Review Of The Hunger Games Trilogy

May 9, 2012

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The Hunger Games (film)

Photo: The Hunger Games film, starring Jennifer Lawrence, has grossed more than $600 million.

In the past, I’ve never been one to follow the hottest book trends.  I read whatever I felt like reading.  Generally, the authors were well known authors, but usually not the very hottest ones.  Lately, however, I seem to be picking up the latest “hot” books.  First it was Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, and now The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  I don’t think this is a case of me suddenly becoming more open to suggestion, but simply a case of my preferred type of books falling into the mainstream.  I found the Kindle version of the trilogy for $15 and snapped it up.  The price has gone up a bit, but it’s still a good deal.

The books

Since it’s a trilogy, you would naturally expect three books (unless you’re a fan of Douglas Adams).  The Hunger Games in the first book, followed by Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

Here is the plot in a nutshell.  The books follow the adventures of Katniss Everdeen. Katnisss lives in the country of Panem, which is a future society that encompasses the modern United States.  Panem consists of twelve districts and the Capitol.  Citizens of the districts are under tight control of the Capitol following a civil war nearly 75 years ago.  People in the districts struggle to survive so that citizens of the Capitol can live a life of excess.

Every year, a lottery is held in each district.  One boy and one girl are chosen to represent their district in The Hunger Games.  The goal of The Hunger Games is simple.  Kill the other 23 children and emerge as the victor.  This brutal “game” reinforces the notion that the Capitol has complete control over the districts.

The world

I like science fiction, but only when there is at least a decent grounding in the real world.  That’s definitely true in The Hunger Games triology.  The people are completely normal humans, much of the fauna and flora is real, and the geography is based on reality.  The mountain range that separates the districts from the Capitol is obviously the Rocky Mountains, and it’s pretty clear that Katniss lives in the vicinity of West Virginia.

When Collins wants to tweak a real life object, she changes the name slightly (morphine becomes morphling) with an obvious clue to the relationship.  Likewise, the names of the characters are simple (generally 1-2 syllables) and often evocative of common current names.  There’s also some pretty obvious symbolism – the “boy with the bread” is named Peeta (pita) and the boy who has a tempest inside him is named Gale.  Many have pointed to deeper symbolism, but I generally read contemporary fiction for pure enjoyment and don’t delve into that too much.  However, the fact that Panem is completely devoid of the concept of God did jump out at me.

There are, of course, some things that are unique to Panem, and not based closely on anything in the “real” world.  Some really weird shit.

Collins does a wonderful job setting the scenes.  It’s very easy to visualize District Twelve, the areas, and many other locales in the books (and there are a fair number of scenes).  I haven’t yet seen the movie, but wonder how well it can compare to the picture Collins has painted in my mind.

The characters

I’ve been reading a lot of books with complex and interesting characters lately.  The Hunger Games, however, far exceeds these other books.  Carried forward by the first person point of view, I am not simply interested in the lives of these characters, I am emotionally invested and actually care about them.  Often times, I prefer third person point of view, but Collins really hits it out of the park by letting us inside Katiniss’s head.  It’s a little (lot) messed up in there, but we gain a lot of interesting insights about life in Panem.  It also allows Collins to take advantage of the information hiding that the first person point of view affords.  This allows the readers to be unaware of twists and turns in the plot.

None of the main characters can be described as simple or boring.  Collins uses some very interesting traits to make many of the characters memorable to the readers, but many of  the “simple” characters turn out to be far more complex than the reader – or Katniss – may have thought.

The verdict

Is there any doubt?  This is a great story with interesting characters and the plot is carried along by a first rate writing style.  If you enjoy reading suspense/thriller books, grab The Hunger Games trilogy.

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