I am not typically a reader of young adult fiction. It takes an exceptional series—bestsellers such as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials—to catch my attention, and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is certainly one of them. A skillful blend of action, drama, sci-fi and a bit of comedy thrown in, this first book of the trilogy is an auspicious beginning to a well-told and absorbing story.
The book takes place in a dystopian society that was once America, now called Panem, divided into twelve districts of varying social class. Living in the impoverished District 12 is Katniss Everdeen, a bold teenage girl who hunts illegally in a nearby forest to provide for her mother and beloved younger sister, Prim. Once a year, the Capitol chooses two children from each district to participate in the Hunger Games, a tournament broadcasted over the nation in which the children are placed in an arena and made to fight to the death. This year, twelve-year-old Prim is chosen, and Katniss willingly steps in to take her sister’s place.
Part of Collins’ inspiration for The Hunger Games was the Iraq war, and she sought to portray the suffering of children in war zones, as well as corrupt governments who murder civilians as though it were a game. Not only did she succeed at this, but she managed to portray it in a way that’s accessible to children as well as adults. A blend of comedy and sci-fi elements keeps readers entertained despite the violent and tragic outcomes of the Games; therefore the book would appeal to those seeking an action-packed read as well as those who wish to be emotionally absorbed.
What carries the plot forward is Katniss’s character: an engaging blend of compassion and loyalty with audacity and ruthlessness. Due to her instinct for survival, with much of her energies focused towards hunting and gathering, she is inept at social situations and unaware of the emotions of others, as well as her own. Her strengths lie in combat and archery rather than people skills, though she is devoted to those she cares for and makes great sacrifices for them. Indeed, what makes her compelling is that she is flawed, and her stubborn and unforgiving nature makes her all the more human, therefore a more appealing heroine.
As in the traditional fashion of young adult fiction, few characters besides Katniss are given depth of character. The rest are simply meant to serve their purpose in the story, whether it’s to be friend or foe to Katniss, and rarely develop beyond that. Nonetheless, each character fulfills their role to a satisfying degree and contributes to the plot and subplots that make up the gritty portrayal of this unsettling dystopia.
The Hunger Games is one I would highly recommend that parents and children read together, as it provides education by raising the issues of war and poverty, as well as entertainment for people of all ages. Despite being geared towards a young adult audience, it succeeds on many different levels and is ultimately a rewarding read.