The last novel I read was The Well of Ascension, the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s fantastic Mistborn series. Since I’ve been reading a lot of chunky epic fantasy books, I decided to take a break and read something a little shorter and lighter. That lead me to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which did turn out to be shorter but definitely isn’t an emotionally light read.

Sometime last year, Scholastic sent us copies of The Hunger Games for a giveaway through Fandomania. I never actually looked much at the book at that time, but I started hearing a lot of buzz about the series, its developing fandom, critics’ responses (even Stephen King is a fan), and assurances that it’s miles better than Stephenie Meyer’s dreadful vampire schlock. After reading this first book in the Hunger Games series and making it through three quarters of Twilight, I can attest to that final claim. But that’s not really saying too much, is it?

At its core, The Hunger Games is a Mary Sue fanfic of Battle Royale. That’s a pretty bad way to start talking about a book that I ultimately liked a lot, but there’s no denying the connection between the two stories about groups of kids drafted into a government-run game in which they must kill each other until one victor remains, all for the purpose of propaganda and fear mongering. Battle Royale is a far more brutal and graphic take on the situation, and in many ways it’s a better and more intense story than The Hunger Games. What Battle Royale lacks, however, is a personal story with real heart, and that is what The Hunger Games provides.

The Hunger Games‘ narrator and protagonist is Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl from District 12 in the region of dystopian Panem that used to be Appalachia before the world went to hell. She’s generally a relatable and likable character who inevitably finds herself thrust into horrible situations. Most of the time, Katniss reacts believably to what’s going on around her, and she’s anchored by her love for her younger sister back home. That gives her a depth lacking in a lot of characters that populate these sorts of books. Joining Katniss from her district is Peeta, a baker’s son, who has been madly and secretly in love with her for years. I won’t lie and say the hokey love story doesn’t derail the intensity of the book, because it does. Katniss’s naivete about relationships and humans in general further drag the narrative into boggy areas that never quite gel with the intense dread, sneakiness, and outright murder that fill the rest of the book. The Hunger Games ostensibly is intended for young adults, and I guess every book in the genre requires some sort of emo-riffic love story after Twilight.

The pacing at times is a little too sedate for this sort of life and death predicament, and I never really felt like Katniss was in mortal danger. That’s one of the reasons I hate reading thrillers written in first person from the perspective of a character in peril who must survive to recount the story. I wouldn’t presume to spoil the book by telling you how Katniss ends up at the end, but the book’s structure and viewpoint do set up some expectations that must be answered eventually. Vapid love story, structural issues, and familiar setup aside, The Hunger Games is a good read with enough conflict and action to keep me interested. I’ll be checking out the other two volumes in the series.

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