The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)
What can I say? Despite my initial scepticism, the book lives up to all of its hype. It is a story of control, survival, and manipulation. It is an incredibly successful and haunting dystopia which shows the game of control and survival, inhumanity and manipulation. The huge emotional impact for me, however, is the message that the games transmit to the society of Panem. The games show that the Capital has the power to not only reap the children and throw them into sickening and unnecessary deaths for their amusement, but turn those children into animals, beasts, murderers who kill lest they be killed. The haunting message: the people in power can take away not only the children, but also their humanity, their identities, their souls.
And isn't that the case in all places and times when rulers have too much control over the minds of their citizens? Isn't that why we fear for the Nazi Youth movements, the young people born into cults, the messages our children learn from the educational system? It was a really hard book to read, since as per the mechanics of the story, most of the characters end up dead. Despite the fact I knew this going in, I still became attached to the characters, which to me shows Collins' power as a storyteller. Katniss was a wonderful character and narrator: cold, calculating, cynical, and competent yet softhearted and oddly idealistic. The plot, for me, was not a story of Katniss's physical survival, but her sometimes unsuccessful attempts to keep her mind and body her own. She is merely a pawn who must use all of her wits and manipulation to maintain her identity.
It is also a story about perception, of media, of entertainment. Katniss knows that she must manipulate the way she is perceived on this sick reality show, and also experiences the disconnect between what occurs, what is shown to the audience, and what the audience feel. It should make us question our own use of media, our own enjoyment of others' suffering, our own disconnect from any horrors separated from us by a screen. Even in this colorful and gruesome story, Collins ironically makes us complicit in the dehumanization she warns us against. This, at least, was the haunting message I took away from the story: how often am I satisfied with the sanitized version, focused on my own reactions, entertained by the misery of others? The ending, especially, where Katniss is primped and repaired so that none of the physical damage remains, struck me as very well-done, bitter, and cynical. The ending of the Games makes it seem as though it's all back to normal and everything's fine and wonderful. But it's not. Children are dead. Katniss has become a murderer. Nothing can ever be the same, and the superficial repair makes this all the more haunting.] A really, really powerful story.
Note: having now read the rest of the series, I think my review imputes themes and meanings that Collins did not actually intend. All the same, I'm leaving my review alone, although I will add that if you want to believe that the story is about how media disconnect leads to inhumanity, don't read the later books. I'm doing my darndest to forget them.