The United States has been divided. The rich preside over the poor from the Capitol, while the poor are left to their own devices in twelve districts. There were once thirteen, but the last was destroyed by the Capitol in a failed uprising of the indignant.
The children of the districts are pitted against each other in a fight to the death called The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen lives in the twelfth of these districts. When her little sister’s name is drawn to act as one of the tributes from District Twelve, Katniss volunteers herself and is cast into a world full of death and fear.
This is the premise of the Young Adult series, The Hunger Games. Some may compare this story to the Japanese novel, Battle Royale and I can’t help but agree with this comparison. The story seems as though it was lifted from the pages, but there are definitely some differences in story and style that set The Hunger Games apart.
This novel explores a dystopian future from the youth’s perspective as it rarely has been before. In the impoverished Seam neighborhood of District Twelve, Katniss has always had to fight to keep herself and her family alive. In that time she became an expert archer, lending her a great skill during the games.
The earlier third of the novel describes her skills, her family, and her home. Collins seamlessly develops such characters as the town drunk and Katniss’s trainer, Haymitch, her confidant and hunting partner, Gayle, and her sweet and gifted sister, Primrose. For some time I have been looking for a book that could so quickly envelop me in its story and characters as The Hunger Games managed.
In each novel, Collins first offers character and plot development for sometime, then hurtles into the games where no rules apply. Death and gore, blind fighting, and intense fear are reflected in haphazard style that takes over during the final third of the novels. Despite some criticisms that Collins has received for this change in style, I truly feel that a starved and terrified young woman would narrate her story in a similar fashion.
While the style generally maintains its quality throughout the series, the pattern that the novels follow becomes tedious by the third book. The so-called “arena” seems contrived and the traps that cause Katniss so much grief are written in such a confusing way that I could not imagine them in my mind’s eye.
It seems that Collins was growing tired of the story by the end of the third book, and I have to say I was, too. The tragedies and triumphs that ensue are fumbled over and some of the characters lose much of their spark.
Beyond these late flaws, The Hunger Games is of impressive quality and is in league with such Young Adult works as Harry Potter and can even hold its own when compared to George Orwell’s 1984. Like these works, there is a love story contained within the pages, but that is not the sole message of the series.
Too often, YA and other works are consumed by their love story, blocking out any other themes. The Hunger Games teeters on the edge of this, with Katniss and her fellow tribute, Peeta constantly kissing, with the will-they-won’t-they dynamic of her and her friend, Gayle, and with the Twilight-esque two men to choose between. Lucky for the reader, this series avoids going overboard with the love story and maintains its themes.
As mentioned earlier, this novel is oriented around a dystopian future from the youth’s perspective. Now more than ever, these themes are both relevant to our lives and important to understand. With the lack of privacy in our lives, the growing supply of nuclear weapons, and the unrest across the world, the world could face a future very similar to the one that exists within the pages of The Hunger Games.
Some may say that these themes are far too mature to be thought of by the readers of Young Adult literature, but it is the youth of today who would face this future. They must be informed of the possible consequences of a war torn world.
Overall, The Hunger Games is a series of impressive calibre. While the books each have their own flaws, the story, themes, characters, and writing all enchant and delight the reader. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in Speculative or Young Adult literature.