Book Review: The Hunger Games

(Author site: suzannecollinsbooks.com4DZMWXMUU2BK

In my never-ending quest to find and consume all media billed as “Twilight with [blank]” (aliens, battle royales, sharktopuses) to see if said media really deserves it, I picked up The Hunger Games.

Actually, I picked it up because people I trust have been recommending it to me since it came out, usually appealing to my yen for a) bloodsport involving children and b) epic teen angst. The Twilight series has teen angst, but it’s the opposite of epic, and there‘s no bloodsport to speak of. The Hunger Games has so much bloodsport that the whole plot is bloodsport. Even the movie Bloodsport didn’t have this much bloodsport.

And it was awesome.

The Hunger Games is about a girl, an impoverished sixteen-year-old from the poorest district in Panem, resting her giant brass balls on the Capitol’s forehead; then removing them and placing them into the Capitol’s mouth, risking a ballectomy if they choose to bite. And they will. But this girl is the Girl On Fire, and she can handle her hero’s journey just fine without balls.

This metaphor was really awesome when I was six dirty Snappletinis in (a dirty Snappletini has nothing to do with olive juice content. To make a dirty Snappletini, just mix vodka and Snapple and then drink it while sitting and reading in a kiddie pool of water on your driveway at 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday. The dirty part comes from when your neighbor is mowing their lawn and getting dirt in your collectible SeaWorld orca thermos, but trust me, if you’re doing it right, you don’t care).

The Hunger Games themselves are a punishment laid out by the Capitol of Panem, the nation that rose out of the ashes of North America. There was an uprising a while back in which many of the twelve Districts surrounding the Capitol decided that the Capitol sucked and they were going to revolt. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, and now every year, each district must send two tributes, a boy and a girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, to participate in the Hunger Games–part commemoration, part painful reminder of the failed rebellion, broadcast live nationwide. Nobody likes this once you get past District Two or so, but it’s mandatory, and it’s been going on for 74 years. The Games are a battle royale among the 24 tributes, and only one will make it out alive, to be showered in riches and allowed to live out their lives in a Victor’s Village in their home district.

Katniss Everdeen, our narrator and hero, has bigger things to worry about. District Twelve, in what used to be Appalachia, is known for mining coal and being poor as hell, particularly in the Seam area where Katniss resides with her younger sister, Primrose, and distant mother. Her father died in a mine explosion, and it was he who taught her how to use a bow like a total boss. She hunts the nearby forests illegally to provide food and a little money for her family.

Her best friend and hunter buddy is Gale Hawthorne. He’s good at traps and she’s good at shooting, so they work well together and share the spoils to keep both of their families from starving to death. They met when she was twelve and tried to steal some of his trapped game, but quickly became friends and now rely on each other.

Everything’s chugging along until Prim is announced as the female tribute for District 12, which is unexpected because her name was only in the running once. Katniss, without thinking, volunteers herself. Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, is the male tribute. They go to the Capitol with their mentor, a former Games victor and current drunk named Haymitch Abernathy, and Effie Trinket, their bubbly and slightly dumb escort, and after some training in press relations and badassery, the Games begin.

Important elements of the story are:

-the Gamemakers, who make the rules and provide wild-card changes to the Games (sending a fireball after Katniss to shake her up, creating a storm that lasts for days). The Gamemakers score the tributes before the games so that people can decide which contestants to sponsor or bet on. Katniss scores an eleven, the highest score of all the contestants, after she shoots an arrow at he Gamemakers when they’re not paying attention to her.

-Cinna, Katniss‘s stylist. Cinna is thoughtful and quiet and a brilliant designer, creating a dress that is literally on fire for Katniss.

-Haymitch Abernathy’s plan to curry favor for District 12 by creating a false romantic relationship between Katniss and Peeta, which Peeta is wholeheartedly into but Katniss is leery of. She comes around when she realizes that favoràsponsorsàstuff like medicine and food, but is totally thrown when she realizes that Peeta might not be faking.

-Muttations. Muttations are mutant animal hybrids created by the Capitol. The ones that come into play are tracker jackers, giant wasps with hallucinogenic and occasionally fatal venom; the wolf things that the Gamemakers release; and mockingjays (interbred mockingbirds and jabberjays–another muttation), which can perfectly mimic human songs. Katniss is given a mockingjay pin before she leaves, as a token of her home district, and Rue uses them to send signals.

The other tributes in the Games are not that important, save for Rue, a twelve-year-old tribute who reminds Katniss of Prim, and Cato, a vicious Career (a volunteer tribute who has been trained to fight in the Games) who has a giant hate-on for Katniss due to her high training score and how she doesn’t let him kill her.

They’re the most important onscreen deaths, too. Rue and Katniss become friends over the course of the Games, and it’s genuinely heart wrenching when Rue is killed. Katniss, in her first open act of defiance against the Capitol, drapes Rue’s body in flowers. Katniss mercy-kills Cato after wolflike muttations with what seems to be the dead competitors’ physical characteristics are released by the Gamemakers in the final stretch of the Games.

If I’ve got any complaints about this book, it’s that the two guys vying for Katniss’s attention are sort of…extraneous and underwritten.

Watch this cute explanatory video for funsies. 

This isn’t like Twilight, where the main character only exists for the value of the guys who are after her. Katniss is a fully-fleshed character, and the book respects her enough to let her be one without interference from Gale and Peeta (Games-strategy romance aside), which makes the random “DOES GALE WANT TO BE MY BOYFRIEND? IS PEETA SERIOUSLY IN LOVE WITH ME?” monologuing seem weird. Does Gale? Is Peeta? Nobody knows! Gale’s more of an idea than a character. Peeta fares a bit better because we spend more time with him. This isn’t really a complaint like OMG NEEDS MORE DUDES. It’s kind of the opposite, actually, in that neither of the romantic interests are really necessary as romantic interests. We shall see if this situation improves in the next two books, I guess.

Katniss is the driving force of the book, and she should be held as one of the better heroines to come out of YA within the last few years (when YA started blowing up). She’s smart, capable, caring (but not always nice), and she has motivations and interests past which dude she’s going to pick.

The Hunger Games is written in a fantastic spare style appropriate to the kind of narrator Katniss is–no-nonsense, rarely flourished–but still manages to flow smoothly and keep the reader engaged. The plot is fascinating on a sociopolitical level as well as a fictional one, and despite the occasional characterization issues, the people populating the book are interesting and worthy of attention. All in all, a fantastic book, and I can’t overstate how excited I am to read the next two.

I’m so excited to read the next two that, in the grand tradition of this glorious website, I made up some drinks in anticipation. Please note that most of these were invented after three of what retroactively became Haymitch Abernathys.

The Katniss Everdeen

-moonshine (if you don’t live where I do and thus don’t have moonshine readily available, Everclear will do)
-mint leaves
-one blackberry per shot
-splash of PTSD

Pour moonshine in a shotglass. Muddle mint leaves and single blackberry at the bottom of the glass. Drink like you’re protecting your food in prison.

The Haymitch Abernathy

-one bottle of whiskey
-extra hip flask of whiskey
-ankle flasks of whiskey
-secret compartment hollowed out of own thigh meat containing another flask of whiskey
-airplane bottle of whiskey hidden under hat

Drink everything ASAP. Grope nearest woman. Fall off of everything more than two inches above ground level. Be way less drunk than you appear to be.

The Effie Trinket (modified Pink Pearl cocktail)

-lime juice
-grapefruit juice
-maraschino cherry juice
-whiskey breath from someone who has just finished a Haymitch Abernathy

Have someone who knows how to measure liquids mix everything together. Practice throwing elbows into faces and getting platitudes wrong (the more you drink, the easier these things get).

The Primrose Everdeen

-goat’s milk

You’re twelve.

The Mama Everdeen

-empty glass
-crushing sadness

Don’t drink anything. Ignore your starving children and take a nap.

The Rue

-a daisy

Cry until you fill up the shotglass, then put the daisy in it. Look up at an invisible camera and pour one out for your dead homie.

The Peeta Mellark


Put some rum on your cake. Get drunk enough to cover yourself in frosting that matches your floor and lay there until a girl you really like trips over you. Pine.

The Cinna

-drink of your choice
-a lighter

Set the drink of your choice on fire. For extra points, don’t blow it out before you drink it. I’m sure it’ll be fine.

The Gale Hawthorne

-I don’t know, go make yourself a Zapatista cocktail or something. You kind of suck.

See you soon in Catching Fire!