Since I came to the Middle East, I have been very much enjoying my Kindle. It’s perfect for exercise time, since I don’t have to hold it open. As I mentioned above, I downloaded The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, as it was on sale. I finished this morning in the middle of a four-mile power walk on the treadmill.
Short summary: set in Panem, a dystopian future America, the story concerns teenager Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take her conscripted sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a gladiatorial contest pitting youngsters from around the country in a grisly battle to the death, until only one remains. Katniss is plunged into the Games, with nothing but her bow-hunting skills and wits to save her.
What did I think? Well, it was a mixed bag. On the plus side the characters are believable and varied. Katniss has a lot of turbulence under the hood and Collins lets the veneer crack at just the right times. The melodrama never felt overbearing and I think the pace was dead on. There was little deus ex machine; with only one real exception (a forgivable one in context), the characters mostly thought or fought their way through the plot in plausible ways. I thought the world-building was thorough and was revealed in manageable chunks for the reader, to let the true nature of the society sink in. And I can’t deny that it was a quick, pleasant read. As light entertainment, it appealed.
In the neutral area, I can see the young adult appeal. The writing style is quick and tumbles loose the way an adolescent thought process might. It’s written in present tense, which tends to exhaust me reading-wise but after a while, I got used to it. I don’t think the book gains anything from it, though. I’ve read any number of “lessons” to be drawn, criticizing religion, godlessness, femininity, feminism, capitalism, and communism, and the Iraq War. I think you will take away whatever you want. Dialogue was passable.
On the downside, I saw the major plot twists coming a mile away. That’s not necessarily bad (I am as much a sucker for cheesy entertainment as everyone) but it did lessen the suspense. At no time did I think Katniss would die. Also, the populations of the Districts seemed too small (District 11 is said to have something like 8K pop) to sustain themselves, let along others. A dozen districts with similar pops and a capital full of useless choads would have had a total pop of 200K or so, which isn’t enough to sustain the industrialized wonder that is the Capital. I am sure I am overblowing it but those kind of details tend to annoy me. Finally, while the book has – as someone else put it (forgive me for not citing) – “it’s own cultural baggage,” the idea itself is derivative enough. It’s been compared to the Japanese book Battle Royale (which I haven’t read) and the Stephen King books The Long Walk and The Running Man, both of which, in my opinion, were a more adult treatment and deeper character explorations.
Overall, I would call it a slightly above average – maybe a “B-,” if I were forced to give it a grade. I know there are two more books (here and here for those who care). I'll watch the movie once it makes its way over here.
I’ll probably read the others … you know, if they come on sale.