The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games turns on a concept that’s so intriguing, it’s easy to forget how disturbing it is — which is quite an accomplishment, all things considered. In a futuristic dystopia, the government has created a means of suppression that’s half “Survivor”, half gladiator games, in which 24 contestants, chosen by lottery from the society’s 12 Districts, fight to the death over several weeks in a large, contrived “arena”, all while being televised nationwide. Consider that these contestants are teenagers, and you’ll see why the book really should be extra disturbing. Yet, by incorporating characters to care about, truly agonizing dilemmas, and some interesting personal twists (including just the right amount of relationship drama), the author manages to craft a page-turning adventure so gripping that you forget — most of the time — just how inherently disturbing the story’s central plot point actually is. Don’t get me wrong: Collins is not writing great literature here. (The book really could have used a bit more editing.) But she’s put together a YA thriller that you won’t want to put down…and you’re likely to want to pick up the sequel right away, too.
The evilness of murder is not on dispute in the book, of course — the society portrayed goes through with the Hunger Games under coercion and fear of retribution by an evil government. The privileged and thoughtless citizens of the Capitol enjoy watching the games as a diverting entertainment, but the rest of the society (understandably) feels resentment. A few contestants actually want to participate, but most are unwilling, as are most audience members. (Unlike certain other societies who have enjoyed witnessing violence and emotional trauma for their own sake…) And Collins manages to work things out so that Katniss, her main character, commits only killings that could be argued to be defensible under the circumstances (though still somewhat suspect). I did feel a little strange, though, becoming involved in a story with such a disturbing premise….especially when the story was so gripping I hardly thought about how disturbing the premise was until I was nearly finished with it.
The ending of the book functions as a hook into Book Two (called Catching Fire); it looks like the society is headed for a revolutionary showdown with the oppressive government in the rest of the trilogy. Which, yes, I will definitely be reading!
Content warning: This YA thriller contains less blood and gore than the premise might suggest, but still has a number of violent and disturbing scenes — made all the more so by the fact that these are kids killing each other. Unlike many modern YA books, though, it is very innocent when it comes to sexuality.