I was already a long time Suzanne Collins fan, so last year when I opened a birthday gift and it was Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, I was both excited and chagrined I'd completely missed her newest work. Turns out it was even more embarrassing as I next opened the card and it contained an Amazon receipt for the pre-order of her next book Catching Fire, which was due to be released that week. So I missed two of her books. Oy! How I do fall behind the times.
I opened the book at 11 pm, thinking I'd dip my toes into the water and check out the first chapter before I went to sleep. Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning I finished it. Yup, never put it down. This is what my family calls a "Pajama Book" as in... you stay in your pajamas until it's done. No passing go, no eating meals (or sleeping in this case), your eyes are burning up the pages as fast as your brain can whirl. It's that kind of book. I found out later I wasn't the only one who had this reaction. Hunger Games is now a national bestseller and threatened Twilight off its mighty throne.
In case you missed the hoopla (like I almost did), Hunger Games is a Young Adult novel about a teenage girl named Katniss. She lives in District 12 which is part of North America (somewhere in the not so distant future). The Capitol rules everything with an iron fist and keeps the districts from rebelling by hosting Hunger Games every year. Think gladiators except in the future, and instead of grown men, it's kids fighting to the death (but in a much more interesting arena). They choose contestants for said games by randomly picking two kids from each district. When Katniss's sweet little sister gets chosen, Katniss volunteers to go in her place.
If it sounds gritty and tense, it's because it is. Not something I'm typically a fan of, but for this book I make an exception. I loved the characters, the setting sucked me in, and the plot had my heart in its hand until the final page.
My biggest complaint is due to its first person point of view. The downfall of being in the protagonist's head, is that we (the readers) are all quite aware what is going on, but Katniss is hopelessly ignorant. Makes you want to whap her over the head with the book a few times, even if she is brilliant with a bow and arrow (and probably wouldn't take too kindly to being hit over the head with her own book).
I do recommend Hunger Games if you're looking for a highly riveting read. My only suggestion would be to wait on reading the second book until the third and final book is released this Summer. Trust me on this one.
As mentioned earlier in reference to A Series of Unfortunate Events, I tend to join in the popular book parties late. My husband and I read aloud Suzanne Collins' earlier and less renowned series, The Underland Chronicles, so perhaps it might be surprising that we didn't check out her spectacularly touted new venture... were it not even more surprising that we actually picked it up before it was completed.
A part of me wishes we'd waited. As Esther said, The Hunger Games is pretty much non stop tension. Rather than pausing at the chapter breaks, I'd find myself plowing through them and having to stop at midway points when necessary. Mostly I'm glad I actually did read it now, though, even if it means I'll be waiting on pins and needles for months for the release of Mockingjay. For once I actually know what everyone is talking about! And I want to talk about it too!
There are pros and cons to borrowing from history. One definite pro is that retrospect lends credence to practices that we might immediately consider too heinous to be realistic. Every time I caught myself thinking, "really, Suzanne?" (and it was often) I would remember that she's actually only showing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the shocking behavior of a conquering nation. I read The Robe and Quo Vadis, watched Ben Hur, and pored through dozens of history books on Rome as a teenager. It's easy to think, "nobody could ever be that heartless" (thanks, Emperor's New Groove), but history proves that wrong over and over again. The human heart is desperately wicked. Despite my initial knee-jerk reaction, I think Suzanne Collins did a great job of making the horror realistic and almost understandable.
I agree with Esther that first person point of view can be tricky. I think of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, which most of my friends either adore or detest. I've noticed that those who love it tend to relate to the tentative personality of the protagonist, while those who detest it find her introspection and lack of action to be maddening. While there were definitely times during The Hunger Games where I was frustrated with Katniss' choices and perspectives, there was still a part of me that understood her caution. "So, fearing, I taste not but with trembling. I was tricked before." -- C.S. Lewis (Sweet Desire -- best poem ever) Speaking of Lewis, it's kind of like at the beginning of Narnia when the reader is baffled that nobody will believe Lucy. But in real life, would you believe such a tale? So while I do find Katniss to be a bit slow in the uptake when it comes to interpreting others, I can also relate. I know when I was a teenager I was always wrongly guessing people's motivations, certain that nothing could be as simple as it seemed.
I've read and watched plenty of dystopian children's stories, and I can see why The Hunger Games has risen to the top with her gripping story and compelling characters. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how Suzanne Collins wraps up the series with Mockingjay in August (counting down!).