As many of you already know, after struggling through Guernica, I moved on to another book I received at SPI: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This was a young adult novel so I didn’t know what I’d think about it, but I had been hearing a lot about it and the sequel, Catching Fire, so I went into it with reasonably high expectations. That’s strange for me; I’m typically not the biggest fan of YA novels, especially when there’s so many other serious novels to read out there. But kids were reading it by the boxful, we were getting more and more request for Collins everyday, and I already owned it, so why not?
I was not disappointed. Initially, the size and spacing of the text made me roll my eyes–just another YA novel, for kids who can’t concentrate on real books. But soon I found myself turning pages faster and faster, the story is that engaging. I couldn’t stop. I wanted to read every free moment I had to see out what would happen next, all the while enjoying descriptions of this strange new world.
The Hunger Games takes place in a distopian future, a large totalitarian state where North America used to be. The country is divided into twelve districts, each with their distinct purpose and all of which are ruled by the Capitol. Life is hard, and the Capitol is far from humanitarian. To enforce their authority, each year two children from each district between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen to participate in the Hunger Games, a vicious throwback to Roman gladiators where the children must fight to the death while the entire country watches. The winning child and their respective district are lavished with food and money, and so some districts train their children to compete. Other districts are severely impoverished–where surviving starvation is a challenge unto itself–and this is the home of our heroine, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss volunteers for the games after her younger sister’s name is drawn, and in order to survive, she must outwit her competitors and the Capitol iteslf.
My boyfriend informs me that this isn’t exactly a new concept; there’s a Japanese film with the same premise. Collins herself drew inspiration from Athenian myths. But its unorginiality doesn’t make the premise any less exciting. Bleak distopias that resemble our own reality are haunting in their “what-if” quality: what if this were real? Do humans have the capability to act in such a way? Civilization has already produced the gladiators, so why not this? In a totalitarian state, is there a loss of moral clarity? Where in the hell are the human rights advocates, anyway?
These are all very adult questions, and The Hunger Games doesn’t delve too deeply into the fundamentals of morality. This is a book for young adults; the plot needs to keep moving and not dwell too long on philosophical issues. I wish it would have though, and I would say that would be my only criticism of the book. I mean, this is a terrible projection of our future, and so Collins at least owes it to her audience to explain herself. Even if one of the children attempted to explain “why,” that might illuminate the issue better for her readers.
But at the very least, The Hunger Games whets myself appetite for such thinking, which is always a good thing. Plus, the story is highly engaging and almost addictive. The fact that it’s easy to read and in type 14 font doesn’t seem to matter anymore. I couldn’t help myself, and already looked up what happens in the sequel, so I don’t know if I want to read it or not. Perhaps in the future, when I don’t already have a stack of books to read a mile high. But I’ll keep it in mind, and perhaps borrow it from Half-Price when my probationary period is up.