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It was early last year that my book addiction was just beginning. I had already purchased several books based on recommendations in the listmania section of Amazon. I was looking for more up to date recommendations, with the listmania section not seeming very lively at all, when I came across Goodreads.com. I would now call it a second home! There were many "best book" list in the listopia section of the site (actually, only one "best book" list is allowed, so they vary, such as best fantasy book, best book characters etc.) but the same few series would appear again and again at the top, voted for by Goodreads users. Sometimes, this would be the Harry Potter series. With its final 2 movie adaptations of its 7th book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the way, this was hardly surprising! The Harry Potter series is a literature and movie phenomenon. A whole generation of people did and still do hold those wonderful J.K Rowling books close to their hearts. If it wasn't Harry Potter, it was of course the Twilight saga all the way at the top. Interestingly, the books also found themselves topping "worst book" lists, but I will not pass judgement on a book series I have yet to delve into. However good or bad the Twilight series may or may not be, there is no denying the passionate response it has received from its fanbase, so Stephanie Meyer has certainly done something right! Again, however, this is a book series that at the time had as least 3 movie adaptations under its belt, with great anticipation for its final 2 movie parts for the final book in the saga, Breaking Dawn.
There was, however, another series that was packing a punch to the top of the lists. It was, of course, the Hunger Games. But wait - this was in February/ March 2011, a whole year or more before the recent Gary Ross directed hit movie adaptation. Why, I wondered, was there such hype and excitement for this Suzanne Collins penned trilogy?
Upon reading the blurb of the book, I already began to realise that this trilogy, despite many a cry of "Its the new Harry Potter/ Twilight!", was something new, original and different in comparison. At the time, in early 2011 in particular, you must understand that Waterstones Young Adult shelves were filled with vampire/ paranormal romance series, a trend started by the success of Twilight, and it had become a great deal harder to find something alternative to read. To find a story such as the Hunger Games was unbelievably exciting, and I did snap it up as soon as possible, giving in to a hype that was, I am now aware, only just beginning. Little did I know that a film was in production. A new phenomenon was born.
First published in September 2008 by Scholastic, The Hunger Games is an American novel following the story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl who lives in a post-apocalyptic North America, now known as the country of Panem. The nation of Panem is separated into 12 districts surrounding the Capitol, a metropolis which holds power over the nation. The Hunger Games refers to an annual event in which, selected through a lottery in an event called the reaping, one boy and one girl from each district between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen as 'tributes' to compete in a televised battle to the death until one victor of 24 remains. When Katniss, a resident of District 12, sees her young sister Primrose 'reaped' for inclusion in the 74th annual Hunger Games, desperate and distraught, she becomes District 12's first ever volunteer, volunteering in her sisters place. When a boy is next reaped, she finds herself competing against Peeta Mellark, a boy she refers to as 'the boy with the bread', whom had once aided her when she was starving. When they were both just 11 years old, he had burned bread in his father's bakery and received a slap from his mother to provide her with the food after seeing her in a terrible state. It is a good deed of which she feels she owes him for, a deed which makes their inevitable death fight all the more tragic.
Never have I found a book so addictive, before or since. I believe that one of the greatest attributes to this is that the book is written in the 1st person. We are brought to this frightening world through the eyes of Katniss, her every thought there for us to observe. Each chapter is left with a cliff-hanger, so hard it is to put the book down. I always note that the best books have the ability to leave me talking to myself, and upon several occasions, I rather embarrassingly found myself exclaiming such phrases as 'oh my God!', much shocked and enthralled by the events Suzanne Collins has brought to life through her writing. The fast pace of the book barely lets off, from start to finish comprising of action and yet allowing character development to ensue in suitable amounts.
The characters in the book are, in my opinion, wonderful. Katniss Everdeen herself is a strong and remarkable young girl, far from a damsel in distress. She is a fast thinking, ever observant being, yet full of heart and as human as they come. Her bravery through devotion for her sister is inspiring, continuously proving to us that she is a fantastic role model for young readers. Most importantly, despite the nature of the contest, Katniss is presented to us as a character who wholey disagrees with the punishing events she finds herself surrounded by. She does not find enjoyment in harming others, and spends a great deal of time protecting those she cares about. A person for which her feelings are greatly confused is the hearty Peeta Mellark. After a certain shocking revelation, the dynamic between the two characters instantly changes. It is, however, not as straight forward as it may appear. Much like reality television shows such ase Big Brother, contestants find themselves having to play up to the audience. In the Hunger Games, getting the people of the Capitol to like them may result in sponsers. Sponsors are of the upmost importance in the games, and winning their support could mean the difference between life or death. A sponsor could, for example, provide the funding for a much needed medicine to cure an otherwise terminal injury or illness. Katniss believes that Haymich Abernathy, her mentor and former Hunger Games victor, has devised a plan for herself and Peeta to appear romantically involved to gain sympathy from the people of the Capitol. The situation that arises from this proves difficult, as Katniss struggles to understand just how much Peeta is playing along, and how he may instead be truthfully in love with her. As only one victor can survive the Hunger Games, this is the worst time for her to let her own feelings get wrapped up the wrong way. A plot such as this could easily have been cheesy, over-the-top and frankly ridiculous. Instead, the chemistry between the two characters, their background, the complexity of the situation and Peeta's charm and humour ensures it is constantly captivating and accessible no matter your age or gender.
Throughout the book, Katniss also refers back to her day to day life in District 12. She shares a deep friendship with Gale Hawthorne, an 18 year old boy whom she shares the sad understanding of life without a father, after both of their fathers were killed in a District 12 mining accident, the trade of her district. As much as she owes Peeta for her survival on the sad, desperate day he gave her the bread, Katniss also finds herself owing her life to Gale. Upon them meeting in the woods outside the borders of her district, which should be restricted by electric fences which she and Gale manage to pass, Gale has taught her to hunt. It is her hunting instincts which have often provided food on the table for her mother and sister, and her applaud able experience and technique with her beloved bow and arrow which may be her one and possible claim to her victory in the Hunger Games arena. The fact that the 74th Hunger Games arena appears as a woods is a constant reminder to the times she has spent with Gale. Of course, her played up relationship with Peeta is also complicated by her deep friendship with Gale. She questions how he would feel seeing the way she is acting with Peeta, and whether friendship is really the word to describe the great attachment she has with him. I have nothing against Gale as a character. He is likeable, that is true, but in many ways, at least in this first novel of the trilogy, I cannot help but find him uninteresting given the greater action surrounding the tale. Gale is scarcely involved with the actual events with the Hunger Games, in many ways, despite her District 12 life, seeming quite a pointless character. Please understand that it is hard to find fault with this novel, and this is just a minute and probably petty dispute of mine. It just seemed too apparent and forced for me that Collins was building a love triangle of sorts, which in the greater scale of things wasn't of great need.
If you have viewed the film and have not read the book, as often is the case with movie adaptations, some details were lost in the conversion from book to screen. Inside the book you will find such treats as the story of the avoxes, a further look at the danger and force posed by the Capitol. A character lost in the film is Madge, Katniss' friend and daughter of the mayor of District 12. It is Madge who gives Katniss her Mockingjay pin, a great symbol of the trilogy and film which you will often find printed on the covers and merchandise of the franchise. Despite the loss of these details among others, the same characters of Cinna, Katniss' stylist and the establisher of her nickname "The Girl on Fire", Effie Trinket, the chaperone of the District 12 tributes known for her eccentric dress sense and wigs, and Ceasor Flickerman, a Capitol television reporter and interview conductor with the tributes, who's hair and eyebrows are dyed a different colour for each annual Hunger Games, all appear with greater background and involvement.
Although this book and the rest of the trilogy feel very original throughout, comparisons are made to earlier books such as Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, a story of Japanese High School students being forced by their Government to compete in a deadly battle in which they must kill each other until there is only one student left, The Long Walk by Stephen King (under the pseudonym Richard Bachman), in which 100 teenage boys take part in an annual walking contest that if they do not keep up to speed with or within the rules of, may find themselves killed, and of course Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, in which a similar dystopian dictatorship rules.
The Hunger Games has also, in the same vein as the Twilight started vampire/ paranormal romance trend, created a new trend in young adult dystopian fiction. If you enjoyed such novels as Divergent by Veronica Roth and Delirium by Lauren Oliver, there is much for you to enjoy in the Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games is 464 pages long and currently retails in 3 physical formats on Amazon. The children's paperback edition is currently retailing at £3.86, the 'classic'/ adult paperback edition retails at £3.99 and the hardcover collectors edition currently retails at £9.90. Alternatively, an ebook may be purchased at £2.70 for Kindle. (Prices are as of May 2012.)