Classic review: The Hunger Games
In a dystopian future state, a teenage girl must fight for her freedom – and her life.
[This review from the Monitor's archives originally ran on Dec. 27, 2008.] In middle school, we were tormented annually by something called the Presidential Fitness Test. If you failed (as I inevitably did at the “arm hang”), they gave you a T for “tried.”
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Things are a little different for Katniss Everdeen. If she fails, the 16-year-old dies.
“The future” equals dystopia in much of science fiction, and Suzanne Collins’s gripping new novel for teens, The Hunger Games, is no exception.
After society’s collapse from environmental chaos and a subsequent failed rebellion, what’s left of humanity is organized into 12 districts. (There were 13, but the last one was obliterated as punishment for rebelling.)
Kept in poverty by a totalitarian government, the populace is forced to labor to keep The Capitol (what used to be Denver) in sumptuous splendor. Katniss and her mother and sister live in District 12, formerly Appalachia, where they would have starved if Katniss didn’t sneak daily into the forest to go hunting. (Poaching is technically punishable by death, but local officials are more likely to buy her game than arrest her.)
It’s not the setup that gives “The Hunger Games” its crackling energy.
But Collins pours so much detail into her world-building and her characters that the book grabs you even before the games begin.
Those games would make even Nero’s Rome blanch. Every year, a boy and a girl are chosen via lottery to “represent” their district in The Hunger Games.
The event, required viewing for the rest of the nation, is a blood sport in which the 24 teens are dumped, gladiator-style, into a locked arena and left to fight it out in front of cameras. The last one alive wins freedom and a lifetime of riches.
This year, to Katniss’s horror, her 12-year-old sister’s name is called. Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place.
While she believes she’s doomed (no “tribute” from District 12 has won in decades), Katniss is too much of a fighter to go serenely to her death.
Her skill with a bow and arrow and her ability to find food in the woods may even the odds against competitors from wealthier districts who train with weapons all their lives. Her fellow tribute, the local baker’s son, Peeta, hits on a strategy: The two of them will act as star-crossed lovers to attract the sympathy of sponsors.