Among recently published books, little has provoked such interest in their audiences as “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. A dystopia about post-apocalyptic North American reality of a distant future has conquered the hearts of many teenagers (and adults) around the world—and it has been translated into 26 languages. Since it was first published in 2008, “The Hunger Games” has been made into a movie, sold over 800,000 copies, and is approved and recognized by numerous critics, writers, and literary organizations. I will take the risk to cross the road to many respected critics and claim the reviewed novel is nothing but another promoted mediocrity.
The novel is written on behalf of Katniss Everdeen, who lives in the totalitarian state of Panem. Its 12 underdeveloped districts are controlled by a highly advanced metropolis—the Capitol—which embraces the plenitude of the power. Katniss is a 16-year-old hunter, carving out an existence for herself, her sister Primrose, and their widowed mother. One day, Katniss and her former schoolmate Peeta have to participate in “Hunger Games”: an annual reality show in which participants kill each other to entertain the audience. After numerous misfortunes and challenges, Katniss and Peeta both survive, though by the rules there must be only one survivor.
To tell the truth, I barely managed to finish “The Hunger Games.” After reading such novels as “1984,” “Brave New World,” “Dr. Strangelove,” or even the recent “Metro 2033,” where dystopia and the post-apocalypse are shown in all their grimness, “The Hunger Games” looks, to put it mildly, unconvincing. This is perhaps the best word to describe literally everything in this novel, starting with the main characters and ending with the world events that take place. If you are a logical person able to think critically, try not to take this book too close to heart.
The first instance I was surprised about the book’s unconvincing nature was when the domestic policy of Panem was noted. If the society had reached the idea to make children kill each other for entertainment, why bother about schools for them? Why spend resources on education, financial support, or hospices, instead of making people work as slaves 24 hours a day? Hungry, unemployed, educated young people able to fend for themselves look like the least preferable phenomenon for a totalitarian society. My other serious claim is for the main character, Kitniss. Even though she is a teen, she can give odds to Bear Grylls himself. I bet Grylls, unlike Kitniss, cannot shoot from a bow as quickly as from a machine gun. If Grylls laid unconscious on the ground for two days, he would most likely have pneumonia—whereas Kitness did not even sneeze. Also, if anybody—be it Bear Grylls or Chuck Norris himself—had a penetrating knife wound in their head, they would most likely die; Kitniss survived, and did not even turn into a vegetable after such a lobotomy.
Though perhaps she did. For the story told on behalf of the main character, the novel contains amazingly little description about her emotions. This is twice as strange considering that Kitness has to kill her peers, or be killed herself; however, this does not seem to bother her too much, which is disturbing in terms of her mental health. Neither will you find a holistic (or at least convincing) depiction of the world, history, or the society. Though a reality show where teenagers have to kill each other would be horrible and inhumane, I cannot remember the author’s reflections on the moral aspect of this problem; instead, “The Hunger Games” contains detailed descriptions of clothes and other meaningless stuff. It seems like the Games are a background picture for showing how teens run here and there, as if they were hiking, not surviving.
At the same time, the novel has several advantages. It is dynamic, easy to read, and full of action scenes, which makes it attractive to the 13+ audience. It is much less soapy than its main competitor (in my opinion): “Twilight.” “The Hunger Games” had a potential to become a high-quality franchise if its flaws were corrected in the following books.
If you want to read a thrilling story about children hunting each other, check out “The Lord of the Flies.” “The Hunger Games,” at least now, looks like a raw sketch for further, more detailed novels.
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Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in the nation of Panem (a post-apocalyptic North America) with her mother and younger sister, Prim. Her family resides in District 12, the poorest of 12 districts ruled by the wealthy Capitol. Katniss provides for her mother and sister by hunting with her friend Gale in the forbidden woods nearby.
As punishment for the districts' rebellion attempt years earlier, the Capitol holds an annual televised event called The Hunger Games. Each district must draw the names of a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18. These 24 youths become contestants (called "tributes"), who must fight to the death in a vast arena created by the Capitol Gamemakers. The lone survivor returns home to wealth and fame.
One year, on the day of "reaping," Prim's name is drawn. Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place. The other tribute is Peeta Mellark, a baker's son who once saved Katniss' family from starvation by sneaking them bread. Guards put Katniss and Peeta on a train for the Capitol. Haymitch Abernathy, their trainer, accompanies them. He is the only District 12 tribute who has ever survived the Hunger Games.
The bored, wealthy people of the Capitol celebrate the Hunger Games with parties and parades. Capitol-appointed prep teams create an image for each tribute by providing costumes, makeovers and talking points. Tributes who impress the Capitol viewers win "sponsors" — or wealthy fans, who will fund gifts of food and equipment at critical points in the Games.
In his pre-Games TV interview, Peeta claims he's secretly loved his District 12 counterpart for years. Since tributes are always on camera, Katniss can never ask Peeta if his declaration is true or a ploy to attract attention. She plays along, and they draw many sponsors with their ill-fated romance.
After Olympic-like opening ceremonies, the tributes are thrown into an arena with miles of forestland. Eleven tributes die the first day as the contestants fight for the few supplies the Capitol has provided. Katniss takes off alone, hiding and hunting for several days until a group of allied tributes traps her in a tree. There, she finds a young tribute named Rue, who reminds her of her sister. They drop a nest of mutated yellow jackets on their opponents and escape. Their alliance and friendship are short-lived. Another boy kills Rue with a spear a few days later.
Playing on the audience's thirst for romance, the Gamemakers announce that if two members from the same district are the last two contestants, both may return home. Katniss finds Peeta and nurses the wounds he's acquired in a battle with another tribute.
When only one contestant besides Katniss and Peeta remains, the Gamemakers release a pack of vicious dog-like creatures. The beasts slowly maul the other boy to death. Katniss and Peeta believe they've won the Games, but at the last moment, a voice announces that the previous rule change has been revoked. Only one contestant can win, meaning the District 12 tributes must fight each other to the death. Peeta and Katniss threaten to eat poisonous berries simultaneously. The Gamemakers, knowing a double suicide will be an unsatisfying conclusion for the audience, quickly uphold their earlier ruling.
Though both teens are allowed to return to home, Haymitch tells Katniss that the Capitol is furious with their attempt to throw the Games. So even as she rides the train to District 12, Katniss senses she is anything but safe. She also learns that Peeta's love is real, but he's crushed to hear that Katniss is uncertain of her feelings for him. She's developed a deep fondness for Peeta, but she finds herself thinking more about Gale, a friend she used to illegally hunt with in the forest.