I’ve never been much of a reader, but at the beginning of the year I found myself walking around a bookstore with a gift card. Overwhelmed with the chaos of grad school and the intense reading it entailed, I picked up The Hunger Games. I asked myself, “How intense could this be? It’s a tween read. The movie based on it is coming out this year… Gosh, I hope it’s not as dense as those vampire books/movies everyone is obsessed with.” I decided to try it out and so I bought it. For the next two weeks, I was worthless. I found myself reading the trilogy and suppressing the overachiever student within me.
The Hunger Games is, quite honestly, a tad mature for its target audience. As punishment from a rebellion that involved the 13 original districts of the country of Panem, the government forces a boy and girl from each of the 12 remaining districts to fight each other to the death in an high-tech arena that can simulate any environment. Prior to the beginning of the contest, the participants, called the “tributes,” are given lessons regarding survival skills, hand-to-hand combat, weaponry, etc. The tributes are also given a team composed of a mentor (a previous winner of “the games”) and stylists. This team must make the tributes likeable so that they can find “sponsors,” or wealthy people who will bet on them and send them provisions during the length of the contest.
As you may have already guessed, Panem isn’t exactly what we’d call a democracy. The government controls many aspects of the lives of its citizens and it allows very little communication among the citizens of the districts. Except for the people who live in the capital, food is rationed, starvation reigns, and living conditions are very poor. Those who speak out against the government are punished in various ways. Therefore, it’s no surprise when the government hypocritically tells the tributes and the rest of its citizens that participating in the games is an “honor.” I may have been inferring too much, but the author’s portrayal of the government should serve as a warning for citizens of governments which use propaganda and try to mask it as patriotism.
Like I mentioned earlier, the tributes are always children and teenagers. In order to choose which tributes will participate, each district has a “reaping,” or a lottery where every child’s name is entered at least once. However, volunteering to be a tribute is also an option. This is exactly how Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of this book, ends up in the games. As her sister’s name is drawn, Katniss becomes the first-ever volunteer from District 12. Katniss’ life has been anything but joyful up to this point. Her father’s death and her mother’s subsequent mental instability have led to this young woman becoming the provider of the houseful. Without the income of her father, Katniss has had to learn how to hunt and sell animals she kills in order to trade for food and other necessities. However, the government does not allow hunting, so Katniss and her friend Gale must sneak out of the fence that keeps the citizens inside of District 12 from being able to leave. Unlike other female protagonists of other modern-day books geared towards teenagers, Katniss does not rely on men nor does she spend her days hoping to be swept off her feet.
It’s no surprise when Katniss does not immediately recognize the male tribute of District 12 as his name is called. Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son, once saved Katniss from starvation as he threw her pieces of burnt bread meant for the livestock. At this point, Katniss almost begins to feel a sense of debt to Peeta. As the two prepare for the games, he reveals that he’s always been romantically interested in her, but she does not reciprocate. Instead, she channels her anger towards the government and she focuses on getting back to her sister, Prim.
As the games begins, so does the violence. The author graphically describes the lethal fights, the injuries, and the deaths of the children. In addition, their fear is portrayed in a way that is heart-wrenching. None of the tributes are spared from pain and tragedy. You find yourself liking some characters, deeply disliking others, but nevertheless hoping that neither dies.
As the games proceed and Katniss and Peeta become some of the final contestants… Who makes it out alive? Who wins? Your emotions are in for a ride. I will refrain from telling you the ending, or anything about the second or third parts of the trilogy, but I will tell you that there may be a spark in Panem…
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