Book of the Week: The Hunger Games
If Cynthia Voigt had written science fiction, it probably would have looked something like The Hunger Games. In Suzanne Collins's newest novel, we meet a protagonist who seems remarkably familiar. Like Voigt's heroines, we understand her story because she seems so much like ourselves - no matter how strenuous or bizarre the circumstances, we feel certain our story would be the same. We, too, would have those resources, that practicality, that certain sensitivity that separates us from the masses. I don't say this critically - it is the book's strongest feature that it identifies with every one of its readers and says 'this could be your story.'
It is not just its portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, the novel's heroine, that is familiar. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic North American nation, Panem. It is a country held together by fear - a fear instilled by the capitol into each of its twelve districts and maintained by a yearly event called the Hunger Games. Each year, one boy and one girl are randomly selected from each of the districts to be thrown into a large 'arena' for a fight-to-the-death. If the Roman Colosseum met the show Survivor, this is what you'd get. And this is precisely what seems so eerily familiar about this book. Despite the fact that it's clearly a futuristic novel, the story has all the rusty barbarism of something very old. Except for the cameras and plastic surgery and hovercrafts, this could almost be historical fiction. It is not only a strange mixture of what was and what could be, it is remarkably relevant for today's paparazzi-culture. The contestants in the Hunger Games are the only examples of celebrities in this imaginative culture - and they are made famous for killing or being killed. Think of a reality TV show gone horribly awry.
But in case you think you'll be plodding through another Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 or some other work of social-criticism-thinly-veiled-as-science-fiction, think again. It's an adventure story - a story about loyalty and fashion and eating roots and shooting arrows and trying to decide between two very eligible young men. There are explosions and kisses, genetically-altered bees and numerous near-death experiences. You will not want to put this one down. Which is actually a problem, because this book is the first in a series. You might be tempted to write Suzanne Collins a thank-you letter, but please think again. Let's not interrupt her while she's working on book two. The sooner it's out, the better.