Book Review: The Hunger Games

In a dark vision of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed.

When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

My relationship with The Hunger Games began long before I read the book. I first heard it about it online. Everyone was talking about it. (So it seemed.) According to the interwebs it was great, amazing, awe-inspiring, fantastic, inspirational, suspenseful, thrilling and phenomenal.

Not to oversell it or anything.

Initially I brushed this off with the same ‘meh’ attitude that I brush off all apparently superfluous hype. If there’s one sure way to convince me not to read/watch something, it’s to tell me it’s the greatest thing since the cat’s pyjamas.

(And that’s why I haven’t seen Avatar, The Dark Knight or Titanic.)

But the hype didn’t go away. It just kept getting bigger. And then I read an interview with Suzanne Collins where she explained the basic premise for the novel and her inspiration (quote taken from the back of the book, because I can’t remember where I read the interview):

I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me. One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe? And on the next there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.

Wow. I thought. The idea reminds me of Series 7: The Contenders, only with teenagers. I love that movie. Maybe I should look at reading this book.

Then I put the thought out of my mind and moved on. Until my birthday.

A friend of mine took me to a bookshop and told me that he’d buy me 2 books for my birthday. Well, what a choice! I’m fairly certain he immediately regretted it. It took me almost an hour to make my choice. (In my defence: I’m a struggling artist with 2 kids and a hard-working sole-income-earning husband. Buying books is a luxury these days.)

After trawling through the “paranormal” section looking for apparently rare urban fantasy picks, I suddenly remembered The Hunger Games. I made my way to the YA section and there it was, sitting brazenly on the shelf, tempting me with its shiny cover and shelf-talker proclaiming it to be a “great read”. To top it off, the whole trilogy was marked as “Buy 2, Get 1 Free!” I could have all 3 books as my birthday present!

But…

What if I didn’t like it? What if the hype didn’t live up to my expectations? No. Much safer to buy the first book (The Hunger Games) and see if I liked it before fully committing myself.

I brought home The Hunger Games  and sat it next to my bed. Then I read the other new book. And then a couple of library books. Then some magazines. And The Hunger Games still sat there, unread. For a whole month.

See, as long as I didn’t open the cover, the book could be anything. It could be good. It could be terrible. There was no way to tell. But the moment I started reading… well, the anticipation and mystery would be gone forever.

Note: I also love unopened presents. Wrapping paper can conceal anything. That envelope could be a tacky $2 card from Grandma OR it could be a fresh $100 note. Or a gift card. Or tickets to a concert. Or  details of a weekend away. But the moment you tear the paper off, the mystery is gone. Reality rarely lives up to my imagination.

Note the Second: An unread book is a bit like Schrodinger’s Cat.

But one night it happened. I was tired. It was late. I was weak. I picked up the book. I’ll just read a few pages, I said to myself. Just to see if I like it.

I started reading. I was hooked within 3 paragraphs. The next thing I knew, I was up to page 120 and didn’t want to put the book down. Ever. I loved Katniss. I was Katniss. I couldn’t stop reading — what if something happened to her? What if I missed something? It was too exciting, too horrifying, too real. I loved it.

The fact that I had to wake up in 3 hours was the deciding factor. But I still read for another 2 pages until Katniss went to sleep. Then I closed the book quickly so I knew she was safe. Nothing could happen while she was sleeping, right?

I rearranged my schedule the next day specifically to allow myself reading time.

I finished The Hunger Games that night while hiding in the bedroom, pretending to be doing the laundry. It took less than 24 hours to read a 450 page book, in between sleeping and looking after 2 children. I laughed out loud in places, winced at Katniss’s naivety, cheered her heroism, cried inconsolably (twice), and when I finished the last page I clasped the book to my heart and announced, “This is possibly the best book I’ve ever read.”

Then I cursed myself for not buying books 2 and 3.

Now that I’ve read it, I can say with absolute certainty: The Hunger Games is great, amazing, awe-inspiring, fantastic, inspirational, suspenseful, thrilling and phenomenal.

Not to oversell it or anything.

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23 Comments

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23 responses to “Book Review: The Hunger Games

  1. I love, love, LOVE the Hunger Games trilogy. My son was about 4 months old when the final book came out and I made an agreement with my husband to watch my son the whole day so I could read the final book. I love this series. Katniss is the anti-Bella.

    I imagine I will be disappointed in the movie because I’m so completely invested in these books.

    • At least the screenplay was written by Suzanne Collines. With her so heavily involved, hopefully the movies will come close to living up to the spirit of the books. And I like the casting choices. And the first trailer looks good.

      But I’m not getting my hopes up too high. I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than hideously disappointed.

  2. I was the same way. I’d heard good things, but I thought, how good could a book about kids killing kids be? But I devoured that book like it was nothing!

    I still think about Katniss from time to time. I’ll go read a few pages of my favorite scenes and secretly wish I was her. Then I’ll go back to reality. You have to read books 2 and 3. Like right now! 🙂

  3. Me, too. The premise was so horrifying that I resisted for a long time, but I finally ordered the three book set. Very impressed by the first volume, but it was so bleak I haven’t read the second yet. It’s waiting for me on the pile above my headboard (not lost in the shelves of unread books). Right now I’m reading a very funny mystery–can’t take too much bleak in a row.

    • It’s funny, I never would have described the book as being “bleak”. But when I read your comment, I thought: Yeah, I guess it is. But I didn’t feel that way at all when I was reading it. I was too caught up in the story and Katniss. The true horror of the world of Panem came later, when I was reflecting on the Games.

  4. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it! Reading can be such a thrill at times, especially a book with great narrative drive. 🙂 I think I read all 3 within, like, a week.

  5. Oh Jo that was so beautiful! So perfect! What an amazing series. Never have I gotten so angry as a book goes on…even to the next book…and still love every moment-every word-of every page. So proud of you for taking the plunge!!

  6. Hi Jo, my daughter (13) read the Hunger Games and loved them. I glanced at one (1) and saw something about spinning discs cutting your legs off at the ankles and was horrified. Then I began worrying about my girl reading this. But perhaps I should read the whole thing and get more perspective.
    I mean you seem sane enough and you liked them……….decisions, decisions.

    • Definitely read them. Seriously. My husband was reticent about reading The Hunger Games because “he doesn’t like dystopian books”, so I told him to read the first 5 pages and then stop if he didn’t like it. After page 2 he said he’d be reading the whole thing.

      If nothing else, read them from the point of view of a writer. There’s so much to learn about characterisation, when to reveal information for the best effect, and keeping a reader engaged.

      (And as a side note, I think this book (I haven’t read the other two yet, so can’t comment) is well and truly appropriate for a 13 year old.)

  7. It’s on my to-read list. 😉

    Dear Wife has suggested I move it up the list a tad (i.e. next) so I can read it before the movie comes out… Should be time.

  8. So, if I’m interpreting you correctly, if I’m getting your gist, you’re saying I should actually read this, as opposed to letting it sit unread on my Kindle all these months? I’m sensing that’s your message, anyway. 🙂

  9. Cristaq

    Not since Harry Potter have I devoured books as quickly as I did the Hunger Games series. I read all three books within 10 days. Could not put them down. Everything around me ceased to be important, as I finally figured out what everyone had been talking about for months. The reason I picked up the books in the first place? I heard the series was being made into a movie. No small irony, I’m sure.

    • Hahaha. Irony, indeed. 🙂

      I’m so looking forward to reading the next 2 books. Everyone talking about how wonderful they are is only making me more eager to get my hands on them!

  10. I loved the Hunger Games series! I was really nervous about picking them up when everyone was talking about it online…I thought it would be like Twilight all over again (which, admittedly, I’ve never read, only watched the first two movies) and that I would hate it. But I bought the first one on the Nook, and just loved it. Then, I immediately got the other two and devoured them. Since then, I’ve gotten my boyfriend and one of my friends hooked on it too.

  11. ava

    I first heard of the book here on this post Ms. Jo. When I finally was able to get the 3 books yesterday. (this is to be a secret) I read the 230 pages here at work via my smartphone. I am a bad supervisor but I can’t help but read , read, read it. I finished it last night while the 2 kids slept and I’m on page 30 now of Catching Fire. Glad to have read your review. Best book to read first this 2012.

    • Ava, reading this just made me so happy! I’m so glad you loved The Hunger Games, and also that I was able to introduce it to you here. It’s always a thrill to share something you love with your friends, and see one of them develop the same love. 🙂

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