Notes:Image taken from the official website and belongs to Scholastic.
Pros:Acknowledges the horror behind the Games. Good female protagonist.
Cons:Moves kind of slowly at first. Repetitive mentions of the problems Katniss faces with her "ally."
As you can see, the world within the book is not a kind one. The story is really about survival. Living through food shortages at first, then a future Roman coliseum, and throughout, an oppressive government.
Getting to the actual Games takes up about half the book, so those impatient for it to get to the action will probably be unhappy. In the meantime, you'll read a lot about starvation, family problems, and preparation for the arena. You'll also read about Katniss's concern about her fellow tribute being kind and how she'll need to kill him eventually. This bit is repeated often enough to get a little bit tiresome. (Next time I read it, I should also count the number of times someone gets knocked out or an idea strikes Katniss.)
As far as female protagonists go, Katniss is a pretty good one. I'm not saying the story would necessarily have suffered if they had focused on a guy instead. But the main character is not a damsel-in-distress, nor is she perfect. She's not a violent, sexualized robot who exists just to titillate readers. She has flaws and sympathetic motivations. In short, she's human.
Because of the controversy surrounding the premise, I feel the need to point out the violence is not as bad as some claim. Is the story violent? Yes. Disturbing? Yeah, at times. But if it wasn't, the message wouldn't work as well. It doesn't glorify violence or take pleasure in the death. It realizes what the tributes are made to do is horrible. It knows the Capitol is screwed up to enjoy such things. As a friend said, it isn't too graphic. It's just graphic enough.
Overall, this is one of the better dystopian young adult books I've read.
Sex:A faked romance (which includes kissing) serves as a game strategy. Katniss is presented naked to the fashion and makeup artists so they can dress her up for the crowd. In past years, tributes (whom I remind you are teenagers) have appeared to the audience naked or get played up as sexy. Katniss's friend Gale is popular among the girls. Even so, nothing romantic happens between them, though she thinks about what if something did. Katniss mentions her mother and her sister are much less affected by nudity than she is.
Violence:As previously stated, the games are designed to kill all but one of the competitors. Several tributes take sadistic pleasure in ending their victims. The audience loves watching the death. And since you'll want to know, yes, both Katniss and Peeta end up killing.
Genetically-engineered wasps pack a sting that causes oozing lumps and sores. Dog-like creatures chase and maul tributes. One is reduced to a raw hunk of flesh after hours of this. Other things that threaten or kill those in the arena include poisonous berries, arrows, explosives, and fire. One gets his neck snapped. Another is suffocated. A girl gets her forehead sliced and is wounded in an explosion. Yet another has her skull bashed in with a rock.
A previous tribute unsettled even the Capitol with his habit of eating his victims' hearts, forcing them to stun him with electricity to get to the bodies. Tributes are warned not to leave the platform they're sent to the arena on too early, or else they'll explode.
Before the book begins, Mr. Everdeen dies in a mine explosion. Peeta's mother beats him, leaving wounds. A boy (who isn't a tribute) gets run through with a spear. The same thing later happens to a girl. Traitors to the Capitol are sometimes turned into Avoxes - slaves who've had their tongues removed. A boy's leg bleeds so badly he loses it. Katniss breaks a dead girl's fingers to take a weapon from her. Someone throws a knife that hits her backpack. A boy in Rue's district was killed for smuggling glasses. Katniss and Gale agree that a bullet to the head is preferable to starvation.
On the more minor side of things, Katniss shoots an arrow at inattentive gamemakers. Peeta knocks a glass from Haymitch's hands, who in turn punches Peeta in the jaw, leaving a bruise. Katniss sticks a knife dangerously close to Haymitch's fingers. Katniss remembers trying to drown her sister's cat in a bucket, dodges an electric fence (which is deadly when it's on) to hunt, pushes Peeta into a vase and breaks dishes, causing herself injury.
Language:A few uses of "h*ll". A couple of characters mutter profanities, but they aren't specified. A woman is called a witch.
Drugs/Alcohol:One of the main characters is an alcoholic. A modified wasp sting causes hallucinations. Katniss is sedated twice. She drinks wine at dinner, wondering how her mentor can stand to drink it all the time. She also puts cough syrup to use.
Gross Stuff/Gore:A man falls into his own vomit. Wounds swell, bleed, and ooze pus. Katniss gets sick in the arena and pukes. She also urinates dark brown because she's dehydrated. Characters pick up burns, bruises, and other injuries that get infected. One chews up her cheek.
Spiritual:The Games are called a time for repentance.
So what did you think? Did it satisfy you? Or did it leave you hungry for something better?
© 2014 by M.R.R.