Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Imagine for a moment that reality television shows featured the contestants fighting each other literally for their lives. Imagine that all of the contestants are teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18. Imagine that every citizen is forced by law to watch as human beings kill each other for the entertainment of the rich.

This is the world of The Hunger Games. For some background, everything takes place in the country of Panem, once called North America. There were thirteen districts that rose up to fight against the Capitol. Twelve of the districts were defeated, the thirteenth district was totaled. As punishment, the twelve districts must hold a lottery (reaping) every year. One boy and one girl will be chosen and forced to compete in the Hunger Games. All of the children will then kill each other off until only one is left, the winner.

Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12. She has been supporting her mother and sister by breaking the law, hunting in the woods outside the District, and selling and trading the things she finds. Ever since her father died, their mother became withdrawn, almost catatonic. Katniss and her sister Primrose (Prim) almost died of starvation until she learned to take care of herself.

All the children have their names entered at least one time, adding an extra name for every birthday (One for 12, two for 13, etc.). If the child receives tessera, a ration of grain and oil, the child adds an extra name for however many rations and those rations are cumulative. It's a very unfair situation for the poor children of the Districts, but the Capitol isn't known for fairness. Katniss will have her name entered 20 times this year, Prim only once. At the reaping, the unthinkable happens. Prim's name is chosen as a tribute. Katniss quickly volunteers in her place. The other tribute is Peeta Mellark, the baker's son. Peeta once gave bread to Katniss when she was close to starvation. He is also in love with her, though she doesn't notice this.

What follows is training and preparation for the Hunger Games, and some fun parts where Katniss and Peeta are dressed up for presentations and interviews. Haymitch Abernathy, the only living District 12 winner, serves as their mentor. He is basically a lovable drunk. Haymitch wants Katniss and Peeta to play up their togetherness for the audience, show themselves as star-crossed lovers. Between stylist Cinna's unforgettable outfits and the faux (or maybe not?) romance, Katniss and Peeta stand out among the other contestants and become audience favorites. However, there's still the question of what happens when they get into the Hunger Games arena, where only one of them can be the winner.

The Hunger Games was often an incredibly harsh book. Katniss was no-nonsense in her quest to stay alive and I admire her for that, even though I felt bad sometimes when she killed animals or people. Most of the harshness can be attributed to the world Katniss exists in, the oppressive government and poor conditions. In that world, she can either kill the deer or starve, kill the other contestant or be killed. Sometimes I imagine myself into books, usually Harry Potter or Jane Austen. When I tried to picture myself surviving the Hunger Games, I decided that I would quickly die. Then I remembered that I am too old to ever have to enter the reaping or the Hunger Games and I was okay again.

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