With the announcement of a film in the works, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy has been splashed across the news recently. Actors for the three main characters have been officially announced by Lionsgate and fans are divided on whether or not the choices are good enough. The last time the YA literature community buzzed with this much energy was during the casting of the Twilight series.
The first book, which has the same name as the series, introduces us to seventeen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a lean, mean, fighting machine.
Katniss is from District 12 in a post-apocalyptic North America called Panem. Of the 13 districts, District 12 is one of the poorest, not only because its sole source of production (and the district’s specialization) is coal mining, but because it is furthest away from the central controlling government, The Capitol. In addition to being from a poor district, she’s from the slums called The Seam. Everyone from The Seam scrambles to find food. Plus, she lost her father, the breadwinner, when she was eleven years old and, as a result, her mother fell into deep depression. How is an eleven-year-old supposed to provide for her family?
Katniss, trained by her father, is an accomplished archer and skilled hunter, illegally providing food for not just her family but for the people of District 12. This puts her at an advantage when she enters the Hunger Games.
The Games were created by the Capitol to remind the people of the 13 districts of the repercussions of rebellion.
The rules of the Hunger Games are simple… each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins. (page 18, Scholastic paperback printing, September 2009)
Think of it as the Triwizard tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire meets Battle Royale, but even more twisted: kids as young as twelve years old get selected for the Hunger Games. The entries stack, too; eighteen-year-olds have their names entered a minimum of 7 times. Participants are allowed to sign up for more food and oil per year, per person, at the price of an extra ticket entered with their name.
So, Katniss has 20 entries while her sister, Primrose (Prim), at the age of twelve, has 1. Luck of the draw, though, the younger Everdeen gets picked. Prim is the complete opposite of Katniss: if Katniss is like their father, a hunter; Prim is like their mother, a healer. Young, innocent, and kind-hearted Prim is everything to Katniss. It is no wonder that Katniss, without hesitation, volunteers to become a tribute in Prim’s place. The boy tribute from District 12? Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, a boy from school. As the story unfolds, the reader finds out just how intertwined Katniss and Peeta’s lives are, which is half the magic of The Hunger Games.
The other half, of course, is Katniss’ performance in the arena. The events leading up to the Games see us following Katniss to the Capitol. The Capitol is a highly-developed metropolis full of materialistic people. Everything is glam, glitter, and luxury for them. The Games? They’re just a source of entertainment, not unlike how the Romans enjoyed a good battle between lions and gladiators.
I have not mentioned the other semi-important male in Katniss’ life yet: Gale Hawthorne. Gale forms the third corner of the love triangle, but he is barely there in the first book. He’s the boy from back home, Katniss’ only friend and fellow rebellious hunter. We mostly learn about his role in her life through her thoughts on what people might be thinking when she plans her survival in the Games.
To write more about the book would spoil it. To write about the second and third book in the series would definitely spoil the first (but I can say that the latter two books are a lot more political). Though not a huge fan of politically-themes novels, I am a huge fan of the series, having finished the trilogy in less than a week. The messages of “hope” and “love” are powerful, and the twist near the end really drives that home. I urge anyone who likes reading YA science fiction and fantasy to pick up a copy.
It’s not as sophistically written as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, nor would you want to step foot into the world of Panem (well, maybe a visit to the Capitol would be fun). But the characters — both major ones like Katniss and Peeta, and minor ones like the other tributes — are so charming that you just can’t put the book down.
Pick up your copy of The Hunger Games at Amazon or find it at your local bookstore.