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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Young Adult Fiction

‘The Hunger Games’, by Suzanne Collins.
ISBN: 978-1-407109-08-4.
Publisher: Scholastic
Ben Bennet

This controversial children’s 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 Panem’s 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 society’s problems. It also shares ideas with Orwell’s 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 don’t 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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