I just experienced The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Yes, experienced. I listened to it, read by Carolyn McCormick. You would probably recognize her voice, as I did, from Law and Order. She’s played the part of Dr. Elizabeth Olivet for many years (in addition to her many roles in the theater, movies, and other TV shows). Her reading of the book was powerful and mesmerizing. She had many different characters to perform–young, old, male, female, humorous, deadly serious–and despite the challenge of portraying such varied characters, McCormick gave each one a distinct voice. Bravo!
It will take time for me to digest this book. I’ll try to very briefly encapsulate the plot: A country called Panem is divided into 12 districts which surround the Capitol, a gleaming, prosperous city where all power and wealth reside. We learn that Panem was once North America, apparently destroyed by global warming and other disasters. In the aftermath, Panem was formed, comprised of 13 districts. During an uprising many years ago, District 13, once a part of Panem, was blasted out of existence. In order for all citizens to be reminded of the suffering that might ensue were any other rebellions to take place, each year there are the Hunger Games. First, The Reaping, which simply is the drawing of names. One girl and one boy from each district is chosen. When twelve-year-old Primrose Everdeen’s name is called, her big sister Katniss steps in to take her place. She knows there’s no way her younger sibling could survive the games.
In fact, only one person will survive. The district representatives fight to the death, until only one person remains. The Games are set up in a very elaborate way, with people known as “Gamemakers” pulling all the strings. By chance, the other representative from District 11, a boy named Peeta, is the very one who once gave Katniss a few loaves of bread when her family would surely have starved to death without it. The thought of having to kill or be killed by Peeta preys on Katniss’s mind almost constantly.
Unbeknownst to Katniss, the strategists have decreed that, in order to gain sponsors, Peeta and Katniss will pretend to be in love. When Peeta begins to reveal his feelings for her, she’s not sure what’s real and what is strategy.
We know from the beginning that Catniss is an exceptional girl. She’s been her own family’s salvation since the death of her father four years ago. Her mother went into a deep melancholy after he died, and Catniss has had to be the sole provider for the family. Along the way, she formed a bond with a boy named Gale, her hunting partner. She trusts him to look after her mother and Primrose while she’s at the Games, and while she says they’ve never had a romantic relationship, we can’t help feeling that Gale most likely would have a different perspective. Overall, Catniss seems to have a big blind spot where romance is involved.
I found the beginning of the book haunting and depressing and sad, the way in which The Road, by Cormac MacCarthy, was. As I listened on walks, I found myself crying, sometimes even sobbing, having to look down as other walkers approached. The reader, or listener in my case, feels hopeless. How could this have a satisfying, or even hopeful, ending?
The part of the story involving the preparation for the games, the “branding,” if you will, of each pair of contestants, was the least interesting part of the story, I thought. I understand the necessity–it furthers the horrifying idea that all this is for the entertainment of the Capitol and the people of Panem. But that part of the book seemed to drag a little.
Once the games start, the story is absolutely riveting. Not only are the participants playing against each other, they’re also at the mercy of the Gamemakers, who can control the weather, provide water or take it away, start wildfires, and dangle desperately needed supplies as bait to draw the players into the open. The young representatives start, one by one, to die, in gruesome and unforgettable ways. Each night, portraits of the dead flash into the sky, so that each player knows who’s left in this inhuman contest. Contestants popular with the audience draw sponsors, who sometimes send you much needed supplies or medicines. These float down from the sky via silver parachutes, and of course help keep recipients alive to fight another day.
Since this is The Hunger Games: Book One, we know there’s more to come. I have the feeling that Gale, who’s a rebel at heart, will enlist Katniss in another uprising against the Capitol. I was disappointed that the contestants didn’t rebel against their situation in this book, but when I learned it was the first of a trilogy, I understood that Book One was laying the groundwork. But ultimately, if there’s no rebellion, the cruelty of the Hunger Games becomes somewhat pointless.
I was disappointed that The Hunger Games was shut out of the Printz Awards. With its fully realized characters, creative plot, and brilliant writing, I thought it deserved an award.
What’s your opinion?