Book review: The Hunger Games

My favourite book I’ve ever read is by far The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I first read it as a kid back in 2009, but I still love it. The book reframes some big societal issues in a way that makes the reader take a good look at themselves from an outside view. The fact that the setting is fictional and the social commentary is left implicit makes it all the more disarming and convincing.

The book follows Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl from Panem, a country consisting of 12 poor districts that are ruled by the rich Capitol. Katniss lives in the very poorest district 12, in which most people are employed to mine coal for the rest of Panem. The protagonist herself provides for her family by illegal poaching and selling the spoils on the black market.

The plot of the first book revolves around the eponymous Hunger Games, a yearly televised bloodsport involving one teenage boy and one teenage girl from every district, chosen by an ingenious classicist lottery. Katniss and OneDimensionalBoyCharacter1 (ODBC1) are participating in this year’s game.

Katniss and ODBC1 are taken to the Capitol to prepare for the game. The citizens of the Capitol are decadently rich. After finishing dinner they will vomit so that they can get another extravagantly delicious serving, all while they are aware that the people in the poorest districts are literally starving to death.

The Hunger Games themselves take up most of the book. Everyone faces physical hardship, kids get killed. Katniss is doing pretty good, killing a couple of kids herself. Eventually she and ODBC1 team up, and eventually they start acting romantically affectionate towards each other. ODBC1 is sincere, while Katniss is just acting to get the viewers to like her, playing up a “star-crossed lovers” angle that was set up earlier.

Katniss and ODBC1 end up as the last living players and decide to eat deadly poisonous berries together because they don’t want to kill the other to win. The game makers quickly stop the game because they fear that it would ruin the public perception of the Hunger Games as a fun and non-cruel game. Katniss and ODBC1 get to share the win and go home traumatized. The establishment is not pleased about their ploy though, and the visible opposition to the rule of the Capitol is the first spark towards a revolution later in the book series.

What always hit me about the story is how it portrays the Hunger Games as a popular event among the citizens of the Capitol, and how shamelessly the Capitol enriches itself over the backs of the districts. The book implicitly asks “What should a morally conscious Capitol citizen do if they disagreed with the state of the world?” The story is so far removed from the real world that it allows you to ponder this question without immediately grasping the similarity with the countless real-world analogues.

I’ve found the Capitol/district relation very insightful and it got me to critically consider the state of the world. I estimate a decent probability that this book counterfactually made me an EA.

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