Can this wildly popular young adult dystopian future novel hold up against the critical eye of an older reader with more experience and better taste than the average Twilight fan?
That’s what I wondered when I heard all the hype — much of it coming from teenagers but also some from adults whose opinions I respect — and the short answer is: Yes.
You are likely familiar with the premise by now: in America’s future, 24 teenagers are pitted against each other in an annual survival competition where they are forced to kill each other until one is left standing. Yes, it’s similar in concept to Battle Royale, among other stories, and no, you shouldn’t hold that against it, because to be honest I enjoyed this story more; it’s not quite the sadistic bloodbath that BR is and has a much more interesting ending.
Once the story gets going there is quite a lot of action, almost as if it were written to be made into a film, if not for being narrated in the first person. Most of the book moves along at a good pace and by the time I’d finished the first third of the book I found myself not necessarily blown away, but also not wanting to put it down. There are some pretty good surprises throughout the story as well. Not surprisingly, teenage romance is a central part of the story, but don’t let that put you off because it’s not at all what you think. In fact, I think the romantic aspect of the book is one of its biggest strengths because it’s not what you expect and it’s handled very well.
Of course, the narrator is a sixteen-year-old girl, and for better or worse, it’s convincing. The first-person-present tense is a bit jarring at times, though I got used to it fairly quickly. The prose is one of the novel’s weakest points; it’s just not very well written. Again, this works only because of who the narrator is supposed to be, but while teens might not notice, I’m used to authors with considerably more skill. The old “show, don’t tell” rule is broken far too often, where scenes that would have been incredibly interesting to read are just said to have happened, and that’s the end of that. And yet, when the story is told, the storytelling is good enough that it’s all mostly forgivable. Many skilled authors have written far worse books than this one, all of them directed at an audience of discriminating adults.
So if you’re on the fence about reading this book because you don’t want to be let down, or you aren’t fond of young adult novels, or you’re afraid of getting sucked into the latest teen craze, go ahead and give it a shot, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Rating: 4 out of 5
And to those who have already read this book and loved it, let me very highly suggest one of my favorite novels: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. Though written for adults, this novel about young children being exploited in order to save Earth from an alien invasion has been recommended reading for young adults since it was published back in the 1980’s. It’s similar enough to The Hunger Games that I can guarantee fans of one will enjoy the other, but they’re still two extremely different novels. And after decades of talk about making a film, they’re finally filming one now, which I believe will be fantastic timing thanks to The Hunger Games’ popularity, particularly the fact that it is paving the way for filmmakers to get away with kids killing kids in movies of this sort.
So Hunger Games fans, read Ender’s Game now, and be the one who gets to tell all your friends about next year’s favorite movie this year.