Friday, March 1, 2013

The Hunger Games Book One

The Hunger Games: Part One

Suzanne Collins


When The Hunger Games was first published in 2008, by Scholastic, no less, I was full of disapprobation.  A book for children about children killing children in our world of violent video games and schoolyard shootings?  I didn't think so.

But here I am on a beach holiday where I met a nice priest trying to get through Book Three before his plane left the next day, and he told me that the series is well written for its genre.  Well, if he is trying to keep in touch with his young parishioners, and as my own children have all read the series, and my friend assures me that it's a quick read… well, I borrowed Book One.

He's right; it is well written for its genre.  I read it in a day and didn't put it down until I finished it!  That's partly because I am on holiday, but mostly because Collins is good at creating suspense and she moves her plot right along.  Her characters are sympathetic, the setting is interesting and the plot details fold nicely into the narrative.  The action is fast, except for the denouement which is the way it's supposed to be, and the ending leaves us anticipating the sequel.

There's not a lot to ponder and reflect upon after the cover is closed, but the setting is intriguing: a totalitarian state, which has emerged in North America after climate collapse, with technological superiority over 12 vassal states.  There are historical antecedents:   the citizens of the dominant state all have Roman names, and the tribute system of young people being sent to the capitol is like the story of Theseus and the Minotaur.

The main plot prototype is the TV reality show Survivors.  Once the tributes from the provinces reach the arena, all their actions and conversations are recorded, edited and assembled into a film production which is aired nation-wide each day.  But in this grim reality show, the protagonists must all kill each other, and the winner is a hero for life.

And the story is surprisingly moral.   

The writer has been careful that neither the hero nor heroine kill anybody in cold blood, and the conflict at the end is against a man who has shown himself to be treacherous and savage.  The winning qualities are resourcefulness, physical skill, loyalty, team spirit and quick thinking.

Surprisingly, I think this would be a fine read for young people, especially reluctant readers.  The concept is gripping, the pace is fast, it's not badly written and good values are modeled.

No, I won't read Books Two and Three because they are really written for young people, but, hey, Book One was fun!