Once known as North America, Panem is comprised of 12 districts under the control of a callous dictatorship. Citizens of Panem are poor and starving, and two children from each district are forced to compete in an annual televised fight to the death — The Hunger Games — as punishment for an uprising long ago. The story follows sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take the place of her little sister, Prim.
The Hunger Games takes a hard look at the effects of political unrest and oppression on young people. The author’s take on this concept is fascinating, and the characterization of the protagonist is positively gripping. Katniss is a survivalist. She carries a manner of stoicism about starvation and death — the intriguing part of her characterization is the transition from indifferent acceptance of the Capitol’s power over her situation to the spark of rebellion that rises up in her as she experiences the injustice of the Games.
Speaking of the Games… once we’re in the arena with Katniss, this book turns into a non-stop thriller. Danger, fighting, desperation, sneakiness, mercy, cold-bloodedness, and even some cool sci-fi elements comes into play here (mutated animals and creepy medical advances are a couple of examples).
The author, Suzanne Collins, manages to include the requisite romantic component (between Katniss and her male counterpart in the Games from District 12, Peeta, as well as her undefined relationship with best friend back home, Gale) present in most young adult fiction aimed at girls. The interesting thing about this romantic twist is that Katniss is playing a part. It’s obvious there are some stirrings of true feeling, but for the most part Katniss is worried about staying alive and using the relationship with Peeta as a survival technique (I won’t go into more detail for fear of spoiling the story).
At times the romantic element feels forced and unnecessary — the concept behind The Hunger Games is so compelling on its own — but the plot is definitely driven by the circumstances between Katniss and Peeta. Compared with other popular young adult novels, this one deals with teenage romance in a very mature way, and thankfully, ooey-gooey feelings do not dominate the storyline.
This is a modern classic in the making… I was reminded of Ayn Rand’s Anthem when reading this book. It is riveting and horrifying. The novel makes serious issues of injustice, death, and oppression palpable for young people. Excellent characterization, eloquent writing, and poignant moments pervade The Hunger Games. This book kept me up at night, and gave me nightmares (but in a good way). I don’t believe in censoring books from children, but ages 12 and up will probably take something profound away from the story more so than those younger… it may be extra frightening and the message might be lost on the very young. Great book for getting non-readers hooked.