The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Mediocrity at its Best

As suggested by the title, this novel made me amazingly hungry – as in my stomach growled the entire time I was reading it. Everyone in this book is hungry all of the time; and if they’re not hungry, they are gorging themselves with food to the point that you feel obligated to eat, for good measure. Other than the cacophony of sounds that were created in my stomach, The Hunger Games is really just an average novel. It has average characters, average writing, and a less-than average plot, as most of it is borrowed from other works that simply do it better.

The story is set in the not-too-distant future, where the country that once was America has been broken into twelve poverty-ridden districts (so, twelve really hungry districts). At some point, these districts attempted to rebel against the all-powerful capital. Shockingly, the capital won, and as punishment, each year a boy and a girl are randomly chosen from each district to fight to the death in a televised, gladiatorial-esque killing spree. The winner gets an all-expense paid life back in their home district, and it seems that he or she is likely to face a lifetime of alcoholism and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Let the games begin.

Enter Katniss Everdeen, this year’s female tribute from District 12. Katniss volunteers to participate in place of her young sister, Prim; thus Katniss and the male tribute, Peeta, are whisked away to the land of excess, the capital (here it should be mentioned that Collins seemed to generate names for characters and places by making up new words using only the randomly selected seven letters at the beginning of Words With Friends).

This is essentially the premise of The Hunger Games; the children go on to brutally murder each other, form alliances, and face whatever additional obstacles the capital constructs in order to make the games more entertaining. I won’t spoil the ending, but I bet you can guess who the winner is. That’s one of the many issues with the book, for although it is often clever and compelling, it’s ultimately predictable and somewhat sappy. Moreover, the concept is hardly an original one, and the sources that Collins so liberally borrows from execute the idea in more entertaining and effective ways. For instance, we see a society’s disturbing nonchalance towards human sacrifice in Shirley Jackson’s classic, “The Lottery,” while William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and even Stephen King’s novella The Long Walk reveal what monstrosities children are capable of when placed into disquieting scenarios. What Collins fails to reflect in her story that the aforementioned authors carry out flawlessly is that overall sense of foreboding and a general unsettling feeling. It’s terrible that these kids are killing each other, but oh, does Katniss really have feelings about Peeta? And what about her relationship with Gale back home? Maybe it’s just me, but perhaps a blossoming romance should be the last of her concerns

Collins just isn’t interested in pursuing what should have been the most worthwhile theme she had going for her. Instead, she gets tangled up in following the patented formula for tween novel success. This cookie-cutter framework was original back in the time of Harry Potter, but was already overdone once the Twilight books hit the scene. The format is as follows: 1. Create romantic tension (or the illusion of it); 2. Throw in some mythological (in this case, genetic) creatures in case a big-budget movie is made and there’s an opportunity to flaunt some CGI; 3. Add a few teenagers that must rebel against the authorities responsible for their situation and BINGO, you have a best-selling series. Now just write some sequels and you have produced the stereotype of what young-adult fiction has become.

While Collins does address some interesting issues, such as the impact of media coverage and the importance of questioning the government, she doesn’t dig into any of these in a satisfying way, as she is restricted by the Young-Adult-Fiction-Money-Machine-Formula. But hey, at least she’s rich now, right?

So, all-in-all, the story moves quickly and has its moments, but it relies too heavily on what’s already been done, and not in a way that improves upon the concept. Moreover, I despise made-up words and ridiculous names – maybe if “Katniss” was named “Laura” or something and she was just a tad less hungry, I would have been more receptive to The Hunger Games.

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