This morning I finished a young adult novel that was compelling from the first chapter to the final words that promise a sequel. I found it very difficult to put down and can clearly understand why I have seen more than one middle school students re-reading it for the umpteenth time.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins draws on classic literature like Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game. In this future society located in what used to be North America, the twelve outlying districts must submit one boy and one girl to participate in the annual Hunger Games. The participants are chosen by a random drawing to be sent to the Capitol where they will compete to the death for honors and wealth for themselves and their district. They essentially are sent out to hunt each other, using whatever skills they have accumulated in their short lives. Some of the children in the more affluent districts train for the event; those from the poorer areas learn survival skills from necessity.
The games are the government's way of reminding all the districts that their should never be a rebellion because the government has the power to crush all who question them. Years earlier there were thirteen districts who dared to unite to try to destroy the dictatorship of the Capitol. District 13 was destroyed entirely. The remaining districts are carefully watched and kept subservient.
Kitmiss, the narrator of the story, steps forward to go to the games when your younger sister's name is drawn. Kitmiss has long been breaking the law by sneaking into the woods with her friend Gale to hunt for the animals that keep her family alive. Joining her is the baker's son Peeta, a boy who she scarcely knows except for a memory that when her family was starving he gave her some bread. The spectacle that they now join reminded me first of The Miss America Pageant with its carefully choreographed show, right down to clothing designed to show off the special qualities of the districts and the high pressure interview session. Then it becomes the lowest possible reality show. The twenty four young people are set out in harsh terrain to not only kill off their opponents but also to survive all that a carefully controlled version of nature has to offer. Yes, just as Survivor and other TV shows do, the contestants have sudden obstacles thrown in their path and horrendous twists of rules and fate are carefully coordinated by the Gamemasters. The entire nation is forced to watch all of this on live television and in highlight summaries throughout the several weeks of the competition.
This could have been a gruesome book, as tortuous to read as the story it tells. But it is not. It is exciting and thought provoking and ultimately a tender love story. Pick up this book when you have time to devote to it. You will not welcome the call to supper if comes when Kitmiss and Peeta are close to starvation.