Final Verdict: 3.0 out of 4.0
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the first book in a series of three that takes place in an unspecified future, in what one would assume is a post-apocalyptic United States of America. “The Capitol,” which rules all of the thirteen outlying districts (a throwback to the original thirteen colonies, perhaps?), I envision as a New York City or even a Los Angeles (given the many references to over-the-top costume and makeup and the televising of live-action reality as entertainment (i.e. Hollywood). I enjoyed the story – the plot was eerily and frighteningly believable, but when I compare this first book in the series to other of a similar genre and focus, such as Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game or Takami’s Battle Royale, I feel underwhelmed and a little ill-at-ease. What I mean is that I felt like this book was simultaneously underdeveloped and too far advanced for an introduction to a series. There was too little time spent on getting to know the characters (who turn out to be heroes), so I could not cheer as heartily for them as I would have liked to – though, shamefully, I do admit that I was struck by Peeta’s romantic chivalry, possibly as it gives me embarrassing flashbacks of my own love-struck boyhood and how I would risk just about anything for the love of my teenage life (insert nostalgic sigh here). Still, even this sub-plot could have been much more intriguing and engaging if it had been further developed. I feel that The Hunger Games could have been the second or third book in the trilogy, after a book or two spent on character development, building up to the crux of the “Games” and perhaps focusing on the relationships between Peeta & Katniss and Gale & Katniss (since this, too, was so underdeveloped that I was hard-pressed not to believe Katniss would not just choose to ditch her old “flame” altogether for the charming Peeta). Still, the idea of the game itself, as well as the political and socioeconomic examinations, are all very interesting and when graced by the hand of an effortless prose, it was easy to sink into the story, despite the many overdone plot devices and a sometimes nauseating reliance on dues-ex-machina.
2 – Characters slightly developed.
The biggest complaint I have with this book is the lack of development in its characters and character relationships. So much could have been done with these very interesting and differing personalities – from Katniss and Peeta, to Cinna and Haymitch. The way these characters interact with one another was glazed over, but could have added extraordinary depth to the story – particularly since the plot is truly terrifying and thought-provoking. The one relationship which redeemed the book was, in my opinion, that between Katniss and Rue. More could have been done, again, to further develop and enhance the story, but when Rue meets her fate – I can honestly feel Katniss’s emotions in this scene, and I love the way in which she deals with it, tenderly and defiantly. There is no other moment in the book like this one but the sad thing is that there could have been many. I found quite a few of the characters to be interesting, but superficial. I hope that in later books these characters get more page-time – I would love to know more about their histories, motives, and passions. I feel that if the time had been spent on this development in book one, as I mentioned above, the story and series overall would have been elevated to another, higher level.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
The best praise I can give for this book (which is not to say that I did not enjoy the book – I am being critical because I feel the book could have been so much greater, honestly, had more time been spent in certain places) is its prose. The pace of the book overall was fantastic and the language was fluid and simple, without being dull. Now, setting aside the many obvious “automatic out” moments, which allowed Katniss and Peeta to suddenly escape danger through no real ingenuity of their own, I would find it difficult to find much, if any, fault with the style or structure of the book. I think the three portions were split in the appropriate places and though we are seeing the story through Katniss’s eyes, I do feel that each of the characters had a small something which distinguished them from the rest –particularly the more major players. This was not found so much in the dialogue as it was in description of body language and reactions, but sometimes that is enough to do the trick. There was also a great sense of wit and strength in Katniss, which, again, did not come through so much in the characterization as it did in these glimpses of moving scenes and self-reflective personality and emotion. Katniss’s inadvertent projection of her sister, Prim, onto Rue, for instance, was a touching part of the story and it was managed through the language rather than through the plot-action itself.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.
As I mentioned in the plot section, one of the most interesting things for me about this book is how real the idea is – and this is both a statement as to the fragility of humanity, as well as a brutally honest account of the nature of politics and class warfare. These underlying elements, for me, are what prop this novel up and what could have, with lengthier and more in-depth development of the story and its characters, made this book nearly brilliant. It saddens me that I cannot rave about what greatness this book achieves, because I can see it working toward that peak but falling just short. Still, the story was engaging and these underlying themes helped to propel the action and were particularly effective when Katniss would give a wink and a nod to “The Capitol,” letting the world-at-large (and the reader) know that she understands this horrid game and, whether or not she can beat it, she is not fooled by it.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Young Adult+
Interest: Dystopia, War-Games, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
“Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games”
“Here’s some advice. Stay alive.”
“Already the boy with the bread is slipping away from me.”