Monday, October 19, 2009

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Be warned! There are SPOILERS in this review!

By some stroke of luck, I was able to acquire a copy of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games for free. Thank you Scholastic Philippines! Let's just say that I was at the right time at the right place.

It's been a while since I last read a young adult novel and yes, I was craving to devour one. Did the novel satisfy my hunger? Here's a rundown of what I thought worked and what did not.

What worked

The Hunger Games is set in post apocalyptic North America known as Panem. Advancement in science and technology is so profound that it has created a great divide between the Capitol, the seat of a tyrant government, and its twelve districts. The Capitol is the land of the privileged. The districts are impoverished places populated by groups of people who each work on a specific industry that keeps the Capitol alive and bustling. Peacekeepers are a plenty in each district and they do more than merely keep the peace. They instill fear and terror to prevent rebellion and uprising. In Collins' created dystopia, the past offers a rich history of destruction, war and violence.

It is in this background where I find Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, two teenagers who played in the Hunger Games and triumphed in the merciless arena set by the Capitol's Game makers. The Games is a Capitol run reality TV show that pits twenty four teenagers, age 12-18 against each other to the death. You read that right. DEATH. In Collins' Panem, death is a game and life is a candlelight that can easily be snuffed out. In this fictional world, the Hunger Games is the Capitol's way to control people and to stay in power. Sounds familiar, right?

There really is nothing new under the sun but a writer who can creatively render such themes and elements into something new produces magic.

This is where Collins succeeded. Her plot structures are well crafted that her lead characters make decisions that affect external and internal conflicts in the novel. For example, the external environment such as the killings that happened in the arena has a greater pull on Katniss' decision to save Peeta's life. The effect of her decision to fake a suicide bubbles up the conflict that has been simmering underneath every district (save for District 1 and 2). For Katniss and Peeta, dying together is better than killing each other off. To the Capitol, it spells rebellion. To the people of Panem who watched the Games, it elicited a host of impressions and ideas in varying degrees of intensity. A romance between Katniss and Peeta. An expression of rebellion. A stand to be true to one's self. A fight against a bigger structure and system manipulate and control individual and collective identities. These rising conflicts are further explored in the second book, Catching Fire, as well as the two teenagers' motivation in the fake suicide act. Was it done out of love or rebellion? Or both?

Collins advantageously made use of her knowledge of TV and broadcast media, its power and influence on televiewers. The Games is so convincingly real. Think Survivor or Pinoy Big Brother. She also brought back the classics through this book. JK Rowling has done that with the Harry Potter series, but Collins spins the basic thread of her story in the spindles of the science fiction genre. The Hunger Games reminds of three things: Greek. Grimm. Golding. Bravo!

What did not work

Katniss Everdeen. Her reluctant hero act is not as well established as Harry Potter's. She's the book's Cinderella, but I am apathetic to her. I'd rather drop a parachute of bread to Peeta in the arena to keep him alive so he can continue to charm the rest of Panem and the reading world.

Katniss is a hunter. She can fend for herself and take care of her family. Why would she find herself unsubstantial or ordinary?Claim it, girl! The denial act is so lame.

It's just me, I suppose. In a way, Collins once again struck the gongs of success by putting opposite characters to hate and love and love and hate at the same time. Peeta is witty and pleasant. Katniss is emotional and defensive. Peeta, despite having a nagger of a mother, is mature enough to make sacrifices. Katniss, in spite of her protective nature for her younger sister Prim, is clueless on Peeta's motives and the emotions that surges through her during and after the Games.

Over all, it's a GOOD read. So many characters have begun to grow on me that I'm excited to read about them in book 2, Catching Fire. My special favorite is Peeta Mellark, of course, but Gale Hawthorne and Haymicth Abernathy are interesting characters to watch for in the next book. Of course, I'll write a review.


Anonymous said...

Hi Zarah. I really love your review, focusing on the political side of Hunger Games. What makes the book great is that it can be appreciated in many levels by young adult and adult readers alike.

What makes the Peeta and Katniss tandem endearing to me though is their contrast. Peeta is such a solid character. Juxtaposed to him, Katniss is a rough diamond. It is her character development that I look forward to. :-) But like you, I love Peeta the most. What a guy!

- roselle

Zarah C. Gagatiga said...

roselle - i hope collins will allow katniss to shine and reach her potentials. so far, the guys are lording it over! which is not bad since YA readers need to hear more male voices in the literature that's written for them. i'm glad that gale and peeta are not "emo" teens.

and yes, i agree that HG appeals to adults as well. such is the magic of children's and YA litrature.

Unknown said...

Nice Post.. I have read it.


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