Edmund Burke once said, “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.” Well, I don’t know if he said do not or don’t. Sue me.
So, what does this have to do with my review of the popular novel, “The Hunger Games?” Oh, wait. You didn’t know this was? Well it is. Take warning. I usually try to avoid giving plot points away in a book review, but to say what I want to say about this series requires it. If you’re sure you aren’t going to read them, read on; if you are curious. If you have read them, then you know the ending etc anyway. If you can handle spoilers–big ones–then you should be fine. Otherwise, read the books first. There’s nothing worse than reading a book, waiting for events to occur; you know they are coming but not why or in what context.
The Hunger Games is a trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. I have never read anything by her before, and I am not going to be snatching up all of her books out of a desperate need to read everything by her. Why? Did I not like the books? No, I liked the books immensely. However, there are a few things about them that don’t appeal to me.
1. Writing style. Ms. Collins writes in a first person/present tense style. The only thing I dislike more than first person fiction is present tense. I did not take a college class I desperately wanted to take because I just deplore it. The world raved about Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I gagged.
However, to be fair, the style does work for a book as fast-pasted and full of action as this book is. I understand why she chose it. I might even agree it was a good choice. I simply did not enjoy reading it for that reason.
2. Dystopian literature is not my favorite genre. Who am I kidding? I have never finished any dystopian book that I can recall. I hate it. It’s not my “thing.”
3. The subject matter– war, children as pawns in the hands of the government, the after effects on everyone– not my favorite subjects.
So, with three things that I truly do not like in fiction, why would I read these books and deem them “good?” Why would I even finish the first, much less the other two? I’m going to be honest. I almost didn’t read the second and third books, but not because I was not interested in finishing, but because I had been told spoilers–big ones. I knew they must be incomplete, but as I already said, it is difficult to keep reading when you know that things you wish didn’t have to happen are coming.
So, here we go…
The Hunger Games
The premise of this book is that many years prior to the opening pages, North America was unified into one “country,” Panem after some sort of worldwide destruction of civilization. This country has been divided into twelve (once thirteen) districts. To keep tight control over the districts after a failed revolt all those years ago, “The Capitol” requires that each district select two children (ages 12-18 if I remember right) to represent it as “tributes” in the “Hunger Games.”
The Hunger Games are horrifying. They should be. The objective is to set twenty-four children into an arena to battle for their lives. The sole survivor wins and their family receives prizes that transform their lives. The arena isn’t what you’d expect. It’s not a big football field or a Roman Colosseum (despite the chariots in the “opening ceremonies”). Imagine a “Survivor” island type thing designed to be as brutal as possible to survive in all while literally picking off your opponents. Brutal. And that’s the point.
The Capitol wants the districts to live in holy terror of what would happen if they dared to attempt another revolt. People are scared to resist. They are desperate.
The main character is Katniss. When her father died, she had to take over the provision for the family. This taught her excellent hunting and survival skills. It also taught her how to break rules. Poaching, forbidden and carrying the punishment of death, has been their means of existence.
The selection of “tributes” was called the “reaping.” In the first book, Katniss’ little sister was called out–highly statistically improbable. She volunteered to take her sister’s place.
What I like about the book is that it does not gloss over the indignities that the tributes are put through in preparation for the games. Most of the tributes don’t like that they’re put into the games. Only a couple of districts have lost the horror for them that they should have.
As I read the book, I have to confess, I couldn’t ignore the parallels between this arena and those of Ancient Rome when gladiators were pitted against one another, prisoners against, wild animals, and Christians thrown to lions for the sheer bloodthirstiness of it. I wondered if it was deliberate.
Once the games begin, I expected gratuitous violence. Honestly, I expected to read of the slaughter, one after another, of the tributes. I waited for it to come. It didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, people die and in horrific ways. Injuries are frequent and gruesome–however she didn’t describe them in the detail I expected. Thankfully. Knowing it happened was enough.
Good news comes mid-games. Two tributes from one district, if both are alive at the end, can win. Immediately, she joins forces with the boy from her district (the one who she is supposed to be in love with), and they work together to survive. Oh, and she just happens to save his life. No biggie.
I read arguments about sensuality in the book. I found none. There is even some kissing in this book and even that isn’t sensual. Katniss is not comfortable with nudity or even the kissing. However, in order to get sponsors (who provide emergency medical care, tools, food, and things like that), she has been told to play up an imaginary (on her part anyway) romance for the cameras. Yes, this whole thing is televised. The entire country watches.
The death of one of the other tributes is heart wrenching. It should be! An innocent child was thrown into a pit and told to either kill or die. She dies. Katniss as her ally (for as long as possible), is grieved at the loss. There is a minor relief in that she knows she won’t be forced to kill the girl, but really? What kind of relief is that when this girl saved your life only days earlier?
The most savage part was when mutant animals tear one of the tributes to pieces. Again, I really think she worked hard to keep as much of the gruesomeness out while still trying to make the reader really see what horrors the Capitol is putting these kids through. At last she and the boy, Peeta, are the last two standing and then they’re told that there can only be one winner. One has to kill the other. They won’t. Instead of killing the other, they each decide to take poisonous berries to kill themselves. They know the Capitol wants a victor. It’ll force the Capitol to capitulate and it works.
After the games, Katniss’ family’s situation is greatly improved, but there’s a storm brewing. People are beginning to revolt all over the country. Districts don’t have the resources to do it, and yet there are whispers of it. As a way to punish Katniss for her rebellion with the berries, the next games are called and they’ve decided to cull tributes from previous victors. So once again, Katniss and Peeta are headed into the arena.
Now, in the past year, something happened. I don’t remember where, but there was a huge party with hundreds of different dishes to try. When Katniss became too full, she was offered a pill to “purge” so that she could continue to enjoy the delicacies. Sound familiar? Doesn’t all of this sound horribly familiar? My initial reaction seemed even more accurate then.
During the next games, things are very different. There’s the understanding that she’s there to protect Peeta and he intends to protect her. They band together with other tributes and you know something is going on, even though you don’t know what it is. Just as things get hot and heated, they lift Katniss from the arena. Who “they” are, however, is initially uncertain.
Her home is gone. The Capitol has destroyed it. District 13, always thought to have been destroyed in a nuclear attack back before the Hunger Games began, still exists and is base for the resistance. War is coming. The people are done yielding to the tyranny of the Capitol– finished with the horrifying games. They are done.
In the final book of this series, it does seem quite hopeless at times. They’re fighting what seems to be a losing battle. Every time she thinks she has a way to beat down the president, he taunts her with his ability to evade her and the rest of the resistance.
In this book, the author confirmed my suspicions. She is writing the fall of the Roman Empire in a way that makes it glaringly clear to today’s reader. She has set it somewhat in our time and somewhat in a future time we never want to have to live. It’s chilling. It should be.
It’s all out war with all the horrors within. There is heroism, tragedy, and deep terrible pain. People die. They’re tortured and killed (thankfully, we almost only hear of it rather than “witness” it through Katniss’ eyes). Peeta has been held by the Capitol and brainwashed in the most horrible way. He seems almost insane. Her best childhood friend is driven to bring down the Capitol. She is traumatized by the effects of the battles she has fought. There is real loss.
So why do I like these books? Don’t they sound horrible and depressing? Honestly, if I heard about them without reading them, I might have thought they would be. I wasn’t sure about the premise before I read it. However, they aren’t. There is a lot of hope in these books. I appreciate that an author took such horrible themes to their logical conclusion. Think about it. This book addresses the lack of value of human life. It addresses excess in entertainment. It address oppressive and tyrannical government and what should happen. Do we remember our history lessons? That wonderful and terrifying line of America’s Declaration of Independence?
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
These books tell the story of what has already happened in our country in times past. We shook off government, far less horrifying than that of Panem, and from the rubble and ashes, created a new government “conceived in liberty” no less. America’s children are weaned on violence on screen and off. Their games are bloodshed driven and the desensitization process is nearly complete in some areas.
These books appeal because those same children have a legacy handed down by our forefathers and by the other civilizations that emerged after the crumbling of other places like Rome. We know what happens. We can see the finger of history writing on our walls (forgive the Biblical allusion of God’s hand writing please) and the books seem to ask the question, “what are you going to do about it?” It’s a call that says, “Are we going to let the continual devaluation of lives and encroachment of government into our lives?
The funny thing is, I have no idea if that’s what the author meant. I have no concept of her worldview and frankly, I don’t want to know. This is what I got from the books. This is what I respect about them. She didn’t leave the situation hopeless. It starts hopeless. It starts with a terrible situation that seems impossible to overcome. It takes you through scenarios that make you feel as if there is no chance of a resolution. You see that people want change but are afraid of it. In the end, there’s an epilogue. It’s beautiful. The people, scarred by what they’ve lived through, have hope and purpose again. Their fears still haunt them at times, sure. But they continue, even rising above those fears, because hope isn’t gone. I guess the old saying, “hope springs eternal” really is true.
And yes, I do note the irony of how often I slipped into first person/present tense in this review. It’s hilarious. The books seem to demand it. They’re welcome to, but I still don’t have to like it.
To rate it simply:
Sensuality- none to almost none (if hearing that someone is naked is sensual in your book–not a description of that nakedness just the fact of it– then there’s a little).
Violence- moderate to high (there are a lot of occurrences of it but they are not detailed. So, it depends upon whether the existence of it makes it high in your book or not).
Religion- none. It is not disparaged, encouraged, nothing. It is non-existent. Would I have preferred it written from a distinctly Christian worldview? Of course! However, with the value shown for human life by the main characters and the distaste for the superficiality and excess in the Capitol, there are definitely Christian themes whether or not they were intentional.