Next on the list, we meet Katniss Everdeen, currently a heroine on everyone’s lips. She first appears in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, followed by Catching Fire, with the next book, Mockingjay, to be released to huge hype this August. In Katniss, we find a narrator who is resourceful enough to keep her family alive, but also bearing scars from that ability. Yes, time and time again she squeaks by for another day, but at the cost of trusting no one but herself. Every kind offer is subject to intense scrutiny, and the motives even of her family and friends are constantly in doubt.
But who can blame her? She lives in a post-apocalyptic world where each of the twelve formerly-rebellious Districts is kept in line by the prosperous Capitol, in the form of an annual “reaping,” wherein each District is required to send two children between the ages of 12 and 18 to the titular Hunger Games, where the entire country is forced to watch while they kill each other on live TV. As might be expected, Katniss ends up being selected for the Games (actually she volunteers to save her little sister), and must battle 24 other children to the death.
I have to say that for a YA novel this one is pretty darn DARK. While the writing is accessible and the violence not overly graphic, just the situation itself is so grim that it almost accomplishes the same thing. Watching Katniss struggle to come out of her persona for the Games was really tough – she has changed to survive, and it is heart-rending to realize she will never be allowed to change back.
However, lest you dismiss this book on principle, by virtue of the subject matter, The Hunger Games zips along, and Katniss is great fun to ride along with. She is both incredibly intelligent and relatable, and you cheer her every narrow victory from start to finish. Furthermore, she presents an interesting paradox: is she truly a rebellious figure, able to both survive and protect her loved ones in this twisted society? Or is she just a puppet of the State, only able to last because she conforms? Is survival enough? The book also comments on reality TV – though our world is (thankfully) eons from Katniss’s, ratings and number of viewers still rules all. As Katniss learns to both identify and manipulate her intense visibility, she plays off tropes that ring true today – whether in Survivor or America’s Next Top Model.
Recommended for upper-grade readers.