Often enough I find a novel that allows me access into the world created within its pages. Voluntarily, I wonder through its contents and find myself amazed. However, seldom do I find a book that suddenly drags me to the depths of its reality while I was casually dipping my toes at the edge, and testing the waters. Such is my accusation of “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.
With an upcoming cinematic release of this story I thought, “why not see what all the excitement is about.” At this point I had read about how amazing the novel was in at least four magazines. Needless to say, I had exceptionally high hopes (which is usually followed by exceptionally great let-down). “The Hunger Games” did not disappoint.
This novel introduces a new land, Panem, born from the ashes of North America. So, it is safe to assume this is post 2012 doomsday. The main character, Katniss, is a 16 year old citizen of District 12 (one of the 13 districts ruled by the Capitol), who regularly breaks the law by foraging and hunting in the woodland, past the fence, in order to provide for her widowed mother and younger sister.
In this extremely cruel (yet extremely effective) dictatorship, the districts are at the mercy of the Capitol which forces two children between the ages of 12 and 18 from every district to be offered as ‘tributes’ to the hunger games. The tributes are forced to battle each other to the death, and because only one can win, tributes from the same district may be forced to condemn each other to death by their own hands (or weapons if you prefer).
Imagine returning home and having to look those parents in the eyes. It is in this way the story draws on my empathy for not only the district 12 tributes (who are forced to submit their names a number of times in order to get a ration of food) but for Katniss, who joins the games as a replacement for her younger sister Prim.
“The Hunger Games” makes special use of the first person restricted point of view. I am trapped inside Katniss’ thoughts which come as fragments, short musings, or rushed sentences. Slowly, it changes from me simply reading the book to me experiencing Katniss’ reality. This is where it turns from good to amazing for me. I am identifying completely with ‘the girl from District 12.’
I continue to follow the story line of the girl from District 12 who goes through a series of makeovers in order to seem more interesting and pleasing to the audience who tunes into the games as though it were some hybrid between “All My Children” and “Wipeout.”
Her stylist transforms her into ‘the girl on fire,’ and Peeta (the male tribute from District 12) causes the game to become a twisted romance for its many viewers by admitting a long unrequited love for Katniss. At this point I am disgusted, to say the least, because I have since the first chapter decided that Katniss MUST be with Gale (her best friend) when she finally reaches romantic awakening.
Falling into the game arena (which is cleverly controlled by the Capitol), Katniss becomes ‘the girl on fire’ as she performs specifically for the audience who is given the power to sponsor their favorite tributes and give them necessary goods. Being well acquainted with the hard life of hunting in the woodland, Katniss is able to fair relatively well in the arena environment. Usually, when reading, I consider many things the main character is not considering at the time. However, in this storyline I am continually forced to push to the back of my mind everything Katniss pushes to the back of hers, and I fully immerse myself in realizing things when she does. This lack of foresight is a new feeling for me, and I find it exciting.
So engrossed in the unrequited romance is the audience that the Capitol changes the rules of the game as to keep the viewers attention. Two tributes can win. My mind falls on Peeta just as Katniss’ does. Now she feigns romantic feelings so as to please the audience, and, as is expected from someone who has never entertained romantic thoughts, Katniss becomes confused as to how she really feels about Peeta and Gale. I am also confused as to whether I want her to be with Peeta and how I would feel about breaking Gale’s heart.
Finally, winning the game, there seems to still be this remaining deep feeling between Katniss and Peeta, as everything else is banished from Katniss’ mind. Following the book’s effect on my foresight, I am no longer thinking of Gale either and am totally rooting for Peeta. But there soon follows a decay of that intimate feeling. Katniss leaves the capital and heads back to district twelve. The farther she travels from the Capitol, the more ‘the girl on fire’ becomes a memory and ‘the girl from district twelve’ reemerges. I then realized that I had been tricked. Here, I’d elected to dive into the reality of Panem and somehow got caught into that of the hunger games.
With this realization dawning and one page left of the book, I feel completely empty inside. Empty because I am not able to open the second book and devour it on the spot. I am suspended between my world and Panem and crave resolution. Too engaged to function, I anticipate this feeling of suspension to persist until my eyes burn though the pages of “Catching Fire.”