SPOILER ALERT!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games - Suzanne  Collins

It doesn't happen often that I even consider picking up a book when I've already seen the movie, since the pictures in my head while reading will forever be influenced by the film and the actors, but in this case reading the book lends another layer of intensity to an already gripping and moving story.

 

In memory of the uprising of 13 districts against the Capitol and to strike terror into these districts, every year a boy and a girl between 12 and 18 years old are selected to compete in the so-called Hunger Games against each other to the death. This year's competitors for District 12, a coal mining district on the brink of starvation, are Katniss Everdeen, an independent girl taking care of her family who volunteers to take the place of her sister, and Peeta Mellark, the baker's son who once saved Katniss from starvation by giving her a loaf of bread.

 

First of all, the book is in Katniss's first person-point of view - which is already different than the movie. Although it of course focuses on Katniss, it also shows what happens in the Capitol during the Games, something Katniss isn't privy to, and therefore isn't in the book. What starts out as saving her sister from having to compete, turns into a journey into self-exploration, getting driven to the edge of insanity (and beyond), and always playing a game to get out alive... a game which turns into reality and forces her to question everything.

 

It's this duality, spectacle vs bitter punishment, act versus reality, decisions made to stay alive vs them being perceived as revolutionary, life and love vs death, kill vs being killed, being a killing machine vs retaining your humanity in the arena which stays with the reader. And reality shifts again for Katniss because what she thought of as a great ploy to get out of the scenario alive, turns out to be reality for Peeta. Peeta didn't act, he's really in love with Katniss. And now it's time to return home, to a district which was shown a great love story with a happy ending - and it's time to reconcile what could have been before the Games with this new reality... all under the watchful eye of the Capitol and President Snow. It's a great ending to this first part, her confusion and uncertainty are palpable, the trauma of the last weeks ever-present. How to go on from here, how is one to survive something like that?

 

A few sidenotes: Is Prim eligible for the next Games (or the 4 after that until she's 18) - or is she off the hook now entirely? And it's interesting that Panem is essentially a future North America with the Capitol located in the Rockies and District 12 somewhere in the Appalachians. I didn't know that just from the movies. I also enjoyed the dichotomy between the backwater districts, essentially kept from progress by being starved and worked to death, and the Capitol with its scientific gadgets (just think of the genetic mutations like the mockingjays or the killer-wasps... or those horrific zombie-muttations at the end) and overflow of food. The only thing that's still missing is just how the Capitol enforces its hold on all the districts, or even how the status quo of the Capitol and the 12 (or rather 13) districts came to be. There's a short introduction, but I'd love to get more background information - but I guess that's the limit to the 1st-person point of view here.

 

Overall, a surprisingly complex and layered story. On to the next part.