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A novel by Suzanne Collins
(2008, Scholastic Press)

The Hunger Games, book 1

A teenaged girl is accepted as a tribute to fight against other teens in a competition to the Death, shown on live television in a post-war nation.


-- Third reading (hardcover)
December 11th to 24th, 2020


This is my third time reading this book. From the very beginning, it drew me in, accelerating as the story got more and more exciting. I first read this book before the movies came out, and was thrilled. Katniss is an interesting character, who does all she can to stay alive, not for herself, but for those around her. Having seen the movie so often, it blurs the lines on what comes from the book and not. My favorite details are with Rue, who gets more time in the book, sharing the meal, and especially her death and the bread. Everything in the movie is in the book, but because of the first person narrative, it's so much more intense in the book version. I'll certainly revisit this again someday.


-- Second reading (hardcover)
April 22nd to May 17th, 2016


I have now seen all four Hunger Games movies, and they have colored my view of this world. This is the first time I’ve picked the book up again after seeing the movie, and I’m glad I did. There is so much more to the book than is shown in the movie. The main point that hit me was that Katniss was so unhappy, so self-centered, and so shell-shocked throughout the entire thing, from the reaping to the preliminary efforts in the Capitol, and all throughout the games. In the movie, she appears to just accept it, and do whatever is necessary. The director tries to do some weird stuff with the camera at times, but it doesn’t convey her emotions like reading about them.

The other thing that struck me was the bits they left out. I don’t know how they could explain the Avox girl, or that part of society in general, and it’s not missed in the movie. But it adds a lot to the book, and I was quite excited reading about it again. It’s the same with Katniss’ thoughts about Peeta, how calculating she was. In the movie, she actually appears to be in love. The book shows us her real face, not the one she’s put on for the camera. And of course there’s the entire time spent in the cave, where Katniss takes care of Peeta, warms rocks in the sun because it’s so hot, and eventually the river dries up, forcing them to leave. There’s even a mention of Joanna Mason, who becomes a big part of the second and third books. Finally, I had completely forgotten that Peeta gets an artificial leg by the end of it.

I read the book a lot slower this time, one or two chapters a night to my son. But it’s my wife, I think, who enjoyed it most, listening over my shoulder as she went about other tasks. It added a lot of understanding to the movie, which goes to show that the book isn’t necessary to enjoy the movie, but it makes it even better, adding depth, whether read before or after watching.


-- First reading (hardcover)
July 4th to 9th, 2010


From the first page of this book, I was completely enthralled. It was written with such breadth of description, suspense, determination and character. Some minor flaws start to show up near the end of the book, but they don't detract from how impressive it really is.

Spoiler review:

I haven't been taken in by a book in such a way since I read Ender's Game. The book is written from the first person, in the present tense, so it gives a completely different feel to the story than the usual kind of story, narrated by someone detached from the main characters, in the past tense. Here, the main character doesn't know what is coming, so nothing can really prepare us.

The gift of this story, though, is in its vivid description. Every emotion, every detail of Katniss' surroundings are given in such a way that feels completely natural, and it gives the reader a reference for everything. When Katniss and Gale are out hunting in the first few pages, it feels completely real.

The world is a post-apocalyptic one, where a new nation has been built upon the remains of North America. The Capitol is in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by twelve district colonies. Katniss is from District 12. There used to be a thirteenth, but it was completely destroyed by the Capitol during the uprisings. Since then, with twelve districts providing food and raw materials, Capitol has grown more powerful and plush, while the Districts have grown poorer. District 12, which mines coal, is one of the poorest.

After the uprisings, the Capitol enacted the Hunger Games. Every year, two people are chosen from each district to fight each other to the death. It is barbaric, but some districts prepare for it all year long, and everything is televised. Everybody is required to watch. All this, because it comes from Katniss' point of view, is given in anger- and resentment- filled snippets, but it is easy enough to piece together. Katniss' world is given in such a way that nothing is actually told in story form, but rather she describes little pieces of her world and the reader can put it together from what is told. It is taken for granted that the reader already knows this world, which is impossible on a first read, but it gives us the chance to explore it with her, rather than being told what it is. I love that kind of assumption, as it doesn't allow the story to stop in order to tell some history. Only a talented writer can do this effectively.

When Katniss' younger sister is chosen for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers instead. She has been hunting and providing for her sister and mother since her father was killed in a mine explosion years ago. Although the games scare her to death, she knows that she has a much better chance at surviving than Prim would. The other person chosen from District 12 is Peeta, a boy roughly her age who was kind to her once, giving her bread from the bakery his family owns, and incurring the wrath of his mother.

Throughout the training and the games, it is obvious that Peeta is infatuated with Katniss, but she can't take love seriously, vowing that she would never bring a child into this kind of world, either. So while she can pretend at love, she thinks Peeta is feigning, too, trying to trick her into thinking him good-natured, so he can stab her in the back later. Because there can only be one winner.

The training is interesting, because it gives Katniss a taste of the upper class world in Capitol. There, people treat the Games as a reality TV show, cheering on the violent deaths, and making them seem expendable. She gets her own make-up artist, who dresses her and Peeta in fire, and makes the world love her. Because the more people who love her, the more will sponsor her with things she needs inside the Games, such as food, medicine, and so on.

Their trainer is former winner of the games Haymitch, who is always drunk -and who wouldn't be after surviving such a contest? I find it amazing that District 12 has had two such winners at all. But I guess it's easier to survive if you're from a district that has nothing, to begin with. As Katniss observes, the people from the better-off districts have a harder time when easy food starts to disappear.

Inside the Hunger Games, Peeta inexplicably joins a group from the better-off districts, the Career Tributes. Unfortunately, it is never explained why he tricked them, or more importantly, how he did so, or how he was able to kill the girl on that first night. He was considered to be weak before then.

The obvious strategy for Katniss to follow is to let the others kill each other off, and then pick off the last one. But that, of course, is not always possible, especially when they marked her as a target of choice. Katniss uses her forest skills well, making camp in a tree, avoiding stupid mistakes such as lighting a fire at night, and even sets traps and hunts for food. It takes her a while to find water, but once she does so, she stays near it for the remainder of the games.

The numbers of the contestants dwindle quickly. We don't get to see all the deaths, which probably would have been boring, and Katniss couldn't have been a witness to them all, anyway. When the games themselves get boring, the gamekeepers throw in some surprises, like a horrendous wildfire that brings the remaining contestants together when they seem too separated.

After that, Katniss is treed by the Career Tributes. Fortunately, she finds a friend in Rue, a younger girl from District 11, who shows her a nest of tracker jacker bees, which were bred during the previous war to disable people and cause them to hallucinate, and sometimes die. Katniss dislodges it, and while two bees come after her, causing severe hallucinations in the coming days, two people are killed because of the stings, and the others are off her tail for days more.

At this point, Peeta is disengaged from the Careers, because he saves Katniss' life against Cato, the lead Career. Katniss went back to the site of her treeing to get the bow she saw on one of the dead girls, and Cato showed up. Peeta is nearly killed, and ends up surviving with a gangrenous cut on his leg, by hiding in a remote area submerged completely in the mud. He was probably going to die before Katniss showed up.

Katniss actually partnered up with the girl Rue, who showed her all sorts of things about trees, bees, medicinal leaves, and mockingjays, which could repeat entire conversations or songs. They used to be spies during the District uprising (and is interestingly the name of the third book in this trilogy), but the people in Rue's district used them for communication. From a fruit tree plantation, Rue easily climbed trees and jumped from one to the next.

There is a terrific sequence where Katniss destroys the hoard of food and provisions the Careers had created with all the stuff that was in the arena. An expert marksman with a bow and arrow, she ignites the landmines protecting them by felling a bag of apples, one by one. Another tribute dies because of his failure to protect the stash. Unfortunately, Rue is caught and killed while creating a distraction for Katniss' attempt. When Katniss finds her, she mourns her, and immediately kills the boy responsible for her death. That is Katniss' first and only direct kill of the games.

I had been wondering if she could do it, and how. In cold blood, or self-defense? Dropping the bees nest on the girls was indirect, as she mentions. Killing out of revenge is another matter. But after the first kill, I wondered how easy it would be for her to kill again. The author spares her the decision, which I found to be wrong, but it didn't detract much from the story.

At this point, the story slows down a little, as the gamekeepers change the rule, allowing two people to win the game, if they are from the same district. Given the way Katniss and Peeta have been playing up the love story angle, it is obvious that this is popular with the audience. It seemed like a cheat to me, until the end. She nurtures Peeta almost back to health, but she knows he will die without intervention.

The gamekeepers intervene by sending supplies to all the tributes, but all at a central location, so they would have to fight for it. One tribute is killed, but it draws out the one reclusive tribute, who spares Katniss' life only because she avenged Rue. That didn't seem like a cheat, because he went on to fight Cato, but eventually lost.

The medicine that Katniss picks up at the "banquet" saves Peeta's life, and he nurses her back to health after her altercation at the banquet. But when they have sufficiently recovered, the gamekeepers drain the river they've been living off of, so they are forced to go back to the central location for the final fight. I thought Peeta and Katniss should have fought Cato, but instead, they are all forced to flee from the dead tributes, brought back to a horrible life as some sort of werewolf creature. As Katniss is trying to find a way to dispatch Cato, the Career takes the decision from her, holding Peeta hostage. But Katniss' proficiency with the bow saves them both, and Cato is swarmed by the zombies. Katniss kills him out of pity instead of anger.

At this point, the games should have ended, except that the gamekeepers change the rule again, so that only one person can win! Katniss' anger is palpable through her exhaustion, and she and Peeta agree to commit suicide on poisonous berries instead. So the rules are changed again at the last minute, but the gamekeepers are furious. For the rest of the book, Katniss has to pretend she is desperately in love with Peeta. Her true feelings are mixed, because she has started to wonder what kind of husband Gale would have made. But at every turn, she almost lost her heart each time she thought that Peeta would die.

When Peeta finds out she has been half-faking it, he becomes silent and withdrawn, and who can blame him? He thought she was in love with her. The book ends in a cliffhanger as they reach the train station of District 12, and the two are almost completely estranged...

So there were a few disappointing aspects of the book, such as the slowness when Peeta was recovering (the love story, essentially), the contrived nature of Katniss only having to murder one person, while indirectly killing others and killing her final adversary in pity, and the cliffhanger ending. The one piece that I found contrived was rescinded near the end, the gamekeepers obviously filling two hearts with hope and then dashing it, in temporarily allowing two winners to the Games. It almost still seems contrived, but not quite.

But all the slow points do nothing to detract from what is an absolutely amazing novel. If it is meant for young adults, it is perfectly told for older adults, as well. I can't wait for the second book in the series.


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