Thursday, August 09, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Anna's been really keen that I should read the books that have captivated her imagination. The Hunger Games  was a firm favourite before the build up to the film which was released in March this year and I've just got round to reading it.

You know up front that a book which is essentially about 24 kids being sent into an arena to fight to the death is going to be disturbing. The Hunger Games is a televised spectacle that everyone is forced to watch as a grim reminder of the consequences of rebellion against the almighty and brutal Capitol. Reading this book in a real life backdrop of Big Brother (which I haven't watched at all this year) and the Olympics (to which I'm addicted and having separation anxiety at the thought of ending) gave it a further, surreal dimension.

You don't get much lower in Panem's pecking order than District 12 where the people live in cruel poverty. 16 year old Katniss Everdeen has had to hunt in the woods to keep her family in food since her father died. Yet again, we see a book where poor mothering is to blame for putting kids in danger. From Snow White to Bella Swan, you don't often find a lead character with two sane, loving and supportive parents and it's usually the mother who has most to answer for.

The book tells the story of Katniss's enforced participation in the Games. The other teenager from District 12 is Peeta, who went out of his way to show her enormous kindness when she was starving years before. However much you swear to yourself that you aren't going to get to like any of the characters because any of them could die at any time, Collins pulls you in and there are cases when you just can't avoid it. Katniss as narrator conveys the conflicting emotions she experiences very well.

There's so much in this book about injustice, unfairness, inequality and abuse of power. The opulent Capitol, where appearance is everything, could easily be modern western society and the Districts the developing nations. The book makes you wonder about how and when to challenge authority, why people comply with a regime that requires them to do terrible things like sacrifice their own children.

Questions are also raised about the workings of the media. You can recognise characteristics of modern tv networks and tabloid press in the build up to the Hunger Games and you have to ask whether what they do is acceptable.

The story itself is well paced, dramatic, poignant and, necessarily, gruesome. It also encourages the reader to look beyond the action in the arena towards the shortcomings in society both in Panem and where they live. It's definitely worth reading.

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