There were two books keeping me sane during my wild and woolly flight back from Anaheim: Hunger Games from Suzanne Collins, of Gregor the Overlander fame… and Barry Lyga’s Hero-Type, reviewed on the blog by Carlie Webber. Hunger Games was the one book I was determined to get at Annual, and it certainly lived up to its promise.
Hunger Games inherits the crazy premises of both Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” and Stephen King’s Bachman novella The Running Man. It’s an unholy marriage to be sure, but the result is compelling, addictive, and relatable for a generation raised on the Survivor television series.
Katniss Everdeen is the sole provider for her family, a sad trio surviving in the remnants of North America (now called Panem) in a district not known for its winners in the annual Hunger Games. The Games are a televised competition designed to rather cruelly remind the Panem residents that their post-apocalyptic rebellion was futile and that their subsistence economies are controlled by the whims of higher classes in the Capitol district. Every year, a lottery-style drawing determines which boy and girl will represent their districts in the Hunger Games, where they will fight to the death: last person standing wins food and favor for their district during the next yearly cycle. Katniss, who has turned to hunting and the black market to feed and clothe her sister and widowed mother, has far more entries in the lottery than usual in her effort to keep her family on the broad edge of survival. Things might be looking up were it not for the drunken lout who is assigned to coach her district’s candidates, and Katniss’ youthful debt (yet to be repaid) to her male counterpart in the Games.
We’re not worried about whether Katniss can survive the Games as, after all, she’s a hunter and survivalist even in normal times. The hook is Katniss’ deep desire to sabotage the Games and teach the Capitol a lesson in class warfare they will never forget. Book groups will find great fodder for discussion in the question of romance in voyeuristic situations, the inequalities that the Capitol inflicts on the Panem residents in the name of keeping order, and the ethics of competition under a microscope a la today’s reality television.