Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review of The Hunger Games

It's a hot topic right now, as The Hunger Games movie was just released in theatres last weekend. Many people have gone to the movie without reading the book. Still others have read the book in advance of going to the movie.

I admit that I am not really interested in going to see the movie, but was curious about the books. I remember hearing people talk about them a couple of years ago when they first came out. But the idea of a bunch of starving kids fighting to the death was not interesting to me at all. I had picked up the book a couple of times to read it, but could never get past the first few pages. This past weekend, I made a concentrated effort to at least get through the first chapter. I wanted to give it a truly valiant effort. And by the end of one chapter, I was hooked.

Katniss Everdeen is 16 years old. She lives in District 12 in the nation of Panem, formerly the place known as North America. All of the districts are run by The Capitol. As punishment for an uprising some years ago, most of the inhabitants are kept in extreme poverty. People are forced to scrounge for food and often die for hunger, though the cause of death is often listed as something like pneumonia. Katniss takes care of her mother and her beloved 12 year-old sister, Prim, by illegally hunting in the woods outside of the fenced-in area and trading some of the meat for other foods and items. Their father was killed by a mine some years ago. Their mother was too depressed to care for her family, so Katniss took charge.

Once a year, The Capitol forces a battle between the Districts known as The Hunger Games. One boy and one girl from each district is chosen to compete. The 24 kids are forced to battle to the death as inhabitants of Panem watch on live TV.  This year, the girl from District 12 is Katniss's sister, Prim. Katniss quickly steps up to take her sister's place.

Survival comes naturally to Katniss, but so many other factors come into play during the Games. When she inadvertently becomes a national sensation prior to the Games, her chances of survival increase in the eyes of the audience. But it also marks her as one to remove as far as the other players are concerned. Will she be able to survive and bring pride to District 12? Can she win the big prize and care for her family in a way that she has never been able to before? Or will she succumb to the survival instincts of the other players?

I loved this book. I didn't think that I would. Katniss is the narrator and tells the story in real time. That makes you a part of the action as being told. You see the world through her eyes and witness events as she does. The pages turn quickly as you are engrossed in her life. It is action-packed, without being gory or obnoxious.

I want to point out that there really is not a lot of gore in the book. The killing scenes give enough detail to make a point, but are not so detailed that you will be completely grossed out. This is not just a story about teenagers fighting each other to the death. While a couple of the characters appear to be out for murder, it is more of a survival instinct that keeps them fighting and killing. They don't have any other options if they want to survive. To give in and lie down to defeat is suicide. What would you do?

For those who really want to, you can get into deep conversations about how this book parallels history and other cultures. Naturally, one of the historical societies that comes to mind is the Romans with their gladiator battles. It also makes a strong statement about society and the problems that come with too much governmental control.

Other than its message, it is just a good read. I was reminded a lot of Stephen King's book The Long Walk (which was written under his pseudonym Richard Bachman). I read a lot of Stephen King starting when I was about 10 years old. But I was the kind of kid who could handle that type of subject matter without a lot of problems.

My advice to parents who are questioning this book for their own kids is to read it first. As an adult, you are going to get more out of it than teenagers will. Assess the book for yourself and then think about your own child. Everyone's child is different, so you can't say that it is more appropriate for a 17 year-old vs. a 13 year-old. And definitely read the book prior to seeing the movie. I have heard that you understand the movie a little bit better if you do, which is usually the case.

As always, I would love to hear your feedback on the book. I'd even love to hear your thoughts on the movie adaptation.

You have many options for how you read the Hunger Games. Click on one of the links below to purchase your own copy.

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