Making a spectacle of death is nothing new. The Romans fed the Christians to the lions as a form of entertainment. Town squares would fill during public hangings throughout the American West in the 19th century. So it's not hard to follow Suzanne Collins' logic in the possibility of a child-killing-child reality TV show in her mega best selling young adult series/soon to be epic movie franchise, The Hunger Games. But the question is - do we really want to go there? Could this level of crassness and brutality ever exist outside the framework of a fictional dictatorial realm? Is the idea so repulsive that we are guaranteed that its implicit horror could never spill off the page and enter the real world? Collins' message can be viewed as a precautionary tale. Stay vigilant against the eroding of humanity. Unfortunately, anything is possible.
We see this merciless, post-apocalyptic world through the eyes of 16-year-old, Katniss Everdeen. She sacrifices herself in order to save her younger sister, Prim, from having to compete in the games. In order to make it out alive, she will have to kill every contestant in the competition, 12 boys and 11 girls. One of these boys is Peeta, a baker/artist from her own district, who once endured a beating in order to provide her family with bread after the death of her father. How can she be expected to kill someone who had once saved her life?
But Katniss is a trained and lethal hunter. Her aim with a bow and arrow is deadly. It is her responsibility to put food on the table, and she will not fail. Her partner, Gale, is a seasoned tracker who passes his knowledge onto his willing sidekick. The two share a bond that runs deep, yet they never explored the possibility of a romantic relationship. A new found tenderness emerges as Katniss prepares to leave and Gale realizes he might be losing her forever.
The love triangle takes on new dimensions as Peeta begins to play a part for the cameras declaring Katniss to be his girlfriend. In order to play up the PR angle to secure votes and crucial gifts from sponsors, Katniss goes along with the ploy although she suspects Peeta might be harboring emotions for her under the surface. However, she is determined if one of them is going to survive this ordeal, it is going to be her. She will not let sentimentality stand in the way of returning home to her mother and sister.
Katniss and Peeta come from a poor mining area known as District 12. It is a hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth existence. When they arrive in the Capitol to compete, they undergo head-to-toe makeovers. Hair is coiffed. Teeth are whitened. Skin is bronzed. Designer clothing is abundant. Gourmet food is plentiful. They are pampered within an inch of their lives in order to put on a good show for the scores of viewers watching at home. They are the main event.
Collins is smart enough to show the seductive nature of this privileged treatment. Katniss can't help but walk a bit taller in her glamorized role, even if she feels more comfortable with a make-up free face and bitten down nails. She does feel a surge of power flow through her veins when she realizes she commands the attention of an entire nation. But it is a double-edged sword. This new-found prominence is fleeting. If she lets it go to her head, she knows it will end in her untimely death.
Conditions in the ring deteriorate rapidly. Katniss and Peeta are pushed to the limit. Still unsure of Peeta's motives, Katniss must decide whether or not to trust him. Regardless, she vows to protect him as long as she can. When barriers come down and children succumb to the violence of other children, the two desperately seek in each other the sanity needed to survive in a world gone mad.
Overall, a revolting premise, so skillfully told, you just can't tear your eyes away.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is available for $8.99 at Amazon.com and at SuzanneCollinsBooks.com.
Thank you to Yara for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.
Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.