Suzanne Collins paints a sobering look at how revenge and survival play out as a way to define and people and persons. To add more spice, she tells the story through Katniss, a sixteen year old girl. Though the thoughts and perspective of Katniss guide us through, the real story is about revenge and humiliation. A side story is how those who never hunger, thirst for senseless and pointless violence with their time and money.
Because of a war fought over 70 years before, twelve districts bear the devastating marks of loss to the Capitol while a 13th district is completely destroyed. The punishment for the remaining districts is to each send 1 boy and 1 girl who age between 12 and 18 to fight to the death until only one victor stands in what is called the Hunger Games. If the teenagers choose not to fight, the arena in which the battle takes place is manipulated to force them to fight or die.
The story is actually very predictable. Of all the deaths mentioned, I anticipated not only those characters dying but also the way they died. This is definitely a positive for Collins. For her to be able to tell a predictable tale in a way that I want to keep reading is no small feat. Many authors cannot tell original stories as well as Collins tells an oft-used trope.
I find the story of the Capitol the most impressive. The government uses the Hunger Games as a reminder that they control the fate of the districts and that they will force that memory by having the games each year. As a way to make this punishment acceptable to the “honorable” people of the Capitol, they turn the Games into an active sporting event for those who are watching. As in all sports, gambling on the participants is a way to invest the spectators. You can even sponsor the participants with gifts to help them to survive. Those fighting for their lives make decisions that affect the world outside of the games as well, as I am sure we will see this in the next two books.
Another compelling trait for me is that there are no heroes in this book, though there are people who on occasion act heroically. This definitely brings the reader into the story. I am always fascinated with identity and agree with the statement that a person “is everything they have done and everything that has been done to them.” Doing something heroic once is a part of who you are, but so is licking the plate clean with your tongue. One action only defines an individual for a temporary period of time, though many of us are very able to cling to these one time actions as a way to define our life.
I am definitely guilty of having let certain events in my past be more defining of me than I should. We might always fight these definitions because we rarely designate ourselves with these tags. Though this applies to people of all ages, my work with teenagers has shown me consistently how difficult it is to overcome these definitions as they are still learning who they are. As soon as they get labelled, many stop trying to refine who they are and accept the status quo. Those who do redefine themselves always seem to put themselves in a worse situation than they were in previously. Put this pressure on adults and it may be even more devastating as adults fear of what might happen if they lack what they currently have even for a short time. The question is how we can redefine ourselves in the midst of our current circumstances to be a person that is honorable.
Read the book. It is worth it.