I have to say, The Hunger Games was not a novel I expected to enjoy. I had bought the book quite a while ago and it had slowly gotten buried in my eBook pile. A few mornings ago, when I went through my usual routine of opening a book, reading a page and getting frustrated that it wasn’t “the book” I wanted to read, I opened The Hunger Games and then spent the next five hours literally shaking with excitement while I read the entire novel in one sitting. Now that is my definition of a gripping book.
The basic premise is that the US has undergone a major change and is now a very strange country called Panem with one major capital, known as The Capitol, which has power over the 12 surrounding districts. Each of these districts is fenced in and the citizens are essentially slaves. They work for virtually nothing, many starving, while those living in the Capitol have their food served to them at the press of a button and are so bored with their daily lives that they have taken to dying their skin odd colours for something to do. The history of Panem is dark – there were once 13 districts, but they all rose up against The Capitol in an attempt to free themselves and they lost bitterly. District 13 was completely destroyed (although I suspect we may hear more about it in the next two books – just a hunch?) and the other 12 districts are reminded of their failure every year through a humiliating and painful “game” which they are forced to participate in and celebrate as though it were a nation-wide holiday, rather than the sacrifice of their young people for the sake of entertainment.
This game is The Hunger Games, in which each of the 12 districts selects one boy and one girl – chosen by lottery – to travel to the Capitol and compete in a fight to the death with 23 other teenagers. This “game” is televised live to every district and throughout the Capitol, the only place where the game is really enjoyed and celebrated.
The story of The Hunger Games is told from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old from District 12, the coal district. Katniss lost her father when she was eleven, and since then has been hunting illegally to provide for her mother and her younger sister, Primrose. When Prim, who has just turned 12 and has only one “ballot” in the lottery is chosen against all odds, Katniss passionately volunteers and takes the place of her sister. The boy tribute chosen from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, the son of the local baker and a boy who Katniss remembers giving her bread when she and her family were starving.
Katniss and Peeta stand very little chance in the Hunger Games. Their mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, the only living victor of the Hunger Games from District 12 has seen so many of his previous tributes die that he now spends most of his time drunk, but he begins to see some potential in Katniss and Peeta and limits his alcohol intake long enough to give them some small level of support. Before the games begin, they spend time in the Capitol training, having beauty treatments, and doing interviews. It is during one of these interviews that Peeta admits that he has been in love with Katniss for years, a revelation that horrifies her as she is well aware that at least one of them will die in the coming weeks.
Katniss gives Peeta the cold shoulder, and when the games begin he forms an alliance with the “Careers” – cruel tributes who have been trained from a young age to fight and win the Hunger Games. Katniss, meanwhile, forms an unlikely alliance – with a small 12-year old, Rue, who reminds her of Prim.
The rules are changed, the stakes are enormously high, Peeta saves Katniss from the Careers and is left by them, badly injured to die. Katniss has to decide if she will find and save him, risking her own life, and constantly battling with her conflicting feelings for Peeta and for Gale, her best friend back home, and hunting companion. Despite insisting to herself constantly that there is nothing romantic between her and Gale, Katniss does tend to think guiltily of him whenever staging a romantic scene for the audience with Peeta.
Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, highly addictive and filled with twists, tension and game changing annoucements.
The only downside to the book was the cliche inclusion of the love-triangle. It has served its purpose in making me anxious to find out how Gale reacts when Katniss arrives back in District 12, but I felt frustrated by Katniss through the teenage-drama!
Despite the drama, I enjoyed it thoroughly and *must* read the next two books. I’m just not buying them until I know I can spare another ten hours of all-consuming devotion to reading!