The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Hunger Games / 978-0-545-22993-7
I read this series under recommendation of not one, but two friends, and now at the end of it, I can honestly say that I think this trilogy is the best series of novels I've ever read. It's sometimes difficult for me to write 5-star reviews, when I know that nothing I can say will convey the elegance and beauty of the novel nearly as well as just picking it up and reading it!
It's difficult to know how to categorize "The Hunger Games". I suppose they're science fiction, of a sort - after a nuclear war apocalypse, the borders of the maps have been redrawn, much like the classic "Deathlands" series. The world as our main characters know it now consists of a single, decadent capitol, and the slum districts that surround it, where the serf-like inhabitants toil in destitution in order to support the lavish lifestyles of their rulers. Each year is a build-up towards a single event - the Hunger Games - where "tribute" children from the districts are placed in a single arena and forced to fight one another to the death.
It's not pretty stuff, but Suzanne Collins manages always to show the highs of human spirit in her narrative as well as the lows. Amidst decadent corruption and destitute desperation, her characters exhibit incredible strength of will, determination of love, and an overarching need to protect the young and vulnerable. Fascinatingly, Collins manages to provide us with a heroine - Katniss - who is both an incredibly strong, determined survivor, and yet also an unreliable narrator - succumbing on more than one occasion to survivor's guilt, and doubting her own judgment and motives even as she struggles to save the people she holds most dear.
Even if you don't care about character depth and development, it's hard to not appreciate the active pace of "The Hunger Games". Whether Katniss is fighting with her opponents, scavenging for food, or running for her life, the narrative is always fast-paced and hair-raising. Collins has a great sense of pacing, and understands when Katniss (and the reader) requires a moment of rest and recuperation; these moments are careful interspersed to provide much needed breaks between the horror and shock that is the experience of these brutal games.
I personally found these books to be compellingly written and wonderfully entertaining (both as single novels and as a series as a whole); so much so that I purchased the audio book as well, narrated by the smooth tones of "Law & Order"'s Carolyn McCormick. I should add, in the interest of fairness, that although 9 of 10 people I recommended this book to loved it (and couldn't wait to finish the series), my own husband didn't find the novel compelling enough to continue, citing his frustration that much of the meat of the novel features Katniss alone, with minimal interaction with other characters. For me, this was not a problem (and, as an issue, it is all but removed from the next novels), but I mention it here for fairness and as a reminder that no one book is perfect for everyone.
~ Ana Mardoll
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