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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is an enthralling and sometimes disturbing book. It’s the first of a trilogy set in a dystopian future. The country of Panem is ruled from the Capitol and the citizens of twelve districts work to provide resources for the wealthy inhabitants of the Capitol. Those districts near the Capitol are fairly wealthy themselves, providing luxury goods, gems and electronic equipment. The main character of the novel, Katniss, is from district twelve, a poor mining community, where she fights to keep her mother and sister from starvation.
One of the ways the Capitol maintains its brutal hold is by the Hunger Games. Every year, a boy and a girl from each district are sent to the Capitol. There they are made celebrities and then put into an arena for a fight to the death which is broadcast across Panem. When Katniss’ little sister Prim is chosen for the Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She is sent with Peeta, a boy who once gave her bread when she was starving, knowing that it’s unlikely either of them will make it out alive.
There are several things which made this book so good. One is the plot, which keeps you hooked. Some things are a little predictable, but that didn’t stop me from turning the pages as I desperately wanted to see how things turned out. The writing style is gripping, taking you from one exciting predicament to the next as Katniss struggles for her life.
Another thing that I thought was great about this novel was the layers. The struggle in the arena is only half of the story. The Hunger Games are a TV show in the Capitol and the subject of much speculation and betting. Players can get sponsors to buy them gifts which are delivered while they’re in the arena. In order to get sponsors, players have to appeal to the audience. This turns everything into a show. It’s a scenario where reality TV has gone insane and, in the middle of a life-or-death struggle, Katniss has to think about how things would appeal to the viewers and second-guess everything the others say.
The final, and probably most important thing, that makes this book so good is the characters. Katniss is a fine balance between a sympathetic character and a tough fighter. It’s a difficult thing to get right. As readers, we have to connect with Katniss and like her, but we also have to believe she’s strong enough to survive the fight. I think this is handled really well. Her background is very well developed and it’s easy to believe that she would be capable of defending herself but she’s also kind. There are some opening scenes with her sister where that really shines. Her protective nature makes her likeable and this continues through the book. There’s a really touching moment where one of the other players is dying and Katniss sings a lullaby and then decorates the body with flowers.
As well as Katniss, there is a range of characters that make the book interesting. They’re varied and believable, from the vain and silly Capitol citizens, to the kind and slightly naïve Peeta, and to Haymitch, a former victor who survives his memories of his own Hunger Games by being constantly drunk.
I would strongly recommend this book. It’s gruesome at times but it’s a vivid insight into the darker side of human nature.
As I said, it's part of a trilogy and I would definitely suggest reading this before either of the other two. It's not my favourite of the trilogy, but you need to understand this story if the other two are to make sense.