When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.
There are major book sensations every few years, books you can’t simple can’t miss – the same cover in the hands of every commuter, plastered across every bookshop window and along every train station. Most of these book fads come and go and appear to be totally overblown whereas others, including this amazing trilogy, are justifiably under the spotlight.
The first time I read The Hunger Games I practically inhaled it – finishing it in just a day and as soon as the final page was read, immediately reaching for the next instalment. The recent cinema release of Catching Fire, book two of the series, prompted me to delve back into the world that had me completely hooked first time round but to try, this time, to savour the story.
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of years the story is set in a dystopian future where twenty-four young tributes are ‘reaped’ (involuntarily selected) from the twelve surrounding districts of the Captiol to take part in a dark reality television show where only one tribute can win – it’s be or be killed. It follows the life of Katniss Everdeen, an illegal hunter who will do absolutely anything to keep her family fed and safe, even if it means going into the arena and fighting for her freedom.
It is a story of contrasts – the vivid richness of the Capitol is pitted against the raw struggle of life in District 12, Katniss’s home, and the game’s arena. Tributes have to discover how far they will go to save themselves and whether they are willing to sacrifice their humanity for the game. The narrative is fast-paced, brutal, considered and compelling – even in my second reading I found it nothing short of addictive.
Now it may not be the next high-brow literary classic but one the thing that makes The Hunger Games absolutely unmissable is the characters. Collins creates one of the best female protagonists in Katniss Everdeen. She’s independent, strong and capable, able to look after her family and herself in a world where the odds are definitely not in her favour. Far from being cold or bitterly hard done by, you really get to know and understand Katniss and discover what lies under the façade of her strength. We are introduced to survivors of old games (Haymitch Abernathy is my fave), promoters of the new (the effervescent Effie Trinket and lovely Cinna) and the fellow 74th Hunger Games tributes.
Now this being a YA novel, it wouldn’t be complete without a little love triangle put into the mix and, though she’s hardly swooning at every turn, Katniss is torn between her best friend and hunting companion Gale (think strong and silent type) and Peeta, the reserved and underestimated second District 12 tribute. Both boys have their flaws and endearments and it is captivating to watch the interplay between the three characters and how each relationship develops with every twist in the tale.
If you know/don’t know the story and want a quick fix the film adaptation is really good (who doesn’t love a bit of J Law?!) but in rereading The Hunger Games I’ve discovered so many beautifully clever details that I had forgotten and as a result been drawn even deeper into the world of Panem. As the opening book to the trilogy, a lot rides on The Hunger Games to deliver a sustainable premise and Collins absolutely nails it! It effortlessly develops the characters and the story enough to make you immediately reach for book two whilst being a complete story in itself. Onwards into Catching Fire!