For the first time I read The Hunger Games, the newest young adult sensation in fiction novels. Like many others out there the first thing that came to mind was Battle Royale. There have been a whole slew of comparisons all over the internet, from accusations of plagiarism to defending the books’ differences to the death (no pun intended). As I have only seen the movie Battle Royale and not read the novel, I am choosing not to throw in my own two cents on this topic (even though I'm really tempted to!). Instead, I will focus on my thoughts on The Hunger Games as a unique entity. That said, for those of you that haven't read it (or plan to see the movie without reading it), beware of spoilers!! You have officially been warned.
The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America, where the nation of Panem has risen out of its ashes. A tyrannical and overly wealthy Capitol reigns over 12 districts, all known for a certain industry and all suffering from various levels of poverty. There were once 13 districts, but when District 13 rebelled against the Capitol it was obliterated. As a punishment for the insubordination of District 13 and a reminder to the remaining 12 districts of their inferiority, the Capitol enforces an annual event called the Hunger Games. In each district all children between the ages of 12 and 18 are entered into a drawing, and one boy and one girl are selected at random from each district. The 24 “tributes” are taken to an undisclosed arena where they must fight to the death, until one victor is left standing. By law every citizen must watch the televised proceedings, and the Capitol portrays the event as a combination of a reality show and a sporting event. There are opening ceremonies, interviews, training scores, and cameras that follow their every move in the arena, which is rigged with traps that are implemented by the Game Makers when things get dull.
The story follows Katniss, a young girl from District 12 who has experienced the deepest trenches of poverty, has taught herself how to survive, and acts as the primary breadwinner for her mother and little sister. When her 12-year-old sister is selected as the female tribute for District 12, Katniss volunteers to take her place in the Hunger Games. I think that's all the background you really need (no, I will not spoil you spoiler-lovers by giving away the end!). Now on to my thoughts and opinions (which is what you're all here for, right?)!
While some may say Suzanne Collins is a story-stealer, I instead believe she took a concept that has been visited many times before, put her own unique spin on it, and layered it with a well-crafted back story, bizarre characters and creatures, and thought-provoking insights into a bleak future that is sometimes horrifyingly comparable to certain aspects of society today. She chooses to write the story from a survivalist point of view rather than the horror-based gorefest it could have been, which makes sense to me since the whole point of the game is to survive. The novel is sometimes slow-paced as we follow Katniss hunting and hiding in trees, and I don't think Collins does this because she wants to bore you or avoid going from one bloody murder to the next. I believe she does it to build feelings of suspense, fear, and reality within the reader, thus mirroring the intention the Games have for the citizens of Panem. It was for that reason that I pushed through the duller moments and ended up reading the entire book in one day.
One thing I appreciate about this book is that it takes two been-there-done-that motifs and spins them together into the perfect marriage of disturbing. It's the combination of being forced to fight to the death and the way it is depicted as a twist on a modern-day reality show, topped with just a dash of 1984 "Big Brother is watching you" that sends shivers down my spine. The tactics used to up entertainment value are very similar to what you see in a reality show today- twists in the game, viewers getting the opportunity to affect what happens in the game (in this case by sponsoring to send gifts to the players), cameras capturing their every move. The Capitol turns it into a spectator sport and forces its citizens to watch, and even worse many of them enjoy it and place bets on who will die and who will be victorious. With all the negative drama people already love to watch on reality shows (who doesn't love a good bitch fight on Jersey Shore?), after reading this book I can't help but wonder: how far are we willing to go to be entertained, and where will we draw the line?
My final comment on the Hunger Games is that Suzanne Collins could have been WAY more obnoxious about the love triangle between Katniss, Gale and Peeta, but she wasn't, and I thank her for that. I think she plays it just right and doesn't overdo it, so it adds a good dynamic to the story but doesn't take away from it. The love story is not the point, it's just a factor. Maybe I'm speaking to soon and she's going to go all Twilight on my ass in the next two books, but I sincerely hope not. In fact, I'm going to go knock on some wood now.