International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Young
Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.
controversial childrens story follows Katniss Everdeen, a
loveable 16 year old girl blessed with the ability to hunt and survive
in a dystopian and deprived America. The country has been separated
into thirteen districts that circle The Capitol, the advanced city
and dominant state of Panem, once North America.
Life for Katniss
is hard as she struggles to support her mother and sister, as her father
(her obvious mentor who trained her in survival) has been killed in
a mining explosion. Food is scarce and lives are poverty stricken. The
Capitol strives power over the rest of Panem and to keep its dominance
it invents a twisted game titled The Hunger Games, which
is an annual reminder to Panems citizens of the brutality that
they once bought upon themselves and the Capitol. The game is televised
to everyone in Panem and involves picking a boy and girl from each of
the 12 remaining districts to compete in a fight for their lives. Obviously,
Katniss takes part. The plot is extremely similar to that of the Japanese
film Battle Royale, where again innocent young people are forced
to fight and kill in a sadistic game as a reminder of societys
problems. It also shares ideas with Orwells 1984, that
the future holds a lack of promise for its citizens and that a totalitarian
government could and will destroy the pureness and autonomy that make
humanity. Like Big Brother, the participants of the game are constantly
filmed and have to adopt game plans to ensure survival.
Once the children arrive in the battle field, they are told to try and
survive, and the only way to survive is to kill others. The story plays
with issues of trust, for example, you dont know whether Peeta
Mellark, her love interest, is good or bad for the majority of the story.
The idea of not knowing whether your so called friends might
kill you or spare you is chilling and suspenseful and Suzanne Collins
uses this well to achieve a tense feel throughout her story. One of
the only friends Katniss makes in the arena is a 12 year old girl called
Rue. Rue is a stunning character who, although small and vulnerable,
is clever and accomplished and you find yourself automatically caring
and worrying for her. Like Rue, Katniss uses cunning and skill to outsmart
many of her brutish opponents, a good message to all about the importance
of psychological strength as opposed to physical power. As the story
unfolds, the connection between Katniss and Peeta intensifies as they
are thrown into deeper trouble and turmoil. Like two young lovers destined
for trouble, it is captivating to watch as they battle evil for the
sake of love.
I find it rather surprising however that this book is targeted, according
to Scholastic, at the 11+ age. With such a politically charged plot
and gory deaths (somebody is shot through the skull with an arrow before
falling and being eaten by mutated dog/humans) it strikes me as a bafflingly
young age group to aim upon. I found the only young thing to be in the
book is the age of the protagonists, both sixteen. However they are
forced to act like adults in an adult world and maybe this is the underlying
message of this book.
The three concurrent themes love, courage and determination within the
story underline the importance and success in believing in them in life,
even at times where salvation seems impossible. I thoroughly enjoyed
following Katniss in her abnormal and extreme journey and found the
moral to be powerfully appropriate for children of today. In terms of
the content and graphic detail though, be warned: it had me, a decade
above the recommended age, tense and at times traumatised!
© Ben Bennett March 2009
Ben is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth
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