For the teen services librarians who may be reading this: don’t worry, I liked The Hunger Games on the whole; enough that I wouldn’t mind reading the other two books in the trilogy.
The Hunger Games is set in a future United States, now divided into twelve sections (the thirteenth was bombed beyond habitability) and the capitol city has moved to a safer location in the Rocky Mountains. Each section has a different industry: Section 12, where our protagonist lives, is a coal mining region corresponding to what is today the Appalachian region, Section 11 is agriculture, and so on. Each year, as a reminder to the different sections of their subordination to the central government and the perils of rising up against their rightful government, one boy and one girl are selected from each section to compete in the titular Hunger Games, a game of survival with minimal equipment. Twentyfour ‘tributes’ enter the arena. Only one competitor will emerge from the arena. The Games are televised, and people bet on the outcome–how each participant, or “tribute” will die, which will survive and so on. Popular “tributes” get sponsors, who may purchase extras for their favorites to help them win.
As the main action of the book begins, Our Heroine Katniss’ sister‘s lot is drawn from the pool of potential competitors…and Katniss volunteers in her place. This does make sense, as Katniss is an experienced hunter and forager, as a result of her efforts to feed her family since the death of her father four years previously, as a result of a mine accident, while her younger sister is a timid girl, only just turned twelve. Katniss does have the better chance of survival. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler, given there are two sequels published, to reveal that she does survive; that’s not the real denouement in any case.
A few awkward phrasings aside, The Hunger Games will serve as a decent work of post apocalyptic fiction for tweens, combining more than a hint of the Roman gladiatorial games with modern reality competition television shows such as Survivor. It’s a good introduction to the genre for those who haven’t read anything in the post apocalypse genre. It’s a reasonably well realized world; Collins does include enough detail for readers to pick up that there’s a considerable social stratification–the lower the section number, the wealthier and more privileged the population, with both wealth and privilege concentrated in Capitol–and the biological sciences are farther advanced than today’s population; genetic engineering has become reality and there are a number of “muttations”, hybridized creatures resulting from the war which redesigned the country politically. Despite being from Appalachia, Katniss and Peeta didn’t sound particularly Southern on the page, although in fairness I find heavy dialect tiresome after more than a few pages. Collins does draw a good distinction between rural deprivation and urban cosmopolitan wealth in different districts of the future United States, and the general disdain each group has for the other.
What to read next? Well, Lois Lowry’s The Giver was suggested by a teen services librarian of my acquaintance. Overall, I’m glad that there’s a book hot enough in the tween group to pull them back into the library/bookstore to read More More More. Time enough to hook them on Brilliant Literature once they find out how long the wait for the next book in the series will be…that said, I hope that the lure of The Hunger Games trilogy will draw reluctant readers into the library and help them learn that it’s possible to read for fun, and even continue reading once they’ve left school. The statistics on how many people never read another book once they’ve left school horrify my librarian’s heart.
All standard disclaimers apply: not only am I not part of the target demographic, I don’t much care for reality television. I would like to point out that, while she’s nowhere near Yolen’s output, Collins had a series of five kids books under her belt before starting on The Hunger Games trilogy, in addition to several picture books and television adaptations/screenplays. She’s not what I’d call inexperienced or new, and therefore I do expect a minimum technical proficiency from her, as with all authors who’ve published before.