm not spoiling anything by mentioning that the plot involves kids pitted against each other in a giant outdoor slugfest to the death. Again: Kids pitted against each other in a fight to the death. Oh, and it's all on TV. Everyone in this post-apocalyptic world either thinks that's neat, or throws up his or her hands and figures there's nothing that can be done about it.
The author explains this away by creating a world of poverty and hunger; the parents of the young gladiators are so beaten down and afraid of the totalitarian regime that they just hug their kids and shut up and pray, but -- and this is just my opinion -- that's not an effective enough mechanism. It simply doesn't jibe with human nature. Even the starving, terrorized parents of child soldiers in Africa have been known to drag themselves into the bush and track their kids down or die trying. As much as I loved everything else about this book, I can't get past the basic setup. Isn't there one parent out there, one crazy uncle or scrappy rebellious mom, who'd stand up and protest at this amazingly cruel custom? There's not a single voice among the privileged rich in Capital City who might kick up a fuss? I know we're talking about a cruel dictatorship -- and an all-powerful one, at that -- but parental bonds have been known to be very strong things, and I think the author could have done a better job selling us on why the barbarism continues.
on January 13, 2012
I'll be honest and say that I wanted to love this book. I was breathless with excitement when I downloaded it, and couldn't wait to start reading. With the rave reviews coming from almost everywhere I turned, right down to celebrities gushing their love for this series, I went into it with high hopes. The premise sounded fascinating. In fact, I'm pretty sure I turned to my husband and said the plot sounded "brilliant" when I first read a synopsis.
Brilliant, it was not. It was interesting, and I strained to stay awake late at night a couple of times just to read a few more pages. But for every moment of excitement, I felt an equal moment of letdown.
Let's face a few facts:
~ The main character, Katniss, is dull. She is thoroughly useful, to be sure, using her skills and determination to hunt outside the Seam to feed her family (and then to outwit opponents in the Hunger Games arena), but there is nothing about her that is riveting or even relatable. She seems almost void of feeling throughout most of the book, tossing aside emotions and flitting from one mental capacity to the next without much notice. I find it hard to believe that any human being could be horrified by the thought of killing their fellow Tribute one moment and then mesmerized by their own beautiful appearance the next. These dissonances make Katniss seem silly and almost irritating at times.
~ The writing style is frustrating. While I am all for the use of fragments to create drama and suspense, they are OVER-used in this book, to a point that is infuriating. I found myself irked within the first few paragraphs. Fragments for dramatic impact are one thing; fragments used repeatedly on every page are just insulting to the reader. I realize this is a young adult book, and I am above the intended audience age by a good decade or so. But even a teenager with average reading skills should find the continuous use of poor grammar to be unacceptable.
~ The premise, as a whole, lacks authenticity. In order to enjoy this book, you MUST accept everything at face value. You must accept that the people of Panem are so resigned to - or, in some cases, so engaged by - the barbarism that is the Hunger Games, they never question it. In fact, in seventy-four years, not even one Tribute has questioned the mandate that they must fight to the death in this arena, until Katniss Everdeen does. Not one parent has stepped forward and tried to stop this horrific massacre from occurring. Suzanne Collins wants you to accept that the Capitol is so powerful, so impenetrable, that the districts of Panem are held under its thumb as if by a powerful drug. And, really, wouldn't they have to be drugged to behave in such a fashion?
Without any expansion on the characters other than Katniss herself (and perhaps Peeta a little bit), the climax of the book does not reach its full potential. I would have liked to see a prologue or any type of flashback to a time before now, to get a more vivid sense of the evil that is the Capitol. The book lacks a tangible, detailed villain. That is my primary complaint. There is something to be said for a mysterious, menacing presence as a villain - as in Stephen King's "The Stand", for instance - but even in The Stand, the villain is eventually expanded upon to make him seem more real a threat.
The Hunger Games is a good book. It's interesting. It certainly keeps the reader at rapt attention. I think the violence is too much for a young adult novel, but it is also necessary to the premise. I just wish the author had given a little more thought to human nature and not expected her readers to so willingly submit to the plot without question. Perhaps she really believes this is a representation of human nature. Based on the number of rave reviewers who can't seem to find fault with the book in any way, perhaps she is right.
It took me a while to get to this book because I never saw it out of my two daughters' hands. They devoured it! Once I read it, I understood. This is the second book I have reviewed this month that had a powerful female protagonist (other being 'Graceling').
I found the book to be well written with a fantastic pacing. Their is violence in there, but not so over the top as to be distracting. Intimate scenes are sparingly written so as not to be too embarassing (something I greatly appreciated as a dad!!) The rage against the system theme is prevalent enough to notice, but not as overbearing as say.... Ayn Rand or Terry Pratchett.
All in all, I highly recommend this book for kids from 12 up. The ending leads me to believe that this will be a series. I imagine I will be pre-ordering as soon as it's available. Congratulation Ms. Collins!!
All the best,
on December 31, 2009
While I will say that I wanted to keep reading, it just is not a great book.
The Hunger Games is a mix of Roller Ball, Death Race 2000, and The Running Man. The plot is well-documented in other reviews.
My issues with the book are few, but are significant enough to justify a two-star rating.
The Ending. I believe it was too abrupt and almost 'tune in next time for the exciting conclusion of.....' aka 'buy the next book'. The book lacked complete, or at least adequate, resolution.
The Psychology. The story centers around children, most being randomly chosen by lottery, who fight to the death in "The Hunger Games" as a penalty for a past rebellion against the ruling Capitol. They are dressed up, trained, and prepped for the spectacle which is broadcast to the nation on television. Speaking for myself, being placed in this position, I would be in a state of stunned shock - even if the games had become an accepted but despised evil in society, as I'm sure many readers would argue. The author set the main characters off on psychological tangents, such as admiring how good they looked in their costumes, how well their interviews went, how good the food was, etc... Being placed in the same position, did not ring true to me.
The Morality. The book creates a very strong moral dilemma: "as an unlucky participant in the Hunger Games, I'm going to have to kill innocent children, like myself, simply to survive". The book sets up a horrible situation for the main characters and then, I believe, lets them off too easily. This is especially annoying when the 'rules' of the Hunger Games are changed (three times!). I could give many examples, but want to avoid spoilers.
This really is a Young Adult book, which unlike many, will not satisfy the majority of adults (but apparently I'm in the minority).
I will say again, the book was compelling enough for me to look forward to my nightly reading sessions, but has some major flaws.
on October 31, 2008
The 74th Annual Hunger Games are soon to begin. The Hunger Games are a fight to the death. In the new country of Panem, in the ruins of North America, each year as punishment for a rebellion and as a control mechanism, the Capitol forces each of the 12 provinces to draw names of a male and female tribute. The tributes are drawn from all people between the ages of 12 and 18. They receive training, are assessed by the game masters and then the betting begins. The games will be televised and are required viewing for the whole nation.
The draws are not exactly even though. You can choose to enter your name extra times, for yourself and for family members to receive a terse, a grain and oil supplement from the government. Thus enters our heroine Katniss Everdeen. She is entered this year 20 times as she is 16 and taken the terse every year, for herself, her sister and her mother. Her close friend Gale has his name in 42 times, but this is the last year he is eligible. Then Katniss has the worst fear hit - her younger sister Prim (short for Primrose) is drawn with her 1st and only ballot. Katniss then does the unthinkable; she volunteers to take Prim's place.
Katniss Everdeen knows that she has at least some chance of survival in the games. She has been secretly hunting in the woods and feeding her family since her father died years earlier. She hunts and gathers what she can with her friend and hunting partner Gale, in the woods beyond the fenced border of District 12. Yet even so, most believe she has just given up her life for her sisters.
Katniss and Peeta Mellark are the tributes from District 12 for the 74th annual hunger games. As they travel to the capitol they have two mentors - Haymitch Abernathy the only surviving Hunger Games winner from the district and Effie Trinket the Capitol's representative in the district. They will each in their own way try to help them to survive both the Capitol, to win favor with the citizens who can sponsor them in the games, and then the games themselves.
This book is very well written, the scenes sharp and crisp, the world believable and detailed. The characters become real as you read. You reach the end and are left hungry for more, which is what you will get as this is book one in a trilogy. The only drawback in my opinion is the lack of a map. I keep hoping for a map of Panem, with the 12 districts, the mysterious destroyed 13th district and the wilderness area's between them. Maybe it is just a guy thing, but I wanted a map. In this book Twenty-four are forced to enter the game zone but only the winner survives. You get a sample online. You can read chapter 1 online but it will only whet your appetite for more. There is also a video trailer for the book you can find online. This is a great Sci-fi book and would make an excellent movie.
on January 29, 2012
Everyone around me has been talking about this book and I finally got a chance to read it. I burned through it in less than a weekend, but I found myself wanting to like it more than I actually did. The plot went extremely fast (and normally I read quite slow), but to me there was no depth to the story. Each revelation the main character had seemed forced to me. I felt like I was constantly being told this or that fact was important, or the main character felt this way without the prose actually making me *feel* that way. It was just too much telling and not enough showing. Also, the dialogue throughout (epsecially between Peeta and Katniss) felt so stilted and rang very untrue to me. Often sentences were confusing and sometimes scenes transitioned so quickly it was confusing I had to read over a passage a few times. (It seemed on more than one occasion that Katniss had spent her last arrow, when in the next scene she was reloading her bow.) There was even a typo in my copy.
I was expecting a more literary story (i.e. more thematic symbols--more could've been done with the mockingjay pin and the fire symbology, both missed opportunities on Collins's part. The ending was a pure cop out: more could've been done to push the characters to their absolute limits and examine how far one really would go for survival. It seems counterintuitive to say so, but there were so many cop outs in this plot, so many "deus ex machinas", that I grew frustrated with the believability of the plot. Just when things seemed to get really juicy, the diffcult option was removed from Katniss's (and Peeta's) choice of options--every time she was in a position to have to kill a character she cared about, some outside force came in and killed them off. (Rue, Thresh, Foxface. Even Cato's death was more of a mercy killing.) Imagine how profound the story would've been if she had to have allied with Rue and then have been forced to kill her in cold blood later on. That's exactly what I was expecting when I started reading this book--I couldn't imagine it any other way than that she'd bond with the other children and then be forced to kill them, and then deal with those emotions. Instead she got off the hook emotionally each time, and the story just felt flat to me because of it. I really wanted the story to push her to her psychological limits in addition to physical limits. She just made out too easily for a dystopian story centered around kids killing each other. If she had been forced to kill Peeta, the story would've had some real weight to it. (Though I suspect he's been kept alive mostly to set up a love triangle in the next book.) The "stay tuned for Book Two!" ending only added to the frustration. There is just no comparison to 1984 or The Giver, stories with real emotional weight, philosophical ideas, and more artfully-crafted prose. I suppose the trend now is to have supposedly "dark" stories that are only dark in regards to action and plot, but lack any true psychological weight, and whose characters act coolly under pressure (except for a few obligatory tears) and emerge from the story unscathed in any profound sense. (Who can forget Winston turning into coward at the end of 1984 and how his character is broken as a result?)
All in all, I feel this book had nothing to say about humanity. There were glimmers of a theme, especially from the mouth of Peeta when he talks about dying his own terms, and when Katniss makes her first kill--but those themes are dealt with so briefly and then it's back to the action. Peeta and Katniss feel more superficial towards the end of the story--I can't get any real sense of how they've changed after the Hunger Games, if at all. We are only told in the exposition that Katniss feels different, but we are never quite shown how. Same goes throughout the book--we are told some things are significant, but without any backstory, we can't feel how important they are. Why is Katniss's decorating Rue's body with flowers such an act of defiance? We are told after the fact that communication between Districts is forbidden. Had we been told (or better yet, shown) that *beforehand*, the scene would've played differently. There were just too many examples of events happening, then being told they were important after the fact. Considering this is a best-seller, I was really surprised at the low quality of the writing style, even in regards to such basic things as scene transitions. There were also a few elements that just seemed thrown in--like the muttations, that took more away from the story than added to it. And must every YA book these days be written in first-person present tense?
A real disappointment and missed opportunity. I really wanted it to be better after all the good things I heard about it.
on February 9, 2012
Perhaps it is the hype, perhaps I just don't get it. It took me most of the book before I realized why I did not like the writing: complete lack of figurative language. No metaphors, no similes, no analogies. For a book that tries so hard to immerse you into its very different world, I found this very disconnecting.
There is very little show, but a lot of tell. The story is first person present tense. Everything is from Katniss' perspective, where she tells you what she is feeling, what she sees, what she is doing, and what she is thinking. The problem is she tells you she is sad, or hungry, or scared. So I know she feels this, but I don't. There is very little description, no way for me to experience her world. What there is a lot of, however, is her thoughts: lots of rambling. While this makes sense: she is hunted and fear for her life in a very strange setting. It gets very, very tiring after a hundred pages. Yet this progresses throughout the entire book. If you can relate to a 14 year old girl, perhaps this will make more sense to you. But I obviously can't (not for the entire duration of the novel anyway), so this felt incredibly annoying. So there is no respite from the endless torrent of her inane thoughts. No other perspective from other characters.
And then there is the problem of character: Katniss has no personality. She is generically a good character. She is skilled at hunting, and she has a good heart. Whoop-dee-freaking-doo. Her main struggle is to stay alive, fake a relationship with the other guy from her district, and stay a live, and stay alive. There is no difficult moral dilemma to confront her. Every friendly person she encounters in the game that might pose such a problem is dealt with in some morally convenient manner. In short, she makes almost no real progression in her character. No development. She only begins to fall for the other guy from her district, Peeta, near the end, and he is but a one dimensional character even less fleshed out than Katniss.
Not even the basic premise worked for me: basically Battle Royale between strangers. While I had hoped since this was focused on just one character it would evoke more emotion, I was wrong. But what gets me is this: a dystopia where children are forced into gladiator style game and the districts are forced to watch, yet there is such a strong need to make it entertaining? If it is some form of punishment, why make it entertaining? I know this somehow makes sense within the context of the story, but I never thought it believable. Maybe I am just too old for this.
This wouldn't be so bad if Katniss wasn't so thick-headed to begin with. Quite a few "surprises" were quite obvious from the beginning. But if you are new to pop stories fit for mass consumption (Hollywood, I'm looking at you) then you should find this entertaining.
While this book isn't for me, I realize I am in a very tiny minority. I just wanted to voice my opinion in case someone else finds it useful.
on November 1, 2009
So this is what keeps troubling me about the book: as an adult reader, I cannot decide if this is merely a guilty pleasure, or a book with substance that, as the cover says, "explores the effects of war and violence on those coming of age." Professional reviewers and Amazon reviewers alike seem to agree that the book has a political angle, and the inside cover goes so far as to say that it combines "suspense and philosophy." To which I can only say.... if that is true, then it is certainly philosophy-lite, even for a YA novel. I will, however, grant that it does have "unsettling parallels to our present."
The reason that I feel so ambivalent about it is that it is such a gripping and suspenseful read; it truly is difficult to put down. But it is so in a way that reminds me of a video game: different opponents, each with specific abilities; changing settings which present new obstacles and hazards; a limited life-line buttressed with revitalizing finds or gifts. Indeed, it's called "The Hunger Games"---duh, right? And yet something about all of this bothers me.
It's structured like your standard voyage and return narrative, with many elements of the hero's quest. But in this book there is no Grail, no Dragon. The reward is simply your life, and the villains are merely pawns like the protagonist. This lowers the stakes and even calls into doubt the idea of heroism. Is fighting for your life heroic? I tend to see self-defense as something very different from heroism.
The real evildoers are, of course, the game makers and the society which permits this atrocity to take place, but this aspect is never really developed (at least there is no climactic confrontation, and not much of a build up to one either).
True: the reader cannot help but to feel disgust for the game makers. True: one is appalled by the extent to which the media forces people to create a false persona and to live a lie. But that is really the extent of the social commentary, and I felt like some opportunities were lost. Ultimately, I found myself asking: Is this enough?
You want the characters to live (they are, after all, archetypes, and hence parts of us all---the courageous, the doomed, the saved). But saying that the Roman Games are wrong as you sit down to watch the gladiators as they are thrown to the lions is not a critique, and shouldn't make us feel any less guilty about watching. In the end, are we the readers just as bad as the spectators in the book? If so, then we've been duped. And I don't think this was Collins' intention.