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The Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsTitle: The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins

No. of Pages: 374

Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): “In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survival.”

Comments and Critiques: I first picked up this book because Stephenie Meyer posted a rare update to her website stating that while she doesn’t do this often, she was recommended to all her fans that we read it. So, since Stephenie and I would be best friends if she lived a bit closer due to our similar taste in books, music (hello Muse!) and family life, I took her advice. Five hours – that’s how long it took me to finish this book the first time. I purchased it after work one day last summer and only stopped long enough to eat. I finished it before midnight that same night. Four hours from start to finish – that’s how long it took me to re-read it two nights ago. And I would read it again in a heartbeat.

This book is amazing. From the very first page, the reader is catapulted into a post-apocalyptic world that is both extremely realistic and incredibly scary. Katniss has lived through more in her sixteen years than most people do in a lifetime. She understands the word “sacrifice” because she’s had to sacrifice her childhood to support her sister and mother. Stepping up in place of her sister for The Hunger Games is just another one of those sacrifices she has to make, even if it is her last.

The Hunger Games themselves – there are no words to describe this horrible rite established by the ruling Capitol. To think that the people are supposed to be grateful and celebrate the Games indicates that all is not as it seems in Panem. The undercurrent of political tension and fear permeates every line in this book, but that is what helps make this such a page turner. As it is a fight to the death, the battle scenes are not quite as harsh and bloody as they could be. While they aren’t for the squeamish, I do think they could have been much worse.

Katniss truly shines as a heroine. Equal parts smart, brave, courageous, and caring, she continues to underestimate her ability to excel and succeed in the Games, even though those who know her (and the reader) really have no doubts. She is a wonderful role model for girls because of her ability to fend for herself and others without sacrificing her beliefs.

The book is filled with a truly amazing cast of supporting characters – Peeta, Gale, Prim, Haymitch and Cinna, plus all the other Tributes. One has to wonder what Katniss’ fate would have been had they not been there to help and drive her onward. Indeed, I still find the fact that it was Cinna’s debut as a Tribute stylist to be highly suspicious, as if his presence there was something other than chance. Both Haymitch and he are more politically astute than they initially appear to be. Again, I can’t help but wonder if they are using Katniss for their own political gain. Politics, even unspoken, is everything.

While the book is classified as Young Adult, I’ve been trying to consider when I would allow my son to read it. I know he’s mature enough for some of the issues and scenes, but Panem itself might be too much for him. At age nine, he tends to worry about the end of the world as it is, and is extremely concerned about global warming and our environment. The fact that Panem was brought about initially by natural disasters would, I fear, increase his worrying at this point. However, I do plan to let him read it one day. The messages about not giving up, fighting those battles worth fighting, using your talents and skills to get ahead, and what it means to survive are important lessons to pass along, even if they do occur in a fictional setting.

The fact that the undercurrent of dread that hit me on the first page continues to stick with me as I think back on the book and try to formulate sentences that can do justice to this book puts me in high hopes for the sequel. Actually, I did not know it was a series until I read the last page that first time. The abrupt ending left me absolutely stunned but thrilled that there was going to be more Katniss adventures. She is a heroine I want to root for, that I want to see succeed so that she can finally be happy and feel safe. Unfortunately, I suspect that Ms. Collins has quite a bit more in store for our heroine before (and if) that would happen. The Hunger Games has it all – drama, suspense, action, friendship, love. It captures your imagination and leaves you breathless for more. This definitely ranks right up there with some of my all-time favorite books.

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