They’re like gladiators — but they’re teenagers. This is the premise for Suzanne Collins rather dark young adult novel, The Hunger Games. In the past several years Suzanne Collins has became a household name with her trilogy about the country of Panem; a country that forces 24 young men and women (one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 from each district) to fight to the death in a grand arena. Narrated by Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games brings a great story that feels somewhat of a cross between 1984 and Lord of the Flies; however, Collins fails to pack the punch of great writers such as George Orwell or William Golding.
The premise of Panem, the country that turns its children into gladiators, is brilliant. However, while other stories about totalitarian government give needed critique to our current society, Collins virtually forgets to do this. There were many opportunities for Collins to make statements about the society she is writing to, but sadly, she doesn’t take them. Other than a few quiet statements about poverty and the lust for blood of humanity, there is little here that is relevant to the world being written to. This is disappointing seeing as there are so many wonderful things that this story could have done with only minor alterations, none of which significant. Its not a major flaw but it keeps the book from being something truly great.
Collins’ biggest strength is her ability to develop her characters. Not only is Katniss one of the best characters I’ve ever read, she is also one of the most beautifully developed characters. She has personality that doesn’t quit and a backstory that is interesting and revealed by Collins’ at all the right moments. Most writers only dream of handling their primary character as well as Collins does. Other characters such as Haymitch, Prim, and Cinna are handled wonderfully. While I found the character of Peeta to be lacking the touch of the rest of the cast, that could be simply because he is overshadowed by other strong characters.
The writing itself is strong. At times even comparable to greats such as Bradbury or Golding. However, more often than not Collins settles for the engrossing rather than the artistic. Again, this isn’t bad but it keeps the book from going to the next level. Perhaps the biggest weakness the book has is that it seems to lose its focus in the last 100 pages. Collins becomes distracted by a love story that feels somewhat unnecessary. While all great stories have a sense of romance, Collins makes what should have been a romantic subplot into the focus. In fact, the final lines of the book don’t dwell on the terrible government that is the central point of the story but rather on a love story that should have remained in the background.
When the last pages of The Hunger Games were read and I sat the book down, the feeling that overcame me was nothing other than disappointment. Sure, the book is good — very good. And at times its great. But I can’t help but think what it had the potential to be. Collins has created a dark but entertaining world; yet she fails to make a relevant statement about the world she’s writing to. She has crafted arguably some of the best fictional characters of our time, but she fails to keep her focus on the true story. The Hunger Games is a fantastic book but it seems to me that there is another level that this book could have made it to — another level that for some reason Collins just wasn’t willing to go to. And for that reason, I fear that 20 years from now most copies of this book will be doing little more than collecting dust when this had the potential to be the kind of book that survives the generations and is still being read by readers centuries hereafter.
Content: PG-13 for thematic elements and some strong violence
Final Note: After reading the book, I watched the film. While a book is always better detailed and overall stronger than a film, this movie avoided making some of the mistakes that the novel did. While the book lost its focus towards the end, the film keeps the terrible dictatorship as the focus as the credits begin to role. While after reading the novel there wasn’t much compelling me to read the rest of the trilogy, the film allowed my interest in the sequels to grow.