Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction
Stand Alone or Series: Book One in a planned trilogy.
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat’s sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.
A Brief Introduction:
Christine, from the awesome The Happily Ever After blog, recently emailed me after she had started The Hunger Games and could not put it down, and she was eager to discuss it. I had picked up a copy of the book earlier this month and, considering the buzz about this novel, was eager to dive into it, especially with Christine’s recommendation. Since neither of us thought we were going to make it for the Dear Author book discussion, we decided to host a late joint discussion here, in the style of the Joint Reviews Ana and I hold on occasion.
**For a SPOILER FREE review of The Hunger Games, check out Christine’s blog HERE.**
So! Now that’s out of the way…let’s get crackin’.
SPOILERS FOLLOW AFTER THE BREAK!!! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW, AVERT YOUR VIRGIN EYES!
Thea: What can I say, Christine, you definitely know my tastes! I enjoyed this book, in an addictive, cotton-candy kind of way. One of my favorite books-to-movies is the Japanese Battle Royale, in which to keep citizens frightened and obedient (and to staunch the problem of rebellious youth), the government enacts a law in which all the nation’s schools are entered into a lotto system, where the “winning” class gets transported to a remote island. There, the children are each given a backpack with provisions and a weapon (the weapon can be anything from an Uzi to a pot lid). And from there, they are forced to fight to the death, until only one survivor remains (the kids also have to worry about “safe” zones via periodic announcements, exploding collars, and a time limit to kill everyone off).
I also immediately think of another book-to-screen favorite, The Running Man by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman). In The Running Man, contestants are pulled into a perverse game show where in return for cash and prizes, they are hunted down by professional (and publicly adored, in the style of WWE) Seekers. *Note, I’m talking about the movie version here, which is significantly different from the book*
With The Hunger Games, a young adult novel, we get a sort of Battle Royale-meets-Running Man LITE version 2.0. It’s a hybrid novel that borrows heavily from these other work and yet it is one that I thoroughly enjoyed. The Hunger Games lacks the gruesomeness and biting social commentary of its Japanese counterpart or the dark humor of the King version, but on its own it stands as a solid, dystopian novel. I found myself completely entertained and eagerly await the next in the trilogy.
Christine: Thea, I’m so glad you enjoyed The Hunger Games as much as I did, and I’m really honored and excited that you asked me to do this joint book discussion with you! Thank you.
I enjoy thoroughly reading YA novels, and find those written about dystopian societies are incredibly intense and thought provoking, The Hunger Games no exception. Not only does this novel address government controls, but it also demonstrates the power even one individual has to make a profound statement against government sanctions. Very powerful messages in this novel, delivered by some very heroic young characters driven by the will to survive. I highly recommend this novel.
1. Let’s talk about Panem—-the effectiveness of the televised games, the unruliness of its people, and the possibility of rebellion
Thea: The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future society, after the United States (and the rest of the world, possibly?) has been ravaged by war. The former USA is now a federation of twelve districts and the Capitol, making the nation-state of Panem. I found it clever that the US shrinks back down to thirteen districts after war, as with the original thirteen states, and that there was another attempt at uprising earlier in Panem’s history (which, incidentally resulted in the complete destruction of the thirteenth district). This world is intriguing, with the different districts separated by production specialty—for example, District 11 being the Agricultural District, and District 12 being the Mining District. The only real problem I kinda had with this society setup was the televised nature of the Games. Certainly, it seems as though those in the poorer districts (like districts 11 and 12) wouldn’t have televisions to watch the constant coverage, and we’re never really given an idea as to how the government of Panem forces its citizens to watch (especially considering all work is halted in order to watch the proceedings). Furthermore, the effectiveness of televised games–besides being entertaining for the relatively outnumbered rich folks–seems questionable. Katniss narrates that the games are used to control the Districts, to ensure they do not ever get any funny ideas about rebelling again, although I’m not sure I buy into the effectiveness of the games in this sort of segregated environment.
Certainly everyone in District 12 seems cowed by constant hunger and intent on just surviving, and with the Hunger Games they do not seem entertained, but rather hostile, silently defiant–and ultimately leading to a volatile, rebellious type of situation.
I definitely see rebellion in the future books, as the poorer districts could band together, especially since Katniss and Peeta were able to “beat the system” in the Arena.
Christine: I have to admit that when I first read that the government of Panem orchestrated these games as a deterrent against rebellion, it made me uncomfortable. I cringed at the thought of a government drafting innocent and peaceful citizens and forcing them to kill their neighbors. The fact that the players in the games, called the tributes, were teenagers and that their fight to the death was televised nationwide just made the premise that much more disturbing. Obviously this was the author’s intention, and it was a very effective wake up call to the implications of war and the survival of the fittest.
There are a few conditions in this society that I felt were not elaborated thoroughly enough for me to fully believe or understand the power the Capitol has over its citizens, but as the politics of the world revealed itself through the telling of this seventy-fourth Hunger Games, I imagine more information regarding Panem’s political state will be forthcoming in future books. For example, like Thea, I couldn’t fully comprehend the deterrent value of the Hunger Games to the citizens from the poorer districts like Katniss’ District 12. The people of the poorer districts are working themselves to the bone just to survive with enough food and they do not have the luxury of watching television at night and barely seem able to keep up with what is going on in other Districts, let alone the Capitol. So how is it that the Games are effective at deterring them from organizing a rebellion? If anything, I would think the Games would have the opposite effect and actually encourage dissension. Although, I do believe that is finally on the horizon for the people of Panem.
2. Food, Glorious Food–what’s the significance?
Thea: Since the book is titled The Hunger Games, food, or rather hunger, plays an integral part to the story. Although it is clear that food is a huge, constant worry for Katniss, it seems not to be a problem for the Capitol dwellers, or those in the more prosperous districts. It would seem that Panem seeks to control its citizens by starving them–as it has historically, following the failed first uprising. It is interesting to see that throughout the Games, the divide between those who have had easy food versus those who are used to living without it sharply comes into focus–to the point where strategy in the Games is dictated by food. When Katniss decides to attack the “Careers” by blowing up their food source, she effectively swings the Games to her favor…and I’m certain this is a theme we could see more of in the future (should the agricultural district decide to cut off the Capitol’s food supply).
Christine: Clearly food is the ultimate commodity in Panem as well as in the Hunger Games Arena. In Panem, the Capitol and the wealthier districts have unlimited access to a diverse food supply, and Katniss learns this first hand the moment she boards the train bound for the Capitol days prior to the start of the Games. The amount and variety of food as well as its decadent preparation within the Capitol is vastly different from the food found in District 12, where people are fortunate to be able to grow a few food crops and or have enough money for a loaf of bread. Luckily Katniss had been sneaking out of the boundaries of her district over the years with her friend Gale where they foraged for roots, berries, bark and other plant foods as well as to hunted and trapped animals to eat or sell in the market or Hob. These skills put Katniss at a huge advantage in the Hunger Games as she could find her own food in the arena and not rely on the rations that others would fight over in death matches. So in the end, the one who spent her life hungry would be the one to defy hunger in the Games.
3. The burgeoning romance: Katniss and Peeta (and Gale)
Christine: The relationship between Peeta and Katniss is developed and written very well, especially considering we really only see the story from Katniss’ point of view. Like Katniss, I continuously flip flopped between thinking Peeta’s concern and affection for her was genuine and thinking he was just using her in order to get ahead in the Games. The more the story progressed, however, the more I began to see that Peeta’s love for Katniss was sincere. Ultimately, Katniss also grows to care very much for Peeta, but I’m not completely convinced she genuinely loves him. I do think the bond that they share is undeniably strong, because of the brutality of the Games they faced and survived together, and this bond will tie them together for a very long time coming–especially if they join a future rebellion against the Capitol.
Speaking of bonds, I think the bond between Katniss and Gale runs even deeper than that of Katniss and Peeta, and will be the one that survives in the end. Oh, I’m sure they are going to struggle with it, but I think their love will prevail. Like her relationship with Peeta, Katniss’ relationship with Gale was also forged similarly under the dire circumstances of survival. I think because Katniss and Gale started out on equal ground as hunting partners and then as true friends before they started feeling more for each other, their love will be stronger. Not to mention that Katniss often thought of Gale throughout the Games, even whenever she kissed Peeta! Well, most of the times she kissed Peeta, anyway. *wink* So as much as I like and admire Peeta, I’m rooting for the Katniss-Gale angle.
Thea: I gotta take the Katniss-Peeta angle here. The romantic touch to this novel is very sweet, and compelling. Katniss “plays” the Games by milking the romance angle with Peeta–who genuinely cares for Katniss. What Katniss fails to realize (well, she realizes it on a subconscious level through her narrative) is that despite the romance strategy, she actually, genuinely cares for Peeta. I’m always a sucker for the “friend/guy you never noticed who desperately loves you” storyline, what can I say?!
Not that there’s anything wrong with Gale, but it’s kinda hard to root for a guy that isn’t even in the picture for most of the story. I’m interested to see how the triangle plays out…who knows? Maybe I’ll even change my mind and root for Gale in the next book!
4. Place Your Bets–what’s going to happen next?
Christine: I have no idea! LOL My first impression is that Katniss will be faced with some serious relationship challenges when she returns to District 12. We have no idea what went on while she was participating in the Games or what people’s opinions of her “performance” are either, so I’m a bit nervous about that. I have the feeling that Katniss will have a few surprises when she gets home, mostly regarding her relationships with her sister Prim, her mother, and of course, Gale. It’s certainly not going to be easy, especially if she has to perpetuate the myth of being in love with Peeta for the purposes of keeping the Capitol off her back. Well, if it is a myth that is.
Politically, I think a conspiracy plan will reveal itself, although I’m not sure who will be spearheading it. Perhaps Heymitch–Katniss and Peeta’s drunken trainer who won the Hunger Games years ago, or maybe even Cinna and Portia–the Capitol designers assigned to Katniss and Peeta at the Games. Whatever happens, I think Katniss will be reluctant to join out of fear for jeopardizing Prim’s safety, but in the end, her had in a rebellion will be forced.
Thea: Toughie, but I’m thinking the next book will be a tempest after the fallout from these last Hunger Games. The government is clearly onto Katniss, and I’m certain her supposed victory life of ease is not gonna happen. There’s also the increasing sentiment of resentment and rebellion against the Capitol, which I think will grow (aided in large part by Katniss and Gale, and probably with covert aid from Heymitch) in the next book, ultimately coming to a clash in the third book.
Or…I could be full of crap, and none of it happens. Hehe.
5. Influences and recommendations
Thea: I have already mentioned Battle Royale and The Running Man; both of which are pretty direct translations in this novel. I *highly* recommend Battle Royale for anyone who is a fan of this book–the book is great, but the movie is spectacular. One of my favorites. (Although I believe the film isn’t sold in the USA, I had to order mine from the UK online, but this was a few years back–perhaps it is available now)
Another similar book that could have been an influence here is another King novel (as Bachman, again), The Long Walk–probably one of King’s most underrated novels. In a not too distant future, boys from around the country apply to take part in an annual competition–where they walk. One hundred boys are selected, and they must walk, never slower than four miles per hour, never stopping, until only one walker remains. Any boy that slows down for more than 30 seconds, or receives outside aid, or assaults another walker, is issued a warning. Three consecutive warnings, and the boy has bought himself a ticket–that is, he is shot dead. The walk ends when only one boy remains. It’s a haunting, psychological horror story, and it provides a darker, more in-depth look at some of the moral issues that are glanced at in The Hunger Games (more on that later).
The other literary parallel I am reminded of is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Forced by necessity, the children in The Hunger Games create their own world order, ending in savagery and death. Certainly Katniss is no Ralph, but the gang of Careers resembles the brutal, fatalistic attitude of Jack and his hunters.
So far as historical parallels, discussed over at Dear Author, The Hunger Games draws heavily on Roman history, in particular on Gladiators. The painted host, the names (Cinna, Portia, Cato), the nature of the Arena itself conjures images of the Coliseum.
Christine: Not as closely related to The Hunger Games, as the examples Thea has given, another young adult series based on a dystopian world that I highly recommend is a trilogy written by the critically acclaimed author Lois Lowry that starts with The Giver (1994 Newbery Medal Award), followed by Gathering Blue and finally The Messenger. I read these three novels several years ago and was moved and awed by the power of these amazing stories. While this trilogy does not necessarily share the brutality and harshness of The Hunger Games, it does question the power of government and also delivers powerful messages regarding the value of freedom, the roles of individuals and community, and the power of love and healing.
6. Moral Decisions—is Katniss off the hook? YA versus non-YA: the dilemma
Thea: I felt that this book pulled a lot of its punches. Katniss is bailed out of countless moral decisions, never having to kill someone until her hand is forced. What would have happened had Rue not been killed by that boy from District 1? The Gamemakers’ resolve crumples like a little girl punched in the stomach by letting both Katniss and Peeta live. Why? I think a lot of this has to do with the book being a YA novel—toning down less palatable moral dilemmas. It’s all fine and good, I want to like both Peeta and Katniss…but had this been an adult novel, I would really want to see the author go there.
The only other thing I will say is that because a lot of the moral issues are stunted, the meaning of this book is more superficial and is wanting for something deeper than face value. Yes, the Government is BAD. But so far as moral dilemmas, questioning of humanity, socio-economic critiques? The Hunger Games doesn’t really deliver.
BUT it does deliver as a well written, engaging and wholly entertaining book.
Christine: I have to disagree with your claim that Katniss was spared being faced with difficult moral decisions or got the easy way out of being a ruthless killer. First of all, she was in fact responsible for several deaths, even if only two tributes died directly at her hand. All of the deaths were brutal and traumatic, especially considering this is a YA novel. Secondly, I think the fact that Katniss was never in a position of questionable morality is actually key to her character. The fact that Katniss was able to hide, survive, avoid confrontation and triumph at the Games without acting objectionably demonstrates that she is exactly the kind of citizen that citizens of Panem should hold exemplary and that is why she won the Games and will hold an important role in the rebellion against the Capitol.
What’s the Verdict?
Thea: Highly enjoyable, addictive book. I’ll definitely be around for the sequels! I give it a: 7 Very Good.
Christine: I was sucked into this world after reading the first few pages and each chapter was more exciting and more suspenseful than the previous. I was completely absorbed by its alarming intensity and wait anxiously for the sequels. I give it an: 8 Excellent!
Thank you Christine! This was a blast! Now, if anyone else has read The Hunger Games and has anything to say, we’d love to hear from you!