Classic review: The Hunger Games
In a dystopian future state, a teenage girl must fight for her freedom – and her life.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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(Food and medicine can be parachuted in – for a price.)
Only Katniss isn’t sure Peeta is really acting. And as days pass, it becomes harder for her to tell what her real feelings are and what is just acting for the ever-present cameras.
Collins writes so close to the ground that a reader’s viewpoint becomes inseparable from that of Katniss. So we experience her amazement at the rich food and luxurious surroundings – as well as her fury at the obscene “entertainment” that brings her to The Capitol.
When she’s being exfoliated, depilated, and in general, made camera-ready, she feels totally removed from her team of stylists.
“I know I should be embarrassed, but they’re so unlike people that I’m no more self-conscious than if a trio of oddly colored birds were pecking around my feet,” Katniss says.
While readers might be expecting the familiar mix of spunky-yet-sensitive, Collins has crafted a different kind of action heroine. Katniss is not prone to considering the feelings of others, as Collins makes clear in the first pages.
She tried to drown a stray kitten her younger sister found, since it meant one more mouth for her to feed. (The cat has yet to forgive her.)
And she may be the least introspective teenage girl in the history of teenage girldom. In fact, Peeta, who tries to cling to his ideals in the face of government-sponsored murder, is the closest thing to a traditional hero District 12 has.
That is, if he’s telling Katniss the truth.
The book is considered suitable for readers 12 and up, but that would depend on the 12- (or even 13-) year-old.
Collins largely avoids graphic descriptions of violence, but a couple of the players’ deaths are emotionally disturbing. And although the story is set in the future, the totalitarian regime’s punishments can be downright medieval. (Katniss is waited on by a servant whose tongue was surgically removed for treason.)
But “The Hunger Games” is more than just an action novel waiting to be turned into a PG-13 movie. There are a bunch of big ideas driving the book, from the injustice of a few people living in comfort while the rest of the world goes hungry to the priority placed on entertainment in a society where many do without necessities.
There are historical parallels to everything from the Irish Potato Famine to World War II and Stalinist Russia.Once the action begins, these themes have to hang on by their fingernails, it’s true, but the high-octane plot can’t quite shake them.
I was assigned “1984” in the eighth grade, and certainly “The Hunger Games” is nowhere near as bleak as Orwell’s dystopia.
Besides, it would take more than a cage full of rats to knock the fight out of Katniss Everdeen.
Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.