The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: A review

I don't usually read Young Adult fiction for the very good reason that I am not a young adult, but my younger daughter who is, and who is also a librarian, gave me this book and recommended that I read it. She liked it and thought it was something I might enjoy. Well, she didn't steer me wrong about Harry Potter so I decided to give it a chance, and she was right again. I did enjoy it.

The novel, as most of the reading world knows by now, is set in the dystopian landscape of what was once known as North America. The society that we are familiar with has been destroyed by a combination of man-made and natural disasters. Rising ocean levels have reduced the size of the continent to a shadow of its former limits. It is now the country of Panem which consists of a shining Capitol, set somewhere in what was once called the Rocky Mountains, and twelve Districts. 

Each of the Districts has its specialty. District Twelve, located in what were formerly called the Appalachian Mountains, specializes in the production of coal. Its people, like the people in most of the Districts, are poor and live on the knife's edge of starvation. It is from this District that the story's protagonist, Catniss, comes.

At some point, there had been a rebellion in the Districts against the Capitol and, after putting it down, the Capitol keeps the Districts in line and reminds them of its all-powerfulness by demanding a "tribute" from each District every year. This "tribute" consists of two children, a boy and a girl, between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Each living tribute must fight to the death against all the other tributes on live TV, which all the other citizens of Panem are forced to watch. These are the Hunger Games.

Each District's tributes are selected by drawing their names from all the eligible ones at a public ceremony called the reaping. When Catniss is sixteen years old, she attends the reaping, as all citizens are required to do, with her mother and twelve-year-old sister, Primrose. When the girl tribute's name is read out, to Catniss' horror, it is Prim's name. As Prim walks to the stage, Catniss jumps in front of her and offers herself as a volunteer in her stead. This is allowed and so Catniss becomes a participant in the terror of the Hunger Games.

After the books that I've been reading lately (The Canterbury Tales, The Cat's Table, etc.), this one seemed very simple in structure and language. It was an easy and quick read, very fast-paced and hard to put down once one got into it. Suzanne Collins describes her settings and her characters very well and gives us empathetic characters to root for, an important feature I think for a YA book.

This is the first in a series of three books, again as all the reading world knows, and  the trilogy was among the top ten books that were challenged in the past year, according to the American Library Association.  The books were challenged for being anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitive, having offensive language, occult/satanic references, and violence.  The only part of that that I saw in this book was violence, but it was appropriate to the story. Reading the book was my way of doing my bit for celebrating the freedom to read in Banned Books Week.

I think that I probably will go on to read the other two books in the series. Not right away though. I need a break from dystopia and teen-age angst.


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