Saturday, July 25, 2009
Book Review: The Hunger Games
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Don’t let the “Young Adult” label fool you. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games may just be the most genuinely suspenseful book you’ll ever read. The story centers on young Katniss, a 16-year-old girl who is just one of 24 (mostly involuntary) participants in the government sponsored, mandatorily held, and reprehensibly sadistic Hunger Games, an annual televised quasi-sporting event in which each young player—one boy and one girl chosen by lottery from each of Panem’s twelve districts—must either kill or be killed. When Katniss’ younger sister is chosen for the games, Katniss steps forward to take her place, but is her love for her sister—along with Katniss’ impressive hunting skills and an unusual PR campaign thrust upon her by her appointed handlers—enough to ensure Katniss is the lone survivor of the government’s twisted must-see bloodbath?
The strength of The Hunger Games lies squarely in Collins’ unassuming writing style. The author’s prose is so straightforward, down-to-earth, and crisply clear that within a few pages of the book—almost without the reader realizing it—the intricacies of Katniss’ District 12 have been made vivid and a near-tangible world created. With just as few literary brushstrokes, Collins imbues her main character with both substance and authenticity; Katniss, who also serves as the book’s narrator, is strong spirited and intelligent, reflective, resourceful, and pragmatic, yet she is not without compassion or altogether unfettered from youthful naivety. She is memorable, and her voice quickly familiar. This accentuates the subtle realism that permeates the book, that allows the reader to feel as Katniss feels, to fret as Katniss frets, and that which makes the ever-escalating tension oh so palpable (pardon the platitude). It is to Collins’ great credit that the seeming effortlessness with which The Hunger Games unfolds is never to the detriment of the novel. Less confident authors could easily have given themselves over to sensationalism or needlessly poetic imagery, while less skilled authors could easily have come across as both conspicuously and annoyingly terse. Collins, on the other hand, demonstrates the precision of her craft as all good experts do—by making it hard to say what exactly went right, other than everything.