The Hunger Games had been sitting on my shelf for a few months - ever since I bought it after reading an intriguing review at Semicolon's Saturday Review. I picked it up last week, and thirty pages in thought (a) "I can't believe I left this sitting on the shelf for months. This is a great book." and (b) "I must go get the sequels today because finishing this book without having them on hand is unacceptable."
Before reading any further, I have to say that I really enjoyed reading the book without having any idea what it was about. As Jacob would say, "I'm a really good forgetter." I completely forgot the review and didn't read the back cover.* So if you trust me, stop here, read the book, then come back and read the review.
This post-apocalyptic book is set in Panem, built on the ruins of the former United States. The Capitol, which smacks of ancient Rome, is peopled by a self-obsessed, shamelessly decadent group that is almost entirely without empathy for the residents of the outlying Districts. As punishment for their historic rebellion against the Capitol, each District is forced to hold a reaping every year, a la Crete and Athens in the story of the Minotaur, in which one boy and one girl will be randomly selected to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. Twenty-four kids enter and one survives. The games are televised for the entertainment of the Capitol and as a reminder to the Districts of the consequences of rebellion.
The heroine is Katniss Everdeen, a fierce 15 year old girl who has been forced to provide food for her family since her father's death. She's good with a bow and arrow, not so much with social situations. When her younger sister's name is drawn in the reaping, Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place. Her time in the arena is spent moving between survival, rebellion against the Capitol and compassion for those who need her strength. I came away from the book wanting to be cool enough to be Katniss' friend** but knowing that I would have no chance once she found out I can't live without chocolate and get really grossed out cooking boneless, skinless chicken breast.
Here are some favorite quotes:
When Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place...
"I bet my buttons that was your sister. Don't want her to steal all the glory, do we? Come on, everybody! Let's give a big round of applause to our newest tribute!" trills Effie Trinket.
To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps...I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong.
Katniss' fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta, discussing entering the arena the next day...
"I don't know how to say it exactly. Only...I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?" he asks. I shake my head. How could he die as anyone but himself? "I don't want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I'm not."
* Credit for this idea goes to my father-in-law who read The Firm without having any idea what is was about. He swears that book was so much better not knowing the storyline. Now, if the book is recommended by someone I trust, I try to get as little information about it ahead of time as possible.
** I'm completely ignoring the issue of a twenty year age difference here. But isn't that the sign of a good book? It made me a teenager. It almost made me feel disdain for people who are above eating rats and dogs and tree bark.