Suzanne Collins (2008)
Science fiction/fantasy books are just not my thing. The few times I've tried reading books in this genre, my reactions have run from disappointment to loathing. Not so with scifi/fantasy aimed at the young adult audience. Works by Roald Dahl, the Harry Potter series and especially the trilogy of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman are some of my favorite reading experiences. So it came as no surprise that I very much enjoyed The Hunger Games, a young adult fantasy with a strong, likable heroine thrust into an utterly absorbing life-or-death adventure.
The premise of the book, the first in a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, sounds dire and no fun at all, but don't let that deter you. The Hunger Games is set in a ruined future world where survival is a grim existence. The U.S. no longer exists, having succumbed to all manner of environmental and man-made apocalypse. In its place is Panem, with its central Capital and 12 outlying Districts, each of which serves a single function for the greater good. Citizens are kept in check through want and poverty and as punishment for a failed revolution, each community must offer up two young people each year to participate in The Hunger Games, a ruthless, no-holds-barred survival game. The victor earns exemption from any further games and a year of bounty for their community. In a final twist, the games are televised live in an inescapable, soul-crushing media blitz full of pomp and circumstance.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss lives with her mother and younger sister in the district responsible for mining coal. A crack shot with a bow and arrow, she provides for her family by sneaking into the forbidden woods to forage and hunt, skills that will serve her well in The Hunger Games. She's a tough, flawed, and sympathetic heroine and her journey is completely absorbing. The first half of the book concerns the selection of participants and their preparation for the games (and its attendant media frenzy.) We follow along as Katniss navigates the training process and we all learn the rules, strategies, and alliances that will inform the competition. The second half is all about the game and it’s exciting to follow Katniss, a savvy and calculating player who must use all her wits and skills to contend with 23 competitors, many of whom are physically superior and have been training for years for this very occasion.
Collins does a fine job of creating a clever and believable alternate reality, populated by memorable characters, interesting twists and turns, heart-tugging moments, page-turning excitement, and a cliffhanger conclusion that satisfies. The only thing that keeps me from rushing to read the next book is my desire to draw the fun out for as long as I can.