The Hunger Games — Book 1 Review

For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that right from the get-go I’ve always been a reader. Perhaps it’s because of my naturally introverted personality, I recharge by reading. That, coupled with the fact that I’m in the field of English, means that I’d like to get my hands on all kinds of books, no matter the genre, length, or topic. I started reading what many people considered “classics” early on as well — The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Three Musketeers (even though there’s four…), The Scarlet Letter, all that.

However, there is coming to be a new genre of books that I believe I’d like to call blockbuster books. These are books that become bestsellers quickly and then escalate almost immediately into a movie or series of movies which have just as large of, if not a larger, following than the book(s). I read these books, not because they interest me (because they generally don’t), but because I want to be a part of the larger conversation about them. I want to find what makes them click in the minds of their readers. I don’t believe in forming an opinion of something without having experienced it myself.

It was for this reason that I read the Harry Potter series; what’s all the fuss about? I wanted to know. Did I think Harry Potter was a good series? Sure, I can give it some kudos. Not the best I’ve read, but you don’t have to be the best to still be good. Did it deserve all of its hype? Well, that’s a different story. Potter fans around the world simply exploded in number, and this perplexed me. Sure, the story was okay, but why such a following? This is an example of a blockbuster book. Explodes in popularity suddenly and gets made into a whole bunch of movies.

Twilight is another example, although how those books ever got popular in the first place is among the great mysteries of the world, right alongside the Bermuda Triangle, Schrödinger’s cat (or, as an engineering friend said, the light in the refrigerator), and why the word “marshmallow” has nothing to do with a marsh or a mallow.

And no, it’s not “marshmellow.” Stop doing that.

And thus came The Hunger Games, the next blockbuster book to intrigue me. Right from the get-go, it wasn’t hard to know what it was about. Everyone was talking about it, so I kind of got the idea rather quickly that it was about a whole bunch of kids stuck in an arena where only one is allowed to survive. No matter where I went, The Hunger Games were there: the bookstore, a friend’s dorm room, the internet, the theater.

Finally, even Calvin College’s English department was abuzz with talking about the book, and I said to myself, All right, that’s enough. I need to be part of this discussion.

And so, just like with Harry Potter, I came into possession of the whole series all at once and started reading. Before I had even picked up the book, I knew that I would enjoy The Hunger Games. Although not my favorite genre of all time, I have a soft spot in my heart for dystopian books, and the idea of 24 teenage “tributes” being trapped in an arena and forced to kill each other interested me in the same way that Kinji Fukasaku’s controversial film Battle Royale did. Additionally, they both share an incredibly similar (almost identical, in fact) idea.

So in the end, I wasn’t reading The Hunger Games to find out if I liked them. I already knew that I would, at least a little. The reason I was reading them was, as I said, to join in the conversations about them, and also to see if they lived up to their extreme hype.

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When I say “spoiler alert,” I don’t mean you can just skim. I mean I’M ABOUT TO TELL YOU EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS in the first book. Don’t like? Don’t read.

Let me begin by saying that, having only finished the first book at this point and intending to start the second one tonight, I found the first book entitled The Hunger Games to be a very solid book. As a fan of dystopian literature (of which The Giver is just one other great example), I knew that the goal of this book would not be so much to wow readers with unique elements (as may be present in a high fantasy novel) but rather to affect emotions. In this aspect, this first book of the series succeeds greatly.

Turmoil.

It’s the word I’d choose to characterize this book’s effect, had I the choice of only one word. It’s the kind of book that you can put down but you don’t really “put it down.” Sure, you physically place the book on your desk and walk away, but it sticks with you and you are left pondering it.

From the moment I cracked the first pages and had an idea of how the system of the world worked — two tributes chosen from each of the twelve districts to participate in the Hunger Games — there were some things I picked out way before Collins had to tell me.

Katniss would be going to the Games. Gale would not.

Gale is the foil for some other character who will make an appearance later.

Katniss would win the Games.

To be honest, there’s one other thing that stood out to me. When Peeta’s name was called as the other tribute, I paused, and I thought to myself, “Yeah, he’s gonna die.”

He’s not dead. Hmm.

I’m not going to lie, though; my belief that Peeta will die is still at 98%.

Anyway, knowing far before she was actually chosen that Katniss would be a tribute, I wasn’t so interested in seeing if she would win (as I knew she would) but rather how. And that was where the turmoil began.

This book succeeded in making the reader feel Katniss. I was often left enjoying the book merely because it left this sense of, as I said, turmoil within me. The sense that, just as Katniss is experiencing, there really is no good choice. There is the choice that you have to make, the only one that makes sense, but it still leaves a bitter taste. This feeling of dissatisfaction, helplessness, and turmoil is prevalent in the reader more than it is in the book, and that is an accomplishment.

So what didn’t I like? It probably won’t surprise you to say that I disliked the grammar. This woman needs a better editor or something. I would like, to point out, what a, comma splice, is.

For most people, it doesn’t matter. For me, it was distracting. Still, the book’s good points outweigh this. Another note I’d like to make is Collins’ masterful use of a (for once) believable deus ex machina in the form of Haymitch and the sponsors, which impressed me because it had the opportunity to turn things sour very quickly.

Unfortunately, there was one part of the book that just stood out garishly to me — bringing out the former (now dead) tributes as those mutated creatures. That, to me, was an unnecessary sci-fi element that threw off the tone and atmosphere of the book right at its end.

To Collins’ credit, she did manage to surprise me. It is very difficult to throw in a plot twist that I can’t anticipate, but the Gamemakers’ announcement that two winners would be allowed took me by surprise. I went with it, believing that Peeta would meet his fate in this book (and not in one of the following two) and there would still be no need for two winners. However, when the Gamemakers switched their mind back to only one winner just because it was indeed Katniss and Peeta who were still alive, I was not surprised in the least.

All that being said, I am certainly excited to start the second book and see what happens with this brewing insurrection caused by Katniss’ and Peeta’s actions. I think that the story has continued potential, although I’m still not holding out more than a 2% (sometimes 2.5%) chance for Peeta’s survival. 😉

In conclusion:

Did Collins’ write a good book? YES. Definitely. Although I knew that I would like it beforehand, it certainly pleased me.

Does the first book of The Hunger Games, being the most popular one, deserve all of its hype? No. It has the character of a blockbuster book, that is, we can’t really pinpoint what made it so popular. It just is. While I greatly enjoyed it (and still feel a little unsettled by it), I don’t see the what has hooked so many DIE-HARD fans. I would recommend it, though.

On to book 2, Catching Fire. Let’s hope that Collins can keep up the good work.

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