The book is set in the future, when the world has been largely destroyed by an environmental disaster that has changed the face of the planet forever. More specifically, it is set in what used to be North America, now known as Panem, a country of 12 Districts all ruled by The Capitol. The Capitol is an oppressive government, forcing the people of the Districts in poverty while they consume the bulk of what the Districts produce. In punishment for past uprising by the Districts against The Capitol, The Capitol has given the people of Panem the Hunger Games. But what are these Hunger Games?
"The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins."
The Hunger Games is a first person narrative, written from the perspective of a teenage girl by the name of Katniss from District 12, the coal mining District. Katniss and her family live in poverty in the Seam, relying on Katniss’s hunting skills to supplement their meagre diet provided by the Capitol. When Katniss’s younger sister Prim is chosen as District 12’s tribute, Katniss steps up to take her place. She is soon joined by a young man by the name of Peeta, someone to whom she and her family owe their lives.
What follows is the story of Katniss and Peeta’s experiences leading up to, during and following the Hunger Games (that’s not a spoiler – this is the first of a trilogy after all!). A large part of the story that follows deals with the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, Katniss’s best friend. Both young men are in love with Katniss and Katniss loves both of them in return, but is unable to determine which she has more genuine feelings for. It is this element of the story that is certainly the most teenage part of the book.
Having said that, although The Hunger Games might be marketed to a young adult audience, this is equally a book for adult readers of all types.
One of the things I was most impressed with was the way in which Collins brings to life her characters and emphasises those personal attributes that should be admired. For what is essentially a plot driven YA novel, she did this incredibly well. There were so many different layers to the various characters which meant as a reader I could connect with each of them in different ways. Collins explores loyalty, courage, morals, family, love and much much more.
But where Suzanne Collins really excelled, and what I think adult readers will appreciate the most, are the themes that run through the book. There are so many adult themes that run through this book that I couldn’t possibly hope to deal with them all. These themes include social inequality, poverty and political hype/power. A lot of these were explored through the contrast between the lives and lifestyles of those in the Capitol and the lives and lifestyles of those in the Districts. The decadence of the first and poverty and starvation in the second.
What resonated most for me was Collins exploration of the power of the media and more specifically, the prevalence of reality television, in today’s society. What are the Hunger Games? It is children killing other children, but more than this, it is entertainment for the masses. To win the Hunger Games Katniss has to kill the other children, but she also has to win over the audience as the producers in charge of the television event manipulate their environment, exercising ultimate control over what happens within the arena and to the contestants. They are not children, they are contestants. It isn’t life or death, it’s entertainment. It isn’t manipulation of viewers and contestants alike, it is ‘reality’. People are so desensitised to violence that they can watch these events without blinking and without questioning.
Clearly our current western society doesn’t stoop to such lows, but in reading The Hunger Games you can’t help but reflect on our own reality and the role that the media plays in our lives. To what extent are we manipulated in the way that the populace in The Hunger Games are manipulated? Why do we allow it? Where will it end for us?
All I can really say is that The Hunger Games is so much more than you might expect. I was completely carried away by this book; I couldn’t put it down during the day and I was dreaming about it at night. It’s a little like a young adult version of Orwell’s 1984. Not as well written, not as complex, but just as clever in its use of the future to explore today’s society.