Friday, May 4, 2012

Book review: "The Hunger Games"

Imagine if the TV show "Survivor" featured kids instead of adults, and rather than voting each other off the island, the competitors had to hunt down and kill one another. Amid the bloodshed, two of the teenage participants seem to fall in love. Would that be compelling television, or what?

This, roughly, is the premise of "The Hunger Games" the Suzanne Collins novel that has proved wildly popular among teens and tweens.

As a 51-year-old dad, I know I'm not in the target market for this book. But my daughter, 11, devoured the book, and with all the buzz about it, I figured I should check it out myself.

Mostly, I liked what I found. Collins has created an intriguing, if grim, futuristic world where a rich and powerful central government keeps most people impoverished and scrapping to survive (hmmm, a political message here?).

The story centers on the annual Hunger Games in which children from age 12 to 18 are randomly picked from throughout the country of Panem to fight to the death. The weeks-long, 24-hour TV event transfixes the nation, with each "district" cheering for their representatives and the well-off residents of The Capital betting on who will be the final survivor.

Our hero is Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who is sent to represent District 12 in the Hunger Games. It's nice to see a tween book with a female character who is as strong and smart as Katniss turns out to be. In this sort of book, it's natural to play along with action, wondering what move you'd make next in the battle for survival, so it's good to have a protagonist who is clever and (mostly) avoids doing dumb things.

Collins sprinkles the story with high-tech twists and imaginative elements like "tracker jackers," genetically altered wasps that attack and torment the games participants.

As the story goes on, a love story develops between Katniss and fellow competitor Peeta. To me, this was the weakest element of the book, simply because it's fairly familiar and less inventive than the other parts.

I also was not thrilled with the ending, which basically leaves you hanging and waiting for the next book. Even when they are part of a series, I like books to have a solid ending.

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