Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's amazing that I chose this book to read right after my post about how hard it was to just enjoy reading a book because I've learned to read like a writer. This book had it all and enabled the very thing I was bemoaning a short time ago. The world is fully developed, the characters are unique and sympathetic, and the stakes couldn't be higher.

The main character, Katniss, has taken on the role of provider and caretaker for her family after her father is killed in the mines. Her mother, unable to adapt to the death of her husband, takes to her bed. Her sister, Pim, is too young to care for herself. So Katniss takes the bow and arrows that her father has taught her to use on illicit hunting trips to provide fresh meat to eat and to trade for the necessities of life. It's a brutal existence, but it's the only one she knows.

But there's more. Each year, two tributes from each of the twelve districts of Panem are chosen to participate in the the Hunger Games. These are adolescents and the "games" are a fight to the death. Only one will survive.

For some reason, I kept thinking of Robert A. Heinlein's "Tunnel in the Sky" as I read this book. There are similarities in both premises. Teenagers are plunked into a strange world with minimal resources and the object is survival. The hero and heroine are forced to use their brains and their skills to cope with the dangers in unexpected ways. And, while you know that the protagonist will survive and conquer, there is always some doubt, some new danger thrown in his or her path.

This storyline of a child forced to be a grown up because the adults won't accept the responsibility resonates with me. I won't go into details (this is supposed to be a book review after all), but it reflects the family in which I grew up. I must not be alone since there are so many YA books with this theme. You can include Harry Potter in this classification. Since so many adults read these books, it must be true not only of teenagers, but adults, that they want to be the heroes of their lives, take control and defeat the world.

Maybe that explains the popularity of thrillers as well. The world is in danger and only one man or, less often, woman can save it. We all like to imagine that we are that one person. And, because of books like "The Hunger Games", we can.

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