(reposted from my livejournal from March 2009)
A recommendation for your sanity: Do not read The Hunger Games. It will get inside you and make you lust for more. You will look online and find out that the next book isn’t coming out until September. September?! A neuron will combust or snap or whatever it is your particular neurons do. How will you survive until September? you wonder. Another neuron will bite the dust. You will realize that thinking about it is dangerous for your brain. You will try to put Katniss and her world out of your mind, but you will fail. By the time September rolls around, your family will be visiting you in a group home, wondering, “What happened?” Unless, of course, they also read the Hunger Games. In that case, they will know.
I repeat, read the Hunger Games. Or… Um… I don’t think I meant to say that… *sound of neurons blasting*
The Hunger Games is not a perfect book, but let’s be honest: a. perfection doesn’t exist and b. it’d probably be boring anyway. It took me a little while to really get into. My finely honed sense of dystopic futures and YA books combined and made me into a hyper-critical critic-type person. Don’t get me wrong, it was good from the start. But it wasn’t until seventy or so pages in that I really felt it was great. Perhaps some of that also had to do with the fact that every review I read was a rave. And as a suspicious person by nature, I was all ready to critique it before I opened the first page.
This is my first review, so I’m not sure how much I want to talk about the plot or the characters. Balance isn’t my strong point and I don’t want to spoil anything. Maybe I’ll start with history. (If you just want to read about the book, skip to the next paragraph.) Last summer, I got a mysterious package in the mail, which turned out to be an ARC of this book with a little letter from TeenReads.com saying that after reading it, I should write a review and submit it to the site (maybe I should do that, huh?). I didn’t remember signing up on the site (I’m not even a teen…) and after skimming the back, I wasn’t terribly interested. Looking back now, I feel mostly frustration with 9-months-younger me. If I had known what was between those covers, I would have moved it to the top of my TBR. As it was, it lay in some corner with other unloved books. And then the deluge started. Everywhere I looked, people were reviewing and loving The Hunger Games. The book was back on my radar, but I didn’t pick it up until last week. It took me a couple of days to get through the first hundred pages, and then the last 300 went by with me barely realizing it.
Onto the book itself: Katniss, a sixteen-year-old living in District 12, the poorest district, takes care of her mother and younger sister after her father dies in a mine explosion. One thing I love about Collins’ future is that she doesn’t delve too much into the past. There isn’t the shaking finger of so many dystopias. Katniss is only vaguely aware that her country, Panem used to be North America and we are never told why the US fell, what our great sins were. What is relevant to her life are the Capitol and the twelve Districts that surround it.
Katniss’s single-minded focus on survival, which has kept her and her family alive, is at once a strength and a weakness and Collins explores Katniss’ growing understanding that there may be more to life without changing her fundamentally. I always worry when a strong female character “sees the light” and becomes the “ideal” nuturing woman, but Collins does nothing of the sort. She does make Katniss completely unaware of any beauty or presence she possesses, which is one trope that bothers me quite a bit (and made me want to throw Twilight against the wall). There are scenes in which it is painfully obviously that a boy is interested in her, but she can’t accept that. Even I, with my grand total of zero guys ever asking me out, can tell when he’s at least thinking out. Or at the very least, I wonder. By the end of the book, however, I felt that Katniss had grown past that and I don’t think we’ll be seeing it again in the next book.
I don’t know how much more I want to say. I love exposition, I love the feeling of reading a book for the first time. Much more of the plot or discussion of characters other than Katniss will, I feel, answer questions that I wouldn’t want answered, so I think I will end the review here. The Hunger Games is easily the most gripping book I’ve read this year and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys either science fiction or young adult books. I wonder if there’s a way I can get my hands on an ARC of the sequel…
August edit: Thank goodness it is almost September! I still can’t afford to buy a hardcover copy of this book, but that is what libraries are for, no?