By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by Lionsgate Movies©
What is abundantly clear within the first few pages of The Hunger Games, is this isn’t your usual teen-drama novel. There is an element of uniqueness, a sense of something different that instantly hooks you.
Suzanne Collins, the architect of Katniss Everdeen’s world hits the ground running, and rarely lets her foot of the pedal. At full force, you are introduced to Panem – formally the United States of America. Run by President Snow in the Capital, Katniss is catapulted into ‘The Hunger Games’, an arena style reality show where twelve ‘Tributes’ are pitted against one another to fight to the death. The winner is rewarded with riches and most importantly, their life.
But before we get to the Games themselves, first comes the Reaping. The selection process of the ‘Tributes’. This is accomplished by taking the name of one boy and one girl from a glass bowl at random. And whilst Katniss’ name isn’t picked, her younger sister Prim is. This leads her to volunteer in Prim’s place, ultimately placing her into the deadly Games.
If it sounds exciting, that’s because it is. But more is to come. As Katniss and her fellow Tribute from District 12 (the part of Panem Katniss lives in) Peeta arrive at the Capital, both suddenly find themselves paraded as superstars across the TV network.
It is at these moments in the book where Collins expertly mirrors todays society. The Hunger Games plays on the construct of anyone, for anything can be famous. Yes, it lives within the extremities, but it asks a bigger question. These are twelve lives; all but one will be killed, and the Capital sees them as gilded lambs to the slaughter.
The build-up to the Games is the most interesting part of the book. It fully showcases the complexity of Katniss as a character. She is strong, yet vulnerable; assured, yet fatally flawed. Her abilities are undervalued by the ‘Gamemakers’, those who invent the entertainment of the Games. That is until, with her trusted bow and arrow, she expertly fires one loose into a skewered pig, pinning the apple in its mouth to the wall. Her actions leave her with the highest score, dubbing her “the girl on fire.” And thus her popularity soars.
Once we enter the games, Katniss is a front-runner, Peeta – not so much. But it is here, within the Arena themed as a luscious forest that the twist and turns begin.
Katniss strikes out on her own, whilst the other eleven Tributes form packs. And then one-by-one they fall, until we are left with both Katniss and Peeta fighting for survival. As the Games wear on, the cruellest moment is the death of Rue – the young girl Katniss befriends. It is shocking and instantly changes the tone of the book, proving that nothing is off the table.
Suzanne Collins meticulously describes the emotions, the intensity of Katniss’ predicament and both pain and success with expert precision. She leaves the reader to fill in the scenery, only providing enough detail to keep the story flowing. It pays off dividends. You feel you are with Katniss throughout every ordeal. From finding Peeta injured, to burying her dear friend Rue, she feels fully-formed, real – human. It is here where her strength comes from. Throughout the entire book you realise how different she is from the other Tributes, but as the finale unravels, it becomes all the more clear.
The Hunger Games, unlike other teen-dramas, plays down the romance. Yes it is there, but not as intense or melodramatic as ‘Twilight’ and the story thrives because of this. If anything, Collins makes fun of it. Before entering the Games, Peeta reveals his feelings for Katniss in front of the entire population of Panem. Whilst initially infuriated by his profession of love, Katniss quickly realises in the Games that, would the Capital allow two tributes, if they were the last two left, to both die.?
It is a plan that works, as both Peeta and Katniss make it out of the Games as ‘Champions’. But the book leaves you guessing what could happen next, setting up the final two instalments of Katniss’ story. And whilst, they fail to live up to the originality of the first, Collins’ does do justice to her.
The Hunger Games is a wonderfully written, expertly formed and thrillingly heart-pounding ride. It asks big questions about the celebrity world we now live in, and what really is the price of fame? But as reality shows get more dramatic and extreme, it asks the most interesting question of all, how far are we from our own Hunger Games?