Imagine a world where the TV game shows are real, and if you don’t win, you die. It’s a world of subterfuge, where every contestant is in it for themselves, and where the best strategy is either brains or brawn, but never both. And the arena of the game is merely a microcosm of the divisive society as a whole, a stunning mirror image of devastation and reluctance. A reluctance to stand up for each other in the face of leaders who have only their self-interests in mind.
“May the odds be ever in your favor.” This is one of the seminal lines from Suzanne Collins’ extraordinary novel, The Hunger Games. When Katniss Everdeen volunteers to be a guinea pig in the 74th Hunger Games, she realizes she has absolutely no chance to be the sole survivor of the contest, but she promises her sister, Prim, that she will try her best. The novel takes its readers from the sad surroundings of the Seam, to the Capitol, then finally to the arena where it’s kill or be killed, and Katniss does indeed try her best, against tributes from all the other districts, and even against the other tribute from her district, District 12.
The epic nature of the novel sets the table for the other two books in the series by introducing us to this dystopian universe that could conceivably happen. That’s the true dark nature of the tale, its roots set firmly in the selfish nature of our present magnified a thousand fold and set in a world not too distant from our own. And Katniss is a heroine we long to root for, coming from such humble surroundings to become reknown in her society. We want her to win, even if at the same time we don’t want the others to die, because we appreciate the stakes, and we inevitably buy into the assumption that only one can win.
But this is in the end a tragic love story along the lines of Romeo and Juliet, isn’t it? Two young men both throw their hats in the ring for Katniss’ favor, but can either one survive long enough to actually win her hand? Underneath the spectacle and horror of the arena and of the Games, the possibility and despair both call out to readers as we cheer on Katniss to not only win the competition but to fall in love with one or the other of her suitors. It’s gut-wrenching as the book continues towards its only possible ending, whether or not we fully comprehend it when it comes.
The Hunger Games is a non-stop journey, hurtling quickly towards a destination that begs many questions of its readers, a perfect beginning to a trilogy that recognizes the battle as well as the war. I enjoyed its fleshed out characters — particularly Katniss — and its plethora of surprises along the way. It amped up the suspense as well as kept me guessing, something I enjoy from all books worth their salt. I recommend it heartily to anyone looking for a reflection of today’s popular culture, and who isn’t afraid to dream and wish impossible things.
I give this novel FIVE stars.