The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

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As promised here is my review of The Hunger Games trilogy. I don’t really know how to describe these books any better than Goodreads has done by quoting the author Suzanne Collins herself, so I won’t:

“You enter a future world where every year two tributes from each district are thrown into an arena expected to fight to the death or get knocked out by other means. Only one can survive.”

All three books have been very well received and as of 2014 have sold more than 65 million copies in the U.S. alone. They were sold in more than 50 countries and more than 50 languages. The books were turned into four movies (the last book being split into two) and the three first movies all set box-office records (the fourth is set to release in November 2015). I’ll do a quick review of the movies later, so let’s start with the books.

Firstly, a bit of background. The books are set in a post-apocalyptic North America called Panem and is made up of a wealthy capital, the Capitol, surrounded by 12 districts where conditions get worse as you get further away from the rich capital. In the beginning, there was a 13th district that rebelled but the rebellion was beaten down. As punishment (and a constant reminder of the Capitol’s power), the Hunger Games were created. At the “Reaping”, each of the 12 districts must offer up 2 “tributes”, a boy and girl (aged between 12 and 18), to fight to the death in an arena during the Games. The victor gains his life, money and fame and will be allowed to return to their district.

The Hunger Games is the first book in the eponymous trilogy. It was released in September 2008, and written from the viewpoint of Katniss Everdeen, the main character. She lives in District 12, the poorest region of Panem, and secretly (and illegally) hunts to provide for her mother and sister since her father died in a mining accident. It’s the year of the 74th Hunger Games, and when her little sister gets chosen as a tribute, she quickly steps in and volunteers to take her place. The other tribute is Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son. They are sent to the arena where they face off with 22 other tributes. Katniss and Peeta pretend to be in a relationship to win the sympathy of the public, which is a success. Eventually only the two of them remain, but they refuse to kill one another. So Katniss comes up with the plan to take poisoned berries, so they can die together and sabotage the games. The Capitol however cannot let that happen and decides to let the two of them live. So, for the first time in the history of the Hunger Games, there are two victors. Peeta and Katniss return home, hoping to put all of it behind them.

But of course, it’s not that easy. In the sequel, Catching Fire, it becomes clear that other districts saw their actions as standing up to the Capitol and take courage to quietly start a rebellion. President Snow is outraged and feels like he is losing his tyrannical grip on Panem, so he asks Katniss and Peeta to play up their relationship to convince everyone they are not rebels but did it all for love. Unfortunately they fail to do so convincingly, so in order to punish Katniss and set an example, President Snow announces a special 75th edition of the Hunger Games: the tributes will be chosen among previous victors! Katniss being the only female winner of District 12 is automatically selected and Peeta immediately volunteers to join her. The rebellion has already gained so much power that they manage to break into the arena and rescue Katniss. This sees the start of a full-blown war between the rebels, led by the long-thought extinct District 13, and the Capitol. In retaliation, District 12 is destroyed (though most people make it out), and Peeta is captured by President Snow.

In Mockinjay, the final book in the series, everything comes to a head. It’s the darkest and heaviest book of the series and deals with the war. Katniss arrives in the underground District 13 where she is reunited with her family and forced to become the Mockinjay, the symbol of the rebellion. She is however enormously conflicted with being responsible for all the deaths. When they learn that Peeta is still alive, Katniss spearheads a successful rescue mission. But he has been brainwashed to hate and kill her and needs to be kept away from her, which deeply wounds her further.

If you haven’t read the books and are just watching the films, then stop reading right now! This part is in the fourth and final film, so if you don’t want any SPOILERS, turn away right now!

The rebels manage to storm the Capitol and take over control, but Katniss loses her sister in the process in a deliberate fire bomb attack. She then learns that this attack was set up by the President Coin of District 13 and thinks that Coin only wants to take the power for herself, much like Snow before her. So she decides to shoot Coin and, in the ensuing riot, is arrested and Snow is found dead. She is however released by reason of insanity and forced in exile. She returns to the ruins of District 12 where she slowly regains her mental and moral sanity, helped by Peeta. He remembered her love for her, and she accepts that she’s always loved and needed him. They write down their stories of the Hunger Games, both good and bad, in a way of coping and keeping the memories alive. The book ends on a flashforward showing Peeta and Katniss and their two children. They have managed to build a somewhat normal life together, but are still tortured by flashbacks and nightmares.

So that is a short recap of the trilogy. What did I think of it? I loved the first book. It’s a very original premise. It’s enormously violent and morally wrong, yet Suzanne Collins brings it very well. She is able to turn all that into a compelling story of right versus wrong and the blurring lines in between. I was less of a fan of the second and third book because Katniss is so full of herself. She is only thinking about her own family and her own needs, and can’t look beyond that. Of course, I get that she wants to protect those she loves, but she doesn’t seem to realise that they cannot return to the status quo of before (where thousands of people were repressed by a tyrant and living conditions were bordering on inhumane). It’s a YA novel, so of course there is a love triangle woven through the books. It’s been done very artfully, but again I was a little frustrated with Katniss. She keeps hanging on to Gale, who is obviously bad for her and who doesn’t love her as much. She doesn’t realise that Peeta has always been there for her and that he is the one who deserves her love.

It’s a very psychological trilogy: Katniss has been so traumatized by the Hunger Games that she can no longer look past herself and is stuck in her own mind. This is of course perfect in the story: no sane person would be able to put all that to the side and just go on with their life. Nor should they be able to. In that respect, it’s kind of real. But as a reader who wants that happy ending, it can be kind of frustrating. Standing further from the story, we can clearly see that Katniss and Peeta belong together. Of course, they do end up together in the end, so yay! Anyway, I loved the first book and was a little less of a fan of the second and third because they were much darker and heavier than the first one. All in all, very well written and thought-out books: definitely worth a read!

What did you think of the books? Did certain parts of the story really surprise you? I for one was really taken aback by some of the characters’ deaths.

Happy reading as always,

Loes M.

(by the way, if you have any books you’d like me to review, shoot!)

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