War. Death. Politics.
They’re not exactly the first things people think about when the word “children” is brought up. But in Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” series, those three little words make a huge difference to children. How? You ask. Simple: children are chosen from each ‘district’ and forced into an arena to kill each other. Want me to slow down a bit and explain it more?
Within this novel, there are twelve districts (kinda like towns) that each have specific purposes. One is a fishing district, one is a coal mining district and so on… The people in these districts have strictly controlled lives- everything from the amount of food they eat to where they live and work is dictated by the government. Within the districts themselves, there are ‘Peacekeepers’ who make sure all the people are abiding by the rules. If they detract from the rules by even a little bit, they can be whipped publicly (for minor occurrences) or even lose their life. The main reason for people losing their lives is simply if the Peacekeepers suspect they are rising against the government. This can be as simple as complaining that your family is starving to death because they do not have enough food.
The whole concept of the “Hunger Games” was thought up by the government of the human populace (rather, what was left of it after the idiocy of a nuclear bomb eradicated most of human existence) because, once upon a time, the districts rebelled against the government. Who wouldn’t want to protest being fenced into a town, forced to work endless hours and being subject to starvation when the ‘Capitol’ (the city in which the President resides) has as much food and other luxuries (such as golden wigs) as they wish? The President bombed District 13 and eradicated it, which is the reason there are only twelve districts. At least, they say they destroyed it.
Now, the premises of the Hunger Games is that one male and one female child will be chosen from each of the districts. They will then be polished and ‘beautified’ and displayed for all to see for several days. They are judged upon their strengths (such as hand to hand combat, camouflage and knot tying) and pitted against each other as who is more likely to win. Then, after being fattened up and meeting each of the other districts ‘tributes’ they are all left in a giant arena (it changes each time) and told to kill each other by any means necessary. They are not given food or water, rather they have to fight for it. Keep in mind- these are children.
The President manages to keep all the districts in ‘line’ with these Hunger Games and strict control by the peacekeepers. That is, until Katniss Everdeen is chosen as the tribute for District 12. She is stubborn, violent, unpredictable and greedy. She has the ability -at times- to make the reader hate her. The way she treats others, without regards to their feelings or her actions, is appalling. She has flaws. She kills and is haunted for the rest of her life by the memory. She is, in an undeniable word, human. Collins does a remarkable thing in her writing- she makes characters that are real, that are affected by what they do and that consequences for their actions. Katniss is not a loveable Mary Sue characters, but she is what makes this series so enthralling. You may dislike her, but you want her to succeed.
The First Book: The Hunger Games- As a means of surviving, Katniss and her mentor, Haymitch (a previous survivor of the Games that is forced into advising future tributes) come up with a scheme to gain sympathy from the viewers (did I mention that the entire bloodbath is watched by all of Districts and the Capitol?). The scheme? Pretend to be in love with the other tribute from District Twelve- Peeta. Katniss managed to force somewhat of a “star crossed lover” scenario with great difficulty. She feels guilty, because all she thinks of is that she has to pretend to be in love with Peeta and then kill him. She doesn’t realize that not only is the plot working- the viewers believe they are in love- but that Peeta is actually in love with her. While she’s busy pretending to be in love, she also has to keep herself alive from the other tributes who are hell bent on killing her.
Unbeknownst to her, the little golden pin she wears upon her suit- a Mockingjay- is becoming a symbol in the Districts. A symbol of revolution against the government- particularly as she hold a little girl shot through the heart, singing to her as she dies. Katniss doesn’t want any part in the killing but when she befriends this little girl and that little girl is murdered, she is angry. Angry at the government for its transgressions and angry at the tributes who so willingly kill each other. What happens next is a bloodbath you’ll have to read about to believe.
The Second Book: Catching Fire- Katniss thinks the horror of the Hunger Games is over. She and Peeta won by a single handful of poison berries (if you want to know exactly how, go and pick up the book). The problem, described to her by the President Snow himself, is that now there are little rumbles of discontent in the Districts. He warns her she has to convince them that she and Peeta are actually and truly in love.
She fails. Her punishment-all the Tributes punishments-are to be sent back to the Games. This is an unheard of idea- the children who won the past Hunger Games are promised immunity. The only reason they must go back to compete is to quash any rebels within the Districts. If their Tributes aren’t even safe- who is?
The difference this time is that Katniss has allies in this fight. They stick together, and she seems to be the only one that recognizes that the closer they get to the end, the harder it will be to kill each other. She is determined to make Peeta survive, because she suspects she is indeed falling in love with him. Peeta is equally determined to see her succeed.
What she doesn’t know is that there are forces beyond her control that are working to get her out. Without her as the ‘face’ of the rebels, or, as the Districts have taken to calling her, the ‘Mockingjay’- they have no leader.
Will she be saved before the bloodbath that is the Games claims her life?
That, my dear readers, is the question.
The Third Book: Mockingjay- Katniss was indeed saved by the rebels, but possibly at the expense of the life of Peeta. He is lost to the government, presumed dead. She cannot bear to be the face of the cause that she isn’t sure she can believe in until a newscast shows that not only is Peeta alive, but he is being tortured by the government. Her sole reason for taking up the cause is to save him.
This plan doesn’t exactly go as follows. Peeta is recovered, but he has been tortured and manipulated enough that he isn’t anyone recognizable any more. She is almost blind with grief and is still forced to fight for something that children should never have to face. She vows to put an end to the Hunger Games for once and for all and then she swears that she will be the one to kill President Snow- the reason for all her pain.
The President devises things to break her mind- Peeta’s torture, the annihilation of District Twelve and the murder of her friend. If anything, this makes her more determined to put an end to his life.
Why this series is awesome: Besides making the reader sink into a deep state of melancholy and cause much thinking of the state of the world, this series is written to make people think. How low will humanity sink in order to have control over other? Just how easy is it to kill? This book is a bloody, war torn, hateful, despicable read. But its also something that always has some sort of hope in it. There is a way to stop hate. There is a way to fight back. It is a blood stained way, but there is one.
Should you read it?: Yes! The characters are people you care about and people who are real. Not in the physical sense, but in a way that they can be related to. The plot series, while violent, is an amazing literary work. I may have shed (many) tears while reading it, but this is the sort of book that doesn’t try to cover up the disturbing bits. It gives them to you directly and unflinchingly: War is not a game. People die. And when they die, they don’t come back.