Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”  – Aldous Huxley

 

 

Image taken from here

There are a lot of people (sometimes myself included) comparing The Hunger Games Trilogy (Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) to the Twilight Series (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn).  In some ways, I can see why: both series are taking the Young Adult genre by storm.  But it’s there the similarities end.  I’m not going to use this space to systematically take apart the Twilight Series.  If you know me, you know how I loathe it.  In fact, I hated the seires so much, I almost didn’t give the The Hunger Games a chance – because of the so-called comparisons.  Enough people convinced me; and even if I know a book or series is going to be bad, chances are I’ll still read it (first three books in the Outlander Series, I’m looking at you!) – especially if there’s a movie involved.

So I began to read The Hunger Games (ISBN: 0439023482) and within the first chapter, I was hooked, like I haven’t been hooked and invested in a very long time.

I’m going to give a review of the series as a whole – for that is the only way to read it.  This isn’t like the original Star Wars trilogy, or the Millennium Series where the first movie – or book – is stellar, only to follow up with a so-so middle which ends with a big cliffhanger and a slightly redemptive finish with a third movie/book.  No, Suzanne Collins builds upon the first book with the second and third in such a way that leaves you marvelling at her skill in creating a world with such multi-dimensional characters.

Unless you’re purposefully avoiding media news, you’ll know the Hunger Games refer to a custom in which a future distopian society pits 24 children (12 boys and 12 girls) against each other to the death.  To understand the “necessity” of such barbarism, Collins tells us the history of Panem.  Panem is what North America turns into after nuclear war and climate change.  There is the Capital and 12 outlying districts.  Each district controls some force of industry.  District 12 is coal, District 9 grain and so on.  There is a 13th District, but it was destroyed by the rebellion 75 years ago which led to the induction of The Hunger Games.  Each district must hold a lottery which includes the names of every children ages 12-18.  How many entries a youth has in the lottery depend on age and if the family needed aid (welfare).  So a 12-year-old gets 1 entry, 13 gets 2, etc. A male and female name is chosen amidst forced pomp and circumstance.  These “tributes” are then taken to the Capital where they are fawned over, made over and presented for sponsorships.  Getting sponsors are key to surviving the Games, as sponsors can provide a tribute with much needed supplies.  The Games are televised and manipulated so as to encourage the 12 Districts never to rise against the Capital again.

And therin lies to plot and I believe the main theme of all 3 books.  It is no coincidence the country – such as it is – is called Panem.  Roman satirist Juvenal coined the phrase/metaphor “panem et circenses”, which explained by a character in Mockingjay (ISBN: 978-0-439-02351-1) “in return for full bellies and entertainment, his people had given up their political responsibilities and therefore their power.”

Bam.

It is also no coincidence people living in the Capital have Roman names: Octavia, Portia, Fulvia and Coriolanus to name a few.

Rome and her provinces.  The Capital and her Districts.

Katniss Everdeen is a wonderful heroine.  She isn’t exceptionally strong, or smart, or self-aware.  She is those things, but no more so than you or I.  What she is, what she does makes her fall within my favourite  definition of “hero”: someone who is as brave as the next guy, but for a few minutes longer (paraphrased from Emerson).  She is flawed and she’s selfish.  After her sister’s name is chosen, she volunteers to take her place (admittedly unselfish), but once in the arena for the Games, she wants to live – just as every other 23 tributes do.  Her flaws which make her a tragic hero, also make her normal, approachable, defendable and relatable.

The Hunger Games are fast paced, full of excruciating, raw detail, from the perspective of a 16-year-old girl forced to kill or be killed for the pleasure of those who can destroy her family.  It is chock-full of real emotions, unfiltered violence (but not gore), and yes, perhaps love.

I don’t want to say much further, because it will ruin the journey of the Hunger Games Trilogy, but I will say this:

I believe in the lines of the story is a warning.  We aren’t the Districts struggling to get by.  We are the Capital.  We have filled our bellies with tainted bread and sated our lusts with entertainment beyond the wildest imaginations and we have given away our power.  It has never been enough to say, “We can’t do anything in politics.  We get rid of one politician, another will take its place.” We need to fight against those who are infringing on us.  We are the frong in the giant soup pan, and we can’t even tell when the heat is turning up.  Guess what folks?  We’re boiling, and we’re sitting back and letting it happen.  How long will it take before we choose our Mockingjay, our Tunisian fruit seller to lead us out of this apathy?

The Hunger Games Trilogy is available as a set on Amazon for $31.00

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1 Comment

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