Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games one of the latest young adult novels that’s made a huge splash. The book’s trilogy has recently finished up with Mockingjay, and a movie is currently in the works. Young adult fiction is experiencing a boom right now, with a lot of attention paid towards the genre since Harry Potter reinvigorated things over the last ten years. Even more for the books, a number of the recent hits steer very closely towards the speculative fiction side of the house, from Harry Potter to Twilight to the Hunger Games.
Coming highly recommended after I had finished up another YA novel (Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi) last year, Collins’ novel is a straightforward affair that is both dark but hitting all of the proper high points for the teen readers that this is steered towards.
Set in an indeterminate future in North America, the United States has ceased to exist, replaced with a nation called Panem after a devastating war. Ruled by an autocratic Capitol, 13 districts around the country have become incredible specialized, providing the nation with specific goods. The story’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen, hails from District 12 and becomes involved with a yearly spectacle called The Hunger Games.
Every year, two children, Tributes, are selected at random from each district and brought to the Capitol. There, they are brought into an arena where they fight to the death. Following the creation of Panem, a rebellion from the 13 districts was quashed, and in retaliation, the Capitol demonstrated its grasp over its subjects through the games.
The idea came out of channel surfing as Collins flipped between reality television and coverage of the recent Iraq war. The result is a horrific combination of events, where children are forced to kill one another on live television. The book, as the title suggests, covers Katniss’s experiences in the arena, as she shoots, stabs and otherwise works to survive, while the wealthy residents of the Capital and other districts watch on.
I’ve begun to understand the rise of Young Adult fiction over the past couple of years: it’s a very clear-cut way to get across a story with very clear morals. Working at the bookstore years ago, it’s easy to ridicule the housewives who came in gushing about Twilight, but I get it now: the books aren’t complicated in the stories that they tell, but have a number of interesting teaching points throughout.
The Hunger Games very much falls into this category. Where I expected some elements of ethics on killing your fellow tributes, this wasn’t as clear cut as I’d anticipated. Katniss teams up with her fellow District 12 tribute towards the end, and allies herself with others with mutual goals. The result is a story of trust, friendship and quite a bit of violence.
The story wanders at points – like the character, I lost track of time in the story as she wandered back and forth, trying to survive, and the prose leaves a bit to be desired at other points. But, the tale is a fantastic dystopian story that is both exciting and engaging, and while I’m not sure that I’ll get to books 2 and 3 at any point soon, it’s a story that I’d recommend.