Izzie’s Rating: 3.5-4/5
Spoiler-free review up to the jump.
I ended up with Hunger Games in my hands after it was being passed around dinner among my hometown friends. A good chunk of them had read it and they all kept gloating about how it was really, really good. After they described it as Battle Royale meets Battlestar Gallactica with a touch of Lord of the Flies, I decided to give it a solid go.
The premise is a bit complex. Some time in our eerily possible future, a natural-disaster and post-war ridden North America has fallen into a a new nation called Panem. It’s a totalitarian system of the luxurious, indulgent Capitol, the privileged inner districts, and the severely impoverished outer districts. A revolution breaks out, but due the the Capitol’s strategic location and superior weaponry, the rebellion fails and the 13th district completely obliterated. As punishment, the remaining 12 districts are forced into a blood-sport each year called the Hunger Games. Each must send two children, one male and one female, from the ages of 12 to 18 to a televised fight to the death. 74 years later is when the trilogy begins.
Through circumstance our protagonist is sent to the games and we follow her story of survival and defiance, and how it transforms her, the people around her, and the nation as a whole, for better or for worse.
I have to say- I really could not put this series down. I devoured half of the first book in one night, and the second half over the course of the next day between reading on the bus and at my desk when I should have been doing work. I ended up buying the set and finishing up the rest by the weekend. Since then my feelings on the series have varied greatly.
I’m a sucker for post-apocoypic Orwellian revolutions with a touch of sci-fi, and the Hunger Games delivers on these fronts. I also admit I did get caught up a bit with the love-triangle, perhaps for the wrong reasons, but that enjoyment started to fade quickly with the second book as it became aggravatingly prominent. The trilogy is targeted for a younger audience… older teens / young adult readers, so the style is a far cry from, say, A Song of Ice and Fire. Collins plays up the romantic melodrama a lot. It’s also written in first person from the point of view of our protagonist Katniss Everdeen, so our views of the world and events are through the mind of a sixteen-year-old girl. It’s believable to a point. She is mature and cynical due to her circumstances, and she’s certainly no Bella, but she still has her flaws. And boy are they major.
If I had to sum up the series, I’d give it a solid B+/A- rating. Over all, the story is really intriguing and unexpectedly addicting. The characters each carry their own unique personalities and rarely falter outside their natural evolution. For the most part there is a good mix of drama, action, suspense, and yes, even romance. The three books feel solid together but each carries its own theme and mood (something I imagine would have been distracting when waiting for the next one to come out, however, in one go it works). Now the ending is.. well, hotly debated among fans. Many people aren’t happy with it, myself included, but the whole adventure is considerably worthwhile.
I’d still highly recommend it to most, especially those interested and informed on the subjects of social issues and discontent within society. Panem and its situation strikes a little too close to home with the recent surge of demonstrations worldwide and it’s hard not to compare our turmoiled world and this very possible outcome. Could this be our future? The sudden burst of popularity for the Hunger Games during these hectic times is something to keep a keen eye on. And despite its target audience, it’s still mature enough to handle for most readers and touches those little guilty pleasures with just the right amount to give us a wonderful world to disappear into and reflect upon.
Spoiler Warning: The rest of the review is going to include some major spoilers, including character deaths. I suggest you stop now if you haven’t read it. Additional Warning: comments may ultimately contain spoilers.
Open Forum: For those of you who’ve read the series, what do you think? What are your views on Katniss as a protagonist? How do you think the film will affect, if at all, the recent uprising of protest? How did you like the ending?
So… where to start? Katniss as a character is … well, I guess she’s alright. I’m not entirely sure what it is about her that doesn’t seem to really click with me. Perhaps it’s because I can’t quite pin her down as Mary Sue or not. She has certain qualities of one but at the same time she has legitimate reasons for most of them. And then she does things that are very much not Sue-like. She gets caught up in fame. She runs and forgets her comrades, even if just for a moment, in the face of danger. Maybe it’s not a Mary Sue issue but simply my distaste for teenagers that’s got me bothered. She is whiny at times, and unrealistically stoic at others. She’s hard to swallow, but perhaps that’s what makes her at least somewhat realistic.
I was getting annoyed at the fact that she was constantly the target of unfortunate circumstance, and remains relatively in tact mentally until the bitter end. Drafted twice into the hunger games, getting stabbed, burned, attacked, assaulted, shot. Seeing people she loved beaten to death or blow up or mind-jacked to the point of trying to murder her. She is continually victimized to the point of “oh come on, really?”. By Mockingjay I was over the “Poor Katniss” and really hoping it would stop, but it didn’t. She spent half the book recovering from some tragedy or another. And it isn’t until the very end that she finally snaps and really loses it. But at least she does, at some point. Along the way she starts making decisions and acting out in ways that really defeat the purpose of her growth, and honestly, she is so blind and dense to come to some of the obvious it’s aggravating. It’s borderline unbelievable and tragic but not in the sympathetic way.
The romance in the story, for the first book at least, was actually a little enjoyable. We get enough melodrama and conflict and of course a love triangle, because what young-adult novel these days doesn’t have one? But it does become a little distracting in Catching Fire. The relationship between Katniss and Peeta spends a lot of time being borderline dominant in a story that has so much going on in the background. Sometimes it feels confusing; is this a war story with a strong romance or a romance set in a war story? I can’t tell, and it bothers me. For Mockingjay, though, the romance takes a back seat to the revolution until a sudden and unsatisfactory conclusion is made. So it jumps around a lot.
Moving on, the political implications and social unrest are what really fascinate me, which is why I find the romance in Fire distracting. Its prominence is fitting considering who’s telling the story to us, but it reaches that aggravating teen angst point that I try to hard to ignore.
The brutalities of war and rebellion are not spared in this series, which makes it a curious choice for teenagers. It’s bloody, gorey, and depressing. The characters most deserving of life are the ones who die inevitably; it’s driven into us that the truly righteous and innocent have no place in this world. The double-crossing and “is he or isn’t he” is profound later in the series, as to be expected when dealing with politics. And the ending twists in such a way to leave you unsatisfied as the roles are switched; who’s the bad guy in all this, really? It’s like we’re not sure who or what to believe, with whom to lay the blame, and it left me feeling deceived and uneasy (which is a huge success from the storytelling point of view).
Now the ending. It was so-so. Depressing, yes. The death of Prim was so … thrown in, for what? Gale abandoning Katniss instead of sticking by her side, even as her best friend. Katniss voting yes to a final Hunger Games (seriously, what?). President Snow ultimately getting the last laugh, even in death. It really has that feeling of “We won but we lost,” to it. I guess that’s the point, though. Despite everything, I’m not convinced anything truly gets better. It feels as though the world has once again traded in one evil for another (although Coin’s death may have alleviated this, somewhat.)
Speaking of, I am glad she killed Coin. I really am. That’s probably the only thing in the end I was happy about. I just wish she had killed Snow, too.
Lastly, the whole “We ended up getting married and having children and living traumatized ever after” was a point of annoyance for me. She spent so much of the book flaunting her independence from such things, and yes, we can be happy that love did find a way in the end but the last thing I expected was for her to give in to the pressure of the domesticated housewife.
I guess that’s, in a way, supposed to be symbolic of hope. A huge reason she didn’t want kids was because the world was so messed up and bringing more starving children into it was the last thing she wanted. By agreeing to have children, she was, in a way, accepting that things were hopefully going to get better.
Anyway, enough of my ramble. It was a good read. I enjoyed it. Still on the fence about the movie. I’m worried it’s going to be another one of those angst teen flicks, but I suppose I ought to give the first one a shot before writing it off.