Title: The Hunger Games
Paperback: 454 pages
Publication Date: 05/01/2009
A science fiction YA novel set in a dystopian world. Under normal circumstances a book described by that sentence would be something I would avoid at all costs. It is fortunate then that this was one of the novels for a YA book group that I attend [thus meaning that I had to read it], because I really enjoyed it. Set in the nation of Panem in an unidentified future time period after the destruction of North America, the Hunger Games of the title is a government-controlled ‘tournament’ in which twenty-four tributes [two from each of the twelve districts that constitute Panem] must fight one another to the death until only one remains – all of which is televised for the Panem public to watch [a sort of Sci-Fi Big Brother where the contestants die – and who hasn’t on occasion secretly hankered for that!].
The plot is reminiscent of Battle Royale or Running Man, but there are also allusions to The Truman Show, 1984 and Spartacus, as well as to ancient Rome – Panem’s capital city is called the Capitol and the space in which the games takes place is called ‘the arena’. However, whilst there are undoubtedly a number of references and influences on this novel [most of which I have no doubt the target audience will be too young to know – which makes me feel incredibly old!] it nevertheless feels fresh and different.
Collins is willing to break genre conventions – the central character, Katniss, kills when she gets into the arena; breaking down the good-evil divide that is normally so tightly enforced in literature for younger readers. Indeed, I was quite surprised at how grim and violent the book was, considering it is targeted at a YA readership [but it was a pleasant surprise; I am, after all, a fan of quite brutal crime fiction]. And on a personal level, I liked that although it takes place in the future, it is still a world that is recognisably related to ours [I am not a huge fan of Science Fiction mainly because I find all of the technology far-fetched. However, I am somewhat of a hypocrite as I have no problem with fantasy and magic!].
This was a fast-paced and enjoyable read that left me wanting more at its conclusion [I’m definitely going to be surreptitiously ordering the second book in the series].