Thursday Reviews: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins

In what was once North America lies Panem, a nation of twelve (formerly thirteen) districts that surround a shining Capitol. The districts exist so that Capitol denizens can live in obscene luxury. And once a year, all of Panem focuses its eyes on the Hunger Games, where two teenage “tributes,” one boy and one girl, from each district fight each other to the death in an elaborate arena controlled by the Gamemakers.

Katniss Everdeen, who lives in coal mining District 12, struggles to hunt food for her family, to trade for needed herbs, and to protect her little sister Prim. When the annual lottery for tributes, Prim’s first, comes up, Prim is called. Katniss intervenes and volunteers herself to go instead. She and local boy Peeta Merkall are then whisked to the Capitol, where they and the other 22 tributes become instant celebrities. Katniss, who has long watched the Hunger Games on television, has no illusions about what’s going to happen. She fears for her family when, she believes, she will inevitably be killed in the arena. She also is torn over having to kill Peeta, a boy who once saved her family from starvation by slipping her a burnt loaf of bread from his parents’ bakery.

The Hunger Games owes much to the 1970’s death sport genre, typified by Rollerball and Death Race 2000, as well as both the movie and book, The Running Man. And yet in the 1970’s and 80’s, such movies were an almost absurdist take on 1984. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, first appeared in the era of reality television, particularly Survivor and the abysmal Big Brother. The Hunger Games holds up an uncomfortable mirror on present-day society, where we all profess to hate savagery and brutality yet that we are one Christian-eating lion away from devolving back into the age of gladiators.