If I were a teenager or recommending this to a teen, I might give it 3*; as an adult, I give it 2*.
It's a potentially exciting but gruesome story, but most of the characters were rather flat, much of the plot was predictable (it's not hugely original; in particular, it is VERY similar to the Japanese "Battle Royale"), and there were too many flaws in the plot. I fail to understand its very high ratings.
Post-apocalyptic America (Panem) is divided into a wealthy and technologically advanced Capitol and twelve subsidiary districts of oppressed people who exist in dire poverty, with inadequate food, housing, and health care and hardly any technology. To reinforce the power of the Capitol by instilling fear in the population, once a year, two children from each region are selected by lots to fight to the death in a reality show. If that were not bad enough, the whole thing is utterly corrupt in multiple ways, plus the public bet on the outcome, and sponsors can sway the results. Did I mention these are children
? (Some are as young as 12, though the narrator is 16.) A compulsory full-body wax on a teen seems rather pervy and who would want to bet on, let alone sponsor a child-killing tournament, even if it's by helping one of the contestants? As the book keeps reminding readers, one person's survival is only possible by the death of all
CRUELTY TO CHILDREN
I realise that horrendous things are done to children around the world every day (extreme poverty, child soldiers, sexual assault, genital mutilation etc), but in none of those cases is the sole intention
but one child dies, and nor is it organised by the government
for a sick combination of sport, entertainment, punishment and profit.
Humans often lack compassion, but I was never convinced by Collins' world - especially the fact this outrage has continued for three generations
(it's the 74th games), apparently without the Capitol even needing to invoke gods or supernatural powers to justify their cruelty! Could a barbaric annual tournament really be such a powerful incentive not to rise up in all that time? (I don't think so.)
Nevertheless, it tackles some big themes that are particularly pertinent to teens: the nature of friendship; divided loyalties; the difference between love and friendship; who to trust; whether the ends justify the means; the need to repay favours; the danger of power, wealth and celebrity; the corrupting influence of reality TV; the need for independence, and whether you can trust a parent who abandons you.
It all feels rather laboured to me, but it might not if I were a teen, which only reinforces my puzzlement at the number of adults who have enjoyed it. I must be missing something.
Nearly half the book is backstory and preparation for the games; the remainder is a tale of hunter and hunted. I predicted the main plot twist less than a quarter of the way in (and the fact that Katniss is telling the story limits the possible outcomes), but the suspense was broken when it was made explicit way before the end. There are some other twists between then and the final page, but by then I was rather annoyed with the whole thing.
IMPLAUSIBILITY AND INCONSISTENCIESIf
I'd enjoyed the book more, I would have found it easier to suspend my disbelief, but as it was, I was constantly irked by questions and inconsistencies.
* The contestants (and their parents and grandparents) have been forced to watch the games every year of their lives. I suppose they had become inured to it, but on the other hand, that meant they knew
the horror of it. I just didn't believe there was as little fear in them as there appeared to be - given that they are children.
* Participants don't want other participants to know where they are, yet sponsor gifts occasionally drop out of the sky, via silver parachute; not a risk, apparently.
* It's all filmed by numerous invisible floating cameras (I can buy that), but that somehow includes filming inside a cave that is virtually sealed (I can't).
* How (and why) would any of these participants be able to measure time to within half hour intervals?
* How big is Panem? It can only be a tiny part of the USA because each district specialises in only one thing (coal mining, agriculture etc) and has just one town square that can accommodate everyone (8,000 people in District 12) and yet it's a day's train journey from District 12 to the Capitol. It doesn't seem like a very plausible settlement pattern in a post-disaster world, even given the totalitarian regime (concentrating people in a few centres makes it easier to observe and perhaps control them, but it also creates more opportunities for opposition movements to develop).
COMPARED WITH LORD OF THE FLIES
There are some similarities with "Lord of the Flies" (my review here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/47291441), but although "The Hunger Games" is likely to have more appeal to modern teens, I think there are (at least) two crucial differences:
* In LotF one person's survival is not necessarily at the cost of everyone else's. (It is even possible that they could all survive.)
* LotF has much more depth and symbolism: it tackles original sin; the mystical "Beast"; leadership, tribal allegiance and group dynamics (including bullying and attitudes to difference and minor disability) and the importance of ritual and belief.
The second point is what makes LotF a better book, in my opinion.
Of course, there are other, more obvious, parallels with extreme "reality" shows such as "Survivor" and "I'm a Celebrity, get me out of here", but the fundamental differences are not just that contestants in those shows do not fear for their lives, but that they are adults who have chosen
I TRIED TO ENJOY IT!
Any fans who read this will now hate me. I wanted to enjoy this book, and I read it all the way through, making notes as usual, but to no avail. Sorry.