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Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games features on our list of YA dystopian fiction

hunger games Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I know I need to keep moving, but Im trembling and light-headed now, gasping for air. I allow myself about a spoonful of water to rinse my mouth and spit, then take a few swallows from my bottle.

forest Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Suzanne Collinss The Hunger Games seemed to break out overnight like some sort of internet meme or infectious disease. Like the Lolcat phenomenon, the first I heard of it was when it suddenly appeared on virtually all of the various blogs and twitter counts I follow. Now, Ive never been an early adopter (case in point: the sequel to The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, is already out, with the third in the series, Mockingjay soon to be released), so it took me a while to get around to reading this book.

I must say, my initial impressions were mixed. Despite the glowing cover blurbs from Stephen King and the Times, I did have to fight to get past the truly execrable cover design, which resembles an 80s video arcade game home screen combined with a few random, seething pieces of clip art and an awful police sketch of the main character. A few more struggles were ahead of me as I forced myself through the opening pages, trying desperately to identify with a rather unlikeable main character with the bizarre name of Katniss Everdeen. Not to mention the fact that the book seemed to have several curious parallels with the Japanese novel Battle Royale (recently released in English through new publisher Haikusoru).

The blurb of The Hunger Games:

In the dark vision of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed.

The blurb of Battle Royale:

A class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill until only one survivor is left standing.

(Admittedly, a wide array of books such as The Chocolate War and Lord of the Flies could easily fit in with this theme, too, but these two are so close in plot that Im curious to get my hands on Battle Royale for comparison)

The Hunger Games takes quite some time to warm up and get going. Were introduced to Katniss and her impoverished existence in The Seam, a down-and-out area of a place known as District 12, a coal-mining district where poverty and disease are widespread. The worldbuilding in these initial sections I found quite stilted and info-dumpy, with Collins trying desperately to situate the forthcoming conceit of the Hunger Games in a world that feels uncertain and rickety. The notion that the Hunger Games are some sort of government powerplay to defray potential uprisings from the citizens in the various districts seems unsubstantiated and unbelievable, and I found myself battling to suspend my disbelief at this very central tenet of the book.

Katniss is, of course, picked to participate in the Hunger Games, along with her vague schoolyard acquaintance Peeta, and the remainder of the first half the book concerns itself with Katnisss transformation prior to her participation in the Hunger Games. This is where things could really have become interesting, as Katniss is transported to the main capital city, where things play out drastically differently from her District 12 home. However, were given only a superficial treatment and examination of the place in preference for a lot of fiffling about with beautiful costumes and delightful feasts (an approach which is described quite accurately by as 'Gladiator' meets 'Project Runway').

Soon enough, though, the starting gun for the Hunger Games is fired, and the reader is launched into the meat of the novel: the fight to the death of the 24 teenaged competitors from the different districts. This section is where Collins shines, and the vast majority of the battle between the different competitors is tautly and claustrophobically written. I did feel that the time scale of the games seemed a little stretched out, with days apparently passing between attacks on the different competitors, and that there was a sort of odd tension between passivity and aggression that didnt quite gel with the way the characters were drawn. Moreover, the emphasis of Katnisss relationship with Peeta, some sort of ostensibly romantic relationship apparently drummed up for the viewers of the Hunger Games, really didnt work for me, particularly when the book reaches its climax, and the most potentially tense and morally ambiguous scene of the book is sidestepped in an excruciatingly frustrating manner that is only further aggravated throughout the extended denouement.

While The Hunger Games has some disturbingly tense moments, for the most part it feels desperately as though it is trying to justify its premise with the inclusion of ineffective and poorly wrought social commentary and allusions. I cant help feel that if the book had simply avoided trying to contextualise itself in any sort of political or social sphere, and just allowed itself to be a silly battle to the death, it might well have been a more successful literary exercise.

 Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Purchase The Hunger Games.

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Forthcoming reviews: Improper Relations by Janet Mullany (romance;'chicklit); Dogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, and Lani Diane Rich (romance;'chicklit)


  1. I really need to read these books, if only to talk to other YA fansHunger Games is EVERYWHERE.

    • I know, it was one of the books that just seemed to leap out of nowhere (perhaps out of a back alley?) and then rummage through my pockets. Suddenly there it was, and taking my money, too!

  2. I just checked out Battle Royale. Talk about vulgar. Hunger Games is a gripping trilogy that combines fanciful writing, excellent plot twists, and easy-to-relate-to main characters. Battle Royales very description contained juvinille phrases such as blow their heads off. There is no comparison to Hunger Games.