I’ve been hearing about Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy for a while now, and I finally got the time to pick up the books and read them. I’ll start with book one, The Hunger Games. From the very first chapter, I was hooked (I read all three books in a 24-hour period, if that gives you any indication of how addicting they were). The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is a strong-ish female character with some serious inabilities to read herself and those around her. Despite this handicap (she is, after all, a teenager), Katniss’ selflessness and cunning make her an easy enough character to get behind.
From the getgo, Collins’ novel interrogates ideas of modern civilization and culture as we know them. The configuration of Panem — one central Capital with 12 Districts, each one producing its own major commodity — provides a model of a society that lives in total segregation, each limb being completely isolated from the others. The Capitol, with its sickening obsession with beauty and indulgence, could not be more different from District 12, where a majority of the inhabitants are in real and constant danger of starvation and toil their lives away in the coal mines. By dividing civilization into isolated sectors defined not only by their commodity, but their unique (and often rather bleak) culture, Collins opens up the space for the reader to think about the function of different aspects of society and their (un)importance. (More on this in my discussion of Mockingjay.)
The Hunger Games themselves (a cruel annual reminder of the government’s tyrannical grip on the Districts and of the helplessness of the citizens to do anything about it) are a twisted “celebration” that not only highlights the role children play in our society, but also explores the media’s role in controlling the populous. A strange fusion of reality TV nightmares — incorporating elements of everything from shows like Survivor to events like the Miss America pageant — the Hunger Games are a reminder of how the media can so easily turn into propaganda, even under the guise of “entertainment.”
The undertone of rebellion that hums constantly beneath the surface throughout the series gets its start in this novel — a novel published in 2008, and penned during a very interesting time in the history of the United States: when we were under the rule of a president who used fear and the media (a great distiller of fear) as weapons against his own people in much the same way that President Snow in The Hunger Games does to the citizens of Panem. You should definitely read this, although wait until you have the time for all three novels, because you won’t want to stop after just one!
GOOD FOR: People interested in contemporary US politics, readers who like to extract concepts from fiction and consider their implications in the real world, fans of dystopic sci-fi.
BAD FOR: Readers looking for a little bit of apolitical fun, people who have no interest in reading a 1200-page trilogy, and those looking for a happy and optimistic read.
COMPATIBLE WITH: Ender’s Game, The Giver, and Anthem.