The Hunger Games – Book 1

As my non LeedsBookClub self on twitter, I noticed that a number of my American friends have been positively GUSHING about the Hunger Games trilogy. I’d never heard of the series so naturally I asked about the books; once I did, I was positively bullied into agreeing to read them*.
After I read the most recent Book Club choice and decided on A Christmas Carol as our Christmas Read-A-Long, I stuck these books onto my Kindle and prepared myself. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, but I really wanted to be able to report back to my mates favourably.To say that I read this trilogy downplays the consuming passion that these books inspire.
I BREATHED these books.
I LIVED for them during the week that I read them.
And once I was finished, I MOURNED that there were no more.

(Yes, I am prone to exaggeration from time to time, but I imagine that there are a lot of readers who know EXACTLY what I mean by my hyperbole. BookElf reading the Fire and Ice series springs to mind – these books are compelling beyond the telling of it.)

Inspired in part by the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (see Canongate Book 4), the war of Iraq, Reality television and heavily channeling Battle Royale; the world created by Suzanne Collins is at once vividly real and foreign to me. Not since the Harry Potter books (which to be fair, I started reading as a Youngling) have I felt so transported into a parallel world.

The Blurb 

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love

The Review
Honestly. I don’t know where to start.
From the turn of the first page, I was hooked. 
Panem is not merely a well constructed potential future world; it accurately mirrors some of the less salubrious aspects of our own world. The life that our protagonist describes is an exaggerated one that hundreds of millions experience daily. I hate to use the phrase ‘working for the man’, but it is accurate here. 
The Capital (read first world here) demands tribute from it’s subsidiaries. Aside from sucking up all the resources; it insists on living matter to prove it’s dominance. The year our book begins a young girl called Primrose is picked. Her sister takes up the duty – a more cynical, hard edged and ruthless character – all the better for the games. 
Having just read an overly graphic ‘pity-me’ book; the violence and mayhem within the Hunger Games could have and should have appeared gratuitous to an extreme. Instead it read the way Battle Royale looked the first time you watched it. If this (impossible) situation occurred; that’s exactly how you’d think that people would have responded.The games themselves were far more violent and brutal than I had expected. It’s not that the deaths are so extreme (though in some case – yeeps!), it’s that we know something about nearly every single character before they die. They are individuals, people with foibles and whether pleasant or not; their deaths are horrid and callous in the extreme. Motifs – such as the Mockingjay pin (a beautiful piece of fantasy there!) and the 4 note tune – are used sparingly, creating flashes of colour in the grey bleak world.     

I loved Katniss – she is tough; dedicated; resilient and angry, my favourite qualities in a woman. Beyond that, she is terrified – as one of the district occupants she has been forced to watch the games ever since she was a little girl – she knows exactly what is ahead of her; resulting in her being both jaded and anticipatory.

I warmed a little more slowly to Peeta – I couldn’t understand how he could be so warm and human when faced with such a rotten scenario. Eventually though; his determination to fight fair, his determination that he would remain himself, his faith that everything would turn out alright despite overwhelming odds won me over. It’s hard to hate hope – and that to me was what his character embodied. Hope that he would survive, hope that Katniss would one day return his affection; hope that humanity and decency would see him through in a world that seemed determined to wipe both characteristics out.

Haymitch – the alcoholic tutor (and only other District 12 surviver) was Peeta’s perfect antidote. Cynical, mean-spirited and with  more than a pinch of cruelty, every scene he was in was brightened by his presence. Although it rapidly became clear that Katniss was his natural successor; he certainly didn’t relish the role – I loved his uncompromising honesty with her.

I think that my favourite character throughout the book was that of the stylist Cinna (and his dappy assistants!). His motives were difficult to fathom…for no visible reason he was determined to see Katniss as more than a mere contestant, to present her in her best possible light. He seemed to get under her skin in a way no one but (the barely there) Gale could. Additionally, he LIKED her. Which no body – least of all Katniss herself – expected. His assistants were truly vacuous – but perfectly embodied the morals – or lack thereof – of the Capital. They liked Katniss but were also totally planning to watch her die on live television. Twisted little shits right? Not from their point of view – they were just being good citizens!

There are very few people that I wouldn’t recommend this book too. It’s very well written, vivid and imaginative. So very very good. The next person you see gushing on twitter about this will be ME!


*Bullying is wrong m’kay – I was encouraged really. Respect the narrative flow much does apply, but I felt bound to point out that my wonderful twitter mates would never actually be mean to me.


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