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!
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.