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Book Review: “The Hunger Games” By New York Times Bestselling Author Suzanne Collins

“The Hunger Games,” by New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Collins, is set in the the postapocolyptic Utopian nation of Panem, once known as North America. A dictatorship, run from the extravagantly ridiculous Capitol, wields control over its 12 districts which become less and less appealing. District 12 is the bottom of the barrel but also the home of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who narrates and stars in this haunting tale. Katniss lives with her mother and younger sister and is struggling to survive.

After the accidental death of her father in the coal mines — coal being the chief (and only) export of her district — Katniss, at age 11, became wo-man of the house, hunting and scavenging for food in the fenced off forest surrounding her home. She’s uses knowledge her father shared before his demise, as well as help from a friend, 18-year-old hunting-partner-possible-love-interest Gale. Trespassing and poaching are against the law and punishable by death but Katniss has no other option, a story in itself. However, this tale quickly becomes darker, more disturbing and violent, taking survival to the next level and beyond.

The Hunger Games — the annual fight to the death on live TV. Yes, that’s not a typo. Live television. Talk about reality TV …

Once upon a time there were 13 Districts that uprised against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the 13th was obliterated. The Treaty of Treason was created to provide new laws to guarantee peace but also, as an annual reminder an uprisal must never be repeated, the Hunger Games.

The games begin with the Reaping, where a boy and girl from each District, ages 12 to 18 and referred to as tributes, are picked at random. Well random with a twist as the entries are cumulative and, to add further moral disregard to the dictatorship, children can add their names to the lottery more times in exchange for tesserae. Each tessera is worth a years supply of grain and oil for one person — so it’s either starve or roll the dice. Children can also volunteer for their District, which is fine and dandy for wealthier Districts that breed victorious athletes year after year but District 12 hasn’t seen victory in decades.

At the age of 12, Katniss was entered four times — once because she had to, and three times for tesserae for herself, her sister and her mother. So, her name will be entered 20 times this go-around. Gale, who supports a family and has been rolling the dice for 6 years, will have his name entered 42 times.

Author Suzanne Collins

At the Reaping, Katniss can’t help but focus on those terrible odds. The tension is high as the first name is selected — a girl from District 12. Ladies first, naturally. Katniss is stunned as she hears her 12-year-old sister’s name, Primrose, roll off the announcer’s tongue but quickly shows selflessness and devotion … she volunteers to take Primrose’s place.

Her situation is further complicated as Peeta Mellark is selected as the boy tribute from her district. Although they are not friends, Katniss can not help but remember Peeta’s act of kindness months after her father was killed when she and her family were freshly numb from the loss and struggling to avoid starvation.

Let the Hunger Games begin.

Spoilers will end here and now because what makes this book addictive is the suspense mixed in with a brand new world chocked full of violence, raw emotion, political gluttony and controversy. Philosophy runs throughout, as well as romance and adventure. Katniss, specifically her sacrifice and will to survive, is in sharp contrast to the detached overindulgent nature of the people of Panem, especially in the Capitol.

Would you risk your life for a loved one? Would you fight for survival even if it means killing others? Would you watch the Hunger Games? When faced with a gruesome death, would you still fight for what you believe in? How much are we a victim to uncontrollable circumstances? Big questions with no simple answers.

I didn’t want to put this book down and when forced, due to previous obligations (i.e. life), I pictured Katniss and the other characters frozen in place, impatiently waiting for me to return so the story can continue. Suzanne Collins’ prose is clear and easy-to-read but it was the story that hooked me, especially the twists and turns and cliffhanger ending. I am ready for the next book in the trilogy — “Catching Fire!”

I am also interested to see how the book is translated into a movie — “The Hunger Games” is set for release in the U.S. in March 2012. I don’t know much about Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) or Liam Hemsworth (Gale) but will take the risk since, like the Twilight saga, I enjoyed the story so much I will take what I can get from the Hollywood machine.

I am late to the Hunger Games party because I suffer from total disregard for popular books. The more I hear praise for a book, the less interested I become. Luckily I finally threw caution to the wind and gave “The Hunger Games” a go and was rewarded with an extremely exciting and compelling read. — Kate Vendetta