Imagine a world where kids are picked at random to compete in an all out fight to the death which is engineered and broadcast by the government. Imagine an arena that is booby trapped and filled with implements of death with which the young contestants can maim and kill and monitored by hundreds of cameras. If you’re thinking of Battle Royale you aren’t wrong. However much The Hunger Games borrows from the concept of that novel/manga/movie – and it borrows a lot – it totally works on its own right. The idea isn’t original at this point but it is supremely well executed and hits all of the right emotional buttons.
Don’t think, though, that Battle Royale is the only influence here. There are heavy dystopian future elements with a government that forces its people from each of the 12 districts to play by their rules both in and out of the arena. One of the best elements of this book is the sense of hunger that Collins conjures throughout. Obviously in the beginning we see Katniss outside in her daily life where she must illegally hunt just to feed her family and the hunger is right there on the surface. As the story goes on and Katniss learns how to survive in the arena the hunger becomes something different. It’s a hunger to survive and get back to her family while trying to maintain her sense of humanity. It’s this central conflict between survival and her human nature which drives the story and kept me reading raptly as Katniss tries to win and subvert the rules at the same time.
Of course, there’s a twist. Each district sends two contestants, one male and one female. Peeta, Katniss’ counterpart, is also a really interesting character. He seems to be in love with her but it might just be a strategy to win the game. As these are two young people thrown together by circumstance and under intense pressure some kind of attraction must arise. What it means to each of them drives the second half of this book and Collins brings them through quite a few interesting circumstances. The emotions are very real and complex, an element I didn’t expect from such a book.
This book is, of course, very violent. There are all kinds of death and destruction and gore which makes the events seem very real. The deaths are emotional and thrilling at the same time. It’s being filmed soon and is aiming for a PG-13 rating. I don’t know how they’re going to do some of the more intense sequences unless they really push the ratings like the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (and probably Part 2). I hope they stay true to the intensity and if we must sacrifice some of the blood I guess that’s alright. The book is one of the most exciting books I’ve read in a while and I look forward to reading the remaining books in the trilogy.