Book review: The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins

The Hunger GamesOh boy. Talk about un-put-down-able.

There’s a reason every YA blog on the internet raves about The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire: they’re cracking reads with an unstoppable narrative thrust. I gobbled both up inside a week.

It’s heart-pounding stuff. Allow me to steal a synopsis from Stephen King:

The yearly highlight in this nightmare world is the Hunger Games, a bloodthirsty reality TV show in which 24 teenagers chosen by lottery fight each other in a desolate environment called the ”arena.” The winner gets a life of ease; the losers get death. Our heroine is Katniss Everdeen (lame name, cool kid), [who] lives in a desperately poor mining community called the Seam, and when her little sister’s name is chosen as one of the contestants in the upcoming Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

Catching FireWhile teenagers battling each other to death has been done to death, Hunger Games proves that a not-so-original premise can nevertheless turn out an original book. I had no idea how the first book would turn out, while the second book has an unexpected twist (spoiler: Katniss and Peeta are forced back in the arena – eek!) that made my insides twist.

Quibbles: Katniss sometimes comes dangerously close to becoming one of those annoyingly perfect heroines who doesn’t realise how perfect she is – she’s great at everything she does, admired by all, has suitors literally willing to die for her, et cetera. The books are saved, I think, by her first-person narration. We’re right inside her head, experiencing the Games with her, and she’s such a trustworthy, capable companion that you can’t help liking her.

And while author Suzanne Collinns’ sparse pose is often employed to brutal effect, she has a tendency to write great action scenes then rush through the links between them. The very worst example of this comes right at the end of Catching Fire (spoiler: when the crux of the rebels’ plan to sabotage the Quell is revealed in a single paragraph of passive speech), and it’s so on-the-nose it might’ve spoiled the whole book if it weren’t for that epic cliffhanger.

If you haven’t read Hunger Games, do so – but wait till August, when the third and final instalment in the trilogy is released. Then you won’t have to wait months and months waiting to find out what happens. Like I will. Aargh.