In the first chapter of The Hunger Games, we are introduced to Katniss Everdeen, a rather feisty and disillusioned sixteen-year-old girl who has lived her entire life in poverty. And, surprisingly, we learn exactly what the Hunger Games are in the very first chapter as shit gets so goddamn real by page twenty. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hunger Games.
Let’s start this off with some predictions, shall we?
Mark’s Totally Accurate ~Predictions~ For The Hunger Games
1) The Hunger Games are some sort of game and people die, but no one will die until book two.
2) The main character will get chosen for The Hunger Games.
3) There will be people.
4) Look, I don’t know.
Honest admission: I am coming into this series completely blind. I didn’t even read the back of the books when I bought all three. I have avoided absolutely everything about these books because once I heard they existed, it was when people were suggesting them to me. So I purposely avoided learning anything about them because I knew I’d eventually be reviewing them. So….yeah. Predictions are virtually impossible at this point because I don’t have a single frame of reference for any of this.
Let me make another point while I can: since I’m coming into this blind, that means virtually anything you tell me that I have not read yet is a spoiler. Yep. EVERYTHING IS A SPOILER. Please do not talk about ANYTHING that has happened or will happen beyond where I am in these reviews. I WILL NOT HESITATE TO BAN YOU. We will have a spoiler forum up soon, so just be patient.
Anyway, shall we move on to some actual reviewing? Oh god IT’S ALL STARTING AGAIN.
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
And thus begins The Hunger Games and thus begins me starting this review off with a complaint. I swear, I am not going to turn into a hateful bastard and ruin this series, but I have to say this: I really, really hate first person present tense.
That being said, I’m willing to not let this get in my way of reading this book because at this point, I have no idea if this is going to actually play a part in the story. BUT STILL. I HAD TO SAY IT.
Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotten squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least he distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with frees. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed.
THIS SHIT IS DARK, MAN. Ok, I’m joking. I have to take the piss out of this because I still don’t know what I think about all this. I’m beginning to feel ok with the rhythmic diction in Collins’s writing, in terms of how her prose is poetic. Maybe this first person present tense stuff isn’t going to be so bad.
But we’re still on the first page and can already see the direction this main character is headed. Gritty, independent heroine. Do I like this archetype? Why yes I do, readers. Am I going to like this book? Probably.
Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.
By page two, I can see that Collins’s style for this narration is going to be direct and forceful. I’m ok with it. But I did laugh at this sentence and it’s probably because I have no soul or something.
We’re slowly introduced to the alternate universe (futuristic universe? Whatever you want to call it) through Katniss’s narration. The Everdeens live a life of abject, unchanging poverty. They live in District 12 (the Seam), inhabited mostly by coal miners. Outside of their district is a place called the Meadow. (Capitalization not mine.) The Seam, protected from the dangers of the Meadow and the surrounding forest by an electrified fence, is some sort of colonization. I imagine there are eleven other districts out there, but there’s no information on what or where they are just yet.
Electrified or not, the fence has been successful at keeping the flesh-eaters out of District 12. Inside the woods they roam freely, and there are added concerns like venomous snakes, rabid animals, and no real paths to follow.
Flesh-eaters??? Oh man, if these are like…zombies or irradiated mutants or something worse, I will DEEPLY LOVE THIS BOOK FOR A LONG TIME.
But there’s also food if you know how to find it. My father knew and he taught me some before he was blown to bits in a mine explosion. There was nothing even to bury. I was eleven then. Five years later, I still wake up screaming for him to run.
I don’t recall anyone saying what age demographic this book is aimed at, but I’m probably going to rule out that it’s for children because exploding fathers.
We learn more about the inhabitants of the District, though Collins is slow to reveal much about this place:
Most of the Peacekeepers turn a blind eye to the few of us who hunt because they’re as hungry for fresh meat as anybody is. In fact, they’re among our best customers. But the idea that someone might be arming the Seam would never have been allowed.
So…the Peacekeepers. They’re obviously not the working class, so…law enforcement? I don’t know. But I am seeing the pieces fall together for some interesting social parallels. I’m intrigued.
When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts. Do my work quietly in school. Make only polite small talk in the public market. Discuss little more than trades in the Hob, which is the black market where I make most of my money. Even at home, where I am less pleasant, I avoid discussing tricky topics. Like the reaping, or food shortages, or the Hunger Games. Prim might begin to repeat my words then where would we be?
Ok, thanks for the MASSIVE INFO DUMP IN ONE PARAGRAPH. So this is some fictional country, Panem, run by some sort of people in the Capitol. There’s rudimentary aspects of our society present (school, money, markets, etc). And then right on page six, we already have a reference to the title. And this thing called “the reaping.” I’m reminded of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, which is still one of the best short stories ever written ever, only because this is some strange world with an event forthcoming that sends people into a nervous panic. WHAT IS THIS. I NEED TO KNOW.
Let’s talk about Gale instead, ok? Katniss’s best friend is a young man named Gale and I really hate to think that someone probably wrote fanfiction between the two of them and this is what I’m thinking about right now instead of the book. Anyway, GALE. Gale is a longtime friend of Katniss and gives her comfort, something she doesn’t seem to have in her life; they’re hunting partners. He’s got more of a sense of humor than Katniss and has a fierce loyalty to those he cares about, mainly Katniss and his own large family. It seems like family units are all these people have, though, as made clear by this particularly gutting section:
My father got to know my mother because on his hunts he would sometimes collect medicinal herbs and sell them to her shop to be brewed into remedies. She must have really loved him to leave her home for the Seam. I try to remember that when all I can see is the woman who sat by, blank and unreachable, while her children turned to skin and bones. I try to forgive her for my father’s sake. But to be honest, I’m not the forgiving type.
Jesus. What the fuck is all this about?
But if Katniss feels ill towards her mother for some unspoken sleight against her, her love for her sister, Prim, is unwavering:
The conversation feels all wrong. Leave? How could I leave Prim, who is the only person in the world I’m certain I love?
I’m already seeing some interesting emotional conflicts between Katniss and Gale to come in the future. If anything, Collins is a bit obvious about planting these seeds here: Gale is attractive and confident; he could get any girl he wanted. Yet Katniss isn’t attracted to him; he’s simply a good hunting partner to her.
After the reaping, everyone is supposed to celebrate. And a lot of people do, out of relief that their children have been spared for another year. But at least two families will pull their shutters, lock their doors, and try to figure out how they will survive the painful weeks to come.
WHAT IS THIS. So the reaping is different than the Hunger Games? And what happens if your children are “chosen”?
After a successful hunt, Gale and Katniss head into town to the mayor’s house and some more clues towards future conflicts arise: the clash between the rich and the poor. The mayor’s daughter, Madge, greets them in a stunning dress and when asked why she’s wearing it, she replies that she has to look good in case she is ends up “going to the Capitol.” Gale immediately calls her out, stating that she’s not going to the Capitol at all. And then, finally, we start to learn what the reaping actually is. And it is so fucked up.
The reaping system is unfair, with the poor getting the worst of it. You become eligible for the reaping the day you turn twelve. That year, your name is entered once. At thirteen, twice. And so on and so on until you reach the age of eighteen, the final year of eligibility, when your name goes into the pool seven times. That’s true for every citizen in all twelve districts in the entire country of Panem.
Ok, but why?
But here’s the catch. Say you are poor and starving as we were. You can opt to add your name more times in exchange for tesserae. Each tessera is worth a meager year’s supply of grain and oil for one person. You may do this for each of your family members as well. So at the ago of twelve, I had my name entered four times. Once, because I had to, and three times for tesserae for grain and oil for myself, Prim, and my mother. In fact, every year I have needed to do this. And the entries are cumulative. So now, at the age of sixteen, my name will be in the reaping twenty times. Gale, who is eighteen and has been either helping or single-handedly feeding a family of five for seven years, will have his name in forty-two times.
WHAT THE FUCK. Really??? Now I know why Gale was irritated, but what on earth is the purpose of this? Why punish those in society who are already the most vulnerable?
On other days, deep in the woods, I’ve listened to him rant about how the tesserae are just another tool to cause misery in our district. A way to plant hatred between the starving workers of the Seam and those who can generally count on supper and thereby ensure we will never trust one another.
Well, ok, I can accept that. But at this point, I’m wondering what the Capitol used as their explanation for this absurdity when this sort of process was instituted. Is it to kept the lower and middle classes perpetually at war? And what benefit does that provide those at the top? A social misdirection?
(PS: Are these people monitored in the district? I keep seeing references to them not being able to speak in town. Is it because of some sort of surveillance? Just thinking out loud here.)
The terror and paranoia about the reaping is felt in the Everdeen household. There’s another reference to Katniss’s anger at her mother but, again, it is unexplained. It turns out that it is Prim’s first reaping, but being twelve and having an older sister who’s taken the tesserae herself, she has little to be worried about. Still, I can’t help but wonder why all of this is happening.
The ceremony is later that day and I appreciated the dim and tense scene that Collins paints. The teenagers line up and are herded into areas based on age, as the childless citizens take bets on who will be chosen, what age they’ll be, and other odds to make money. I was actually surprised by this line:
Latecomers are directed to the adjacent streets, where they can watch the event on screens as it’s televised live by the state.
I don’t know why I assumed this pseudo-post-apocalyptic world didn’t have technology like this. Maybe whatever happened to this world…televisions survived? I don’t know LOOK I AM BARELY STARTING THIS BOOK.
The ceremony begins as the Mayor, Mayor Undersee, and the Capitol representative, Effie Trinket, take the stage. We’re told that the mayor tells the same story every year and I was surprised to find out the complete story behind the reaping and the Hunger Games in the very first chapter.
He tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth defeated. The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.
I’m already wondering how much of this story is fabricated or how many details are looked over in order for the Capitol to construct this national myth. But there are more important things to think about.
The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide on girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.
WHAT THE HOLY FUCK. WHAT THE FUCK. Are you serious??? This is some Battle Royale shit right here, guys. Really????
Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch—this is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. “Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen.”
Ok, so perhaps the parallels and metaphors are a bit heavy handed, but their impact is the same. I mean…it’s like all of you who suggested this to me knew I get weak in the knees for stories about systematic oppression, rebellion, and the demonization of poverty. LIKE I AM ALREADY ONE CHAPTER IN AND PRETTY EXCITED ABOUT WHERE THIS IS HEADED.
The odds are pretty grim, though; we learn that one two people from District 12 in the last seventy-four years have ever survived. And it’s pretty obvious Katniss will probably be chosen and probably will win, so make that three. I suppose the journey at this point would be HOW she gets to that point. And if she kills anyone.
It’s time for the drawing. Effie Trinket says as she always does, “Ladies first!” and crosses to the glass ball with the girls’ names. She reaches in, digs her hand deep into the ball, and pulls out a slip of paper. The crowd draws in a collective breath and then you can hear a pin drop, and I’m feeling nauseous and so desperately hoping that it’s not me, that it’s not me, that it’s not me.
Effie Trinket crosses back to the podium, smoothes the slip of paper, and reads out the name in a clear voice. And it’s not me.
It’s Primrose Everdeen.
WHAT THE FUCK. YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME.
Oh my god, DID SHIT JUST GET REAL IN THE VERY FIRST CHAPTER? It’s Prim??? Oh my god, COMPLETELY UNEXPECTED.
So where the hell does the story go from here?? OH GOD, MUST READ MORE IMMEDIATELY.