Monday, January 16, 2012

Killing by Numbers: A Review of Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games"

12 colonies; 1 capitol; 24 tributes; 1 survivor; 0 trust; 0 safety; Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games is a simple story that adds up to more enjoyment than one would expect from it's parts. Told from the point of view of tough, young heroine Katniss Everdeen; the book follows her as she becomes the latest sacrifice to the upper echelon of society and is forced to compete in it's dark, deadly battle-royal for teenagers, The Hunger Games.

While one might immediately think these are themes (and maybe even a plot if you've read Battle Royale) I've seen done over and over again; the old, rich and powerful persecuting the young, poor and working class; the real question becomes does Collins' book bring anything new to the table? The answer is not much, but those new elements do make the book quite a compelling read.

The first component that helps to set the book apart is the gender of it's protagonist. Yes while a girl as the lead character isn't exactly new, it is quite under used in  futuristic-adventure reads such as this one. Further more, it's rare for such a character to read as an actual girl not just a bro with boobs, of course that maybe a healthy by-product of the writer's gender. The other aspect that separates this book in the vast field of dystopian futures, is it's effective and deliberate pacing. From the slow, introspective chapters waiting for the games to begin; to the fast, action packed ones in the arena, Collins' has a great command of timing that keeps the reader thoroughly invested. There are many books that will have the reader suffer through long segments or try to condense interesting sequences into minor footnotes, but The Hunger Games manages to navigate those waters successfully and comes out as quite a more enjoyable read for it. Of course, along with these positives the book does has some draw backs.

The worst trait (or perhaps best trait when looking for commercial success) of the book is the plainness of Collins' writing style. When reading I like to find some formative challenge to embrace, whether it has an interesting narrative structure or unique vocabulary choices, but nothing of the sort appears in The Hunger Games. While this is not a horrendous or unforgivable flaw, and some might not see it as one at all, it does leave me wanting something more from a writer. Perhaps the more important problem to most readers, is a one-dimensional cast outside the major players and the world not being fully realized as a result. While this is certainly a headache in a lot of stories, and I do think it at least warrants mentioning, I found it quite easy to dismiss while reading. With the novel all being told from a single character's point of view it is seems a little more feasible for other characters to become one-note asides giving us some knowledge about the world rather main characters in their own stories. Since this is a series though, it's definitely a problem that I hope fades out in future books.

All in all, I found The Hunger Games a gratifying read and definitely recommend giving it a shot if you were intrigued by the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation (like I was) or enjoy a darkened world with young protagonists (like the later Harry Potter books.) Can't wait to see how this series continues, which has propelled the other two books in the trilogy straight to my "to read" pile, and how it performs on the big screen later this year.

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