In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The 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 is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.
For a while now people have been telling me that I had to read Suzanne Collins's best-selling trilogy but I resisted. The hype was too much and when the movie came out it only became worse. I told my friends I'd read it "one of these days". Finally one of them just handed me the book and told me to ask for the next one when I was done. It lay on top of the pile for a few weeks until I started feeling bad for keeping it for so long. So I picked it up and... couldn't put it down, breaking only to do the necessary things, such as eat, sleep and go to work.
Collins's ability to keep a breakneck pace even with the unhurried scenes helped with that of course, but her storytelling and masterful world building played a tremendous role as well. The only thing that irked me was the fact that everybody had their "eyes trained" on something or someone all the time, but that wasn't too hard to get past.
I've heard so much talk about Katniss being a strong character because she doesn't need a guy, or anybody else for that matter, to take care of her that I couldn't help but ask myself whether I agreed with that claim throughout the book and again when I finished reading it. The answer was invariably "no". Now, now, hold the booing and the stomping, there is a method to my madness. Katniss is skilled at providing for and defending herself and her family, she's deadly even, but to me that's not strength, that's resilience, adaptability, will to survive, doing what needs to be done, so she is tough, sure, but strong? No so much, because toughness is not the same thing as strength to me. I don't see wanting/needing love, affection, another person's company, support or help as a weakness. To me not wanting that is a handicap. I think she's been so hurt that she has adopted an exoskeleton of sorts that prevents her from feeling some things, protects her from getting hurt, and when Prim was reaped the violent emotions cracked the shell and she's begun to come alive in a way. After all, in all of this book the only person I felt she really loved was Prim. I think Katniss has potential to become truly strong, but she is not there yet.
I'm a big fan of action and adventure, which this book has plenty of, but I'm also a fan of interesting characters and there's no shortage of those here either. I liked that every new person introduced was flawed somehow, had a story full of demons, even the ones who at first seemed like there wasn't much of a story to them, like Peeta. Having Katniss as the first-person narrator helped with the suspense because quite frankly the girl is not much of a great thinker or strategist. It's just as well though - sometimes it took her a while to figure things out and in the process more of the background story could be told.
Considering that we know that there are three books in the series and that there is a love triangle conflict it wasn't much of a mystery that both Katniss and Peeta would survive, but I was looking forward to finding out what would happen to make books 2 and 3 necessary. In observance of the no-spoiler policy for the sake of possibly a handful of people who have not yet read the books or seen the movie I won't go into detail, but let me tell you, it was good. I didn't expect it to happen quite as it did so after a relatively predictable novel a surprise ending was welcome.
By the end of this book it was obvious that the real story was only beginning and although Hunger Games didn't exactly meet my exalted expectations it promised more and I began Catching Fire without even a day's delay. Fortunately my friend had the book ready for me before I asked for it. Come back next week to find out what I thought!