Book Review: “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

June 26, 2012 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Let’s face it, it was only going to be a matter of time before I set out to devour The Hunger Games, the next big thing for young adults after Twilight and Harry Potter.

The first thing I will say is that I watched the film version first (review here). I also followed that up with a viewing of the eerily similar Battle Royale (review here), which is based on the cult classic novel by Japan’s Koushun Takami. Accordingly, it needs to be kept in mind that my impression of the book has been somewhat tainted by what I already knew going in.

Hence, if I had to sum up The Hunger Games in two words it would have to be “pretty good.” For the most part, it is well-written and exciting, but lacks the “wow” factor I had been hoping for. Again, a large part of that might be because I already knew everything that was going to happen.

For those needing a brief outline, it’s about a post-apocalyptic North America that has been split into 12 districts, all of which are ruled by the oppressive central government known as the Capitol. Every year, to remind the masses of their powerlessness, the Capitol holds the Hunger Games, where one teen of each sex from every district is thrust into a televised battle to the death where there can only be one victor. The story follows Katniss Everdeen, a feisty girl from the impoverished District 12 who is pretty handy with a bow and arrow.

The film version, barring a few minor details and changes, essentially covered everything and in some cases improved on the book. So if you’ve already seen the movie, I’m not sure there is a whole lot to be gained from reading the book as well in terms of discovering new things.

That is not to say, of course, that reading The Hunger Games was not a pleasurable experience. While Collins is not on the level of say JK Rowling when it comes to storytelling, she is certainly much much better than Stephenie Meyer. Collins’ style is direct and to-the-point, plus she has a knack for action sequences. Her descriptions could be stronger but at least they are not unnecessary or over-the-top. The initial chapters setting up the world and the games are excellent.

This is a very easy-to-read young adult book that uses a straightforward, page-turning-inducing narrative (in which chapters often ended on cliffhangers) where the allegorical undertones are hinted but never fully explored. Personally, I liked it that way.

There was also a little bit of romance but thankfully it steered clear of the mushiness of Twilight. Importantly, here the girl isn’t just someone looking for love and nothing else (Bella Swan, cough cough), but is actually a strong character capable of holding her own against a bunch of badasses. And it’s nice to see the boy being the damsel in distress for once.

In all, this was a stellar start to a trilogy, though I must say not entirely worthy of the praise heaped onto it, especially considering how similar the concept is to Battle Royale, which was published back in 1999. Having now read Catching Fire, the second book of the series (review coming soon), I can say that the story really does begin to expand and grow into something truly special. But as a standalone piece of fiction for which I have already seen the film version I can only give it…

3.25 out of 5