What’s it about? In the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in a post-revolution used-to-be-America comprised of twelve dystopian districts now known as Panem. Every year the ruling class of the Capital picks one young boy and girl from each district to fight to the death in a televised event called the Hunger Games. Worst of all, the Games serve no solid purpose, hosted merely to show the districts that the Capital still controls the fates of all district inhabitants, including their children.
When Katniss’ younger sister Prim is, against slim odds, chosen to participate in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, the motherly Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place, and finds herself whisked off to the Capital to try to kill 23 of her peers (including one boy who once saved her life) in front of a live audience. The story follows her trek to and through the Games and includes a love triangle that, though only a minor subplot in the first book, ultimately makes the Edward-or-Jacob dilemma of the Twilight series look like a child’s parody. Readers get to live the Games right alongside their heroine, in all of her moral, physical, and societal quandaries. The writing is fast-paced and full of surprises, right up until the twisty ending.
Is the narrator any good? The Hunger Games is part of a trilogy, all narrated by Carolyn McCormick, a seasoned audiobook narrator with an MFA and a primetime acting career under her belt. I wasn’t a huge fan of her voice at the start, but to be honest, I usually prefer male narrators, particularly if they have a svelte British lilt, however biased that is. But McCormick eventually began to grow on me, and ultimately faded into the background as she became the character and the story took flight, sweeping me up in its wingspan. And to me, that’s a sign of good narration.
The verdict? Although the premise of child-on-child violence is quite disturbing, the book itself is not. Collins manages to deal with the violence graciously, with only enough gore to illustrate the horrific nature of the Games and of their puppetmasters. Katniss is complex and fascinating, somehow both a role model for strength and honor that modern girls (and boys, and men, and women…) can look up to, as well as a case study for the moral imperfection that lives inside of all of us. McCormick manages to express the youthful vulnerability that encases the steel-rimmed core of a brave teenage girl who, gladiator style, is sentenced to a kill-or-be-killed arena laden with traps set solely for their entertainment value.
Don’t let the premise deter you. This is an audiobook that’s not to be missed.