The Hunger Games: A Well-Balanced Sci-Fi Meal for YA and Beyond
Posted by erikthereddest
Yes, I know, you’re rolling your eyes at the punny title, but I couldn’t resist. As I have finally gotten around to reading a science fiction book written in the last century, I thought it prudent to do my best to point everyone to a good read. So, here’s my non-series review of Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games.
Post Apocalyptic America with A Hint of Colonial Civil War
While I’m not usually one to pick up books written for teenagers, I found the premise of this particular book trancended the typical Twilight‘y sort of unrealistic half-plotted romances I usually see out of the corner of my eye on my way to the coffee counter at the local Barnes and Noble. Here’s a quick run-down of the world so you can see what I mean.
The Hunger Games is set hundreds of years in the future (I gather; it’s not clear in one of those typical sci-fi ways) on what used to be North America, after a vague combination of apocalyptic events involving rising ocean levels and nuclear war has rendered most of humanity extinct. The remainder formed itself into 13 colony-like Districts with one central Capital district, which is the seat of power, wealth, and military might in the country, now called Panem. The Capital becomes a tad too grabby and the Districts retaliate with civil war, but eventually the Capital wins, utterly destroying the 13th district as an example and subjecting the other 12 to dictatorial rule. As a warning to all and future generations, the Capital instates The Hunger Games, a yearly American Idol-esque gladiatorial event where the contestants, 1 girl and 1 boy between the ages of 12 and 18 from every district, fight to the death in an enormous booby-trapped outdoor environment, all for the Capital’s amusement. Enter the heroine Katniss Everdine, a 16 year old girl from the coal mining District 12, who herself becomes a Tribute in the 74th Games.
See? Pretty different, isn’t it? Who woulda thought something not vampire or werewolf related would sell as well as this? The fact that a science fiction book has struck a cord with this age group has me intrigued, since examples of this are few and far between. Typically Fantasy books have a better chance, but perhaps we’ll see some more sci-fi hit the YA market now that Collins has shown there’s an interest. Speaking of, the way The Hunger Games found its market is an interesting story as well…
Kind of Like 1984, Set in America and Not 27 Years Ago
The book became popular after being placed on high school summer reading lists, and has exploded onto the Young Adult scene since. While there are a few notable staples of the genre (a love triangle, for instance), Suzanne Collins really did her homework on this one. Inspired while flipping channels between gameshows and war coverage, Collins pieced together the idea of televised gladiatorial events with the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. She then proceeded to weave together a unique, well thought out world with a distinct sci-fi feel, mixed with the sort of social commentary and themes seen in 1984 and other sci-fi classics. The blend comes together into what feels like an updated version of George Orwell’s vision, tailored a bit for Young Adult tastes.
While I’m not sure other authors can really follow Collins’ example in the way her book found its audience, they could still take a hint about how to find inspiration for their stories. She had a good idea, which she studied and developed, before diving in and building her world, and the work shows.
Final Thoughts and Observations
I was excited to hear where Collins got some of her inspirations from (refreshingly not from a dream). Ideas from mythology and current cultural quirks coming together in a story has the potential for the sort of depth we encourage here at Lantern Hollow Press, and her attention to detail and consistency within her world is exactly the sort of practice I like to see in an author. You can really tell how much thought has gone into everything in her world, from the detail of the poverty-stricken districts, to the military tech and tactics. The violence is vivid and emotional, but reasonable, and the book is clean and age-appropriate. I admit that the romance is a bit cliche in a few spots, but it was certainly bearable, and the characters themselves were deep enough that even those few scenes that might have inspired a groan were entertaining. It is written in first person present, which feels odd until you get used to it, but the constantly-active feeling of the style works extremely well with Collins’ narrative, augmenting the speed of her action scenes and the internal thought-processes of her protagonist. My only gripe would be that the overarching plot seems to flow in a predictable manner, but every time I smiled knowingly at a turn of events, I was surprised by a twist I hadn’t seen coming, sometimes small, but always meaningful.
All around, this is an excellent Yong Adult book, having significantly more depth than most books of that genre. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone, teenager or not, even if you don’t usually read science fiction. It’s a trilogy, Catching Fire and Mockingjay being the sequels, and the shine wears off a little as the stories progress, but I can’t imagine anyone being able to stop after the first book. Pick it up at a local bookstore, or try out Audible.com’s free audio book free trial to get a free copy to listen to.
That’s all for this week. Next week I’ll have something new, so stay tuned!