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The last couple of books I had picked up had not really invigorated me and I was in danger of abandoning every book I started. Which is very unlike me. Then I read “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. And after a long time I could not put a book down. I finished it in just about 3 days. Let me first give a summary from the book jacket:
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by 12 outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. If she has to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
It puzzles me as to why Collins’ book has been categorized under YA fiction. It may appear like a dark little story about kids participating in a game but The Hunger Games is certainly much beyond that. The intensity of emotions, the heightened degree of violence and the subtext of themes that simmer beneath the story are all extremely, well, ‘grown-up.’
The book begins with Katniss’ life in District 12 which encompasses her friendship with Gale and her fierce love for her little sister Prim. But above all Katniss leads a tough life. After her father’s death, Katniss is the one looking after her family. We are soon introduced to the concept of the Hunger Games and when Prim’s name is called out, Katniss immediately volunteers in place of her. From there the book begins its heart thumping journey into the wilderness where 24 children have to kill each other and emerge the winner.
Though a dark and dystopian science-fictionesque tale, the themes running through it are very much of the real world. The Hunger Games by itself stands as a testimonial to the price of war but ironically, the price is paid with more blood.
“The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate…Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.”
It takes a bit of mind twisting to appreciate this kind of a story where kids are constantly scheming to kill each other.
The boy from District 3 only has time to turn and run before Cato catches him in a headlock from behind. I can see the muscles ripple in Cato's arms as he sharply jerks the boy's head to the side. It's that quick. The death of the boy from District 3.
Yet, underneath this brutality, Collins’ beautifully interweaves sensitivity, love and friendship. One of my favorite parts is where Katniss takes a liking to Rue and then sets about protecting her just like her little sister. A very touching portrayal that almost brought tears to my eyes. There are also parts that some might find a bit dramatic, including those related to Rue, but I think Collins’ can be forgiven.
Katniss’ relation with Peeta is never completely defined. Throughout the book, they play tag with the reader keeping us undecided. Politics, is not only present as a strong catalyst in their chemistry, but also as an omniscient force that dictates each of the participants’ and their families’ lives.
I loved Collins’ fast-paced, no frills writing style and her strategic placements of small twists. Collins employs staccato sentences written in the present tense that sets the speed and also conveys the raw competitive nature that hangs heavily in the air. I found Katniss’ character refreshing. Very practical and cynical yet naïve and sensitive, a child-woman who grew up before her time, Katniss is fleshed out wonderfully. What I also liked was this earthy, primitive atmosphere that co-exists with an uber-modern, technologically advanced one. On one hand we see Katniss using a bow and arrows to hunt in the forest and on the other we see highly sophisticated cameras that track each tribute and giant screens appearing in the skies displaying the results of the day. The names used in the book, slightly strange yet familiar sounding ones like Katniss, Cato, Gale or Cinna also lend an odd, otherworldly feel.
The Hunger Games is not for the faint-hearted. And I am not talking about the players. But I can’t wait to read the next book in the trilogy.
Verdict: A dark little tale that will grip you