Target practice on children has been a theme that occasionally pops up in literature – from Jonathan Swift’s 18th satirical essay, A Modest Proposal, suggesting we eat them for population control to Shirley Jackson’s haunting short story, The Lottery, having the winners stoned by family and friends. The latter is closer to Suzanne Collins’ young adult science fiction The Hunger Games, the first book in a trilogy.
True to form, Collins has adventure, true love, and villains – and a subliminal message. The hunger games occur annually in the future – after the world as we know it has been destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed again, and finally at a place you wouldn’t want to live – unless you had lots of money (maybe not so different from today?).
When Katniss’s 12-year-old sister’s name is announced as the district 12 (coal miners district) female representative to the murderous games, she volunteers to take her place. The baker’s son, Peeta, becomes the male “tribune,” and they form an alliance that helps them both as they try to survive, without killing each other. The Gamemakers’ rules demand that out of 24 children, only one can be alive at the end.
Pitting children against each other in a fight to the death, the games are televised for the pleasure of gladiator thrill seekers – think Survivors episodes. The games have a futuristic and macabre quality: the controllers can strategically shoot fireballs at the participants just to liven up the action and electronic chips keep track of each participant and projects their moves (ala the Truman Show).
You know Katniss is going to survive – hey, she’s the heroine and this is the first in the trilogy – but you’ll still be on edge as she encounters each terrifying obstacle and almost dies a thousand deaths. Collins hooks you into the action, and it’s fun – like riding an upside down roller coaster in the dark.
Katniss is better than Wonder Woman or Supergirl; her powers are those of a real girl and anyone young and resilient, smart and strong, true of heart, could tap into them – although shooting a rabbit in the eye with a bow and arrow might take some practice.
Part of growing up, at any age, is knowing how to play the game – unless you refuse to play or make your own rules.
I started this book in the morning and could not put it down until I finished. What a trip – check it out for yourself.