In-depth Book Review: Hunger Games

Izzie’s Rating: 3.5-4/5
Characters: 4/5
Story: 4/5
Pacing: 3/5
Ending: 2/5

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.

A film adaption comes out March 23, 2012.

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.

If you think they ought to live, they probably wont.

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.

  • The only bit I disliked about the ending is that Peeta and Katniss ended up more or less happily ever after. Like you mentioned, it was rather out of character for her.

    I liked that the ending was not perfect, that people who deserved to die, lived, and that people who deserved to live, died.

    It’s weird that the Mary Sue label is applied to Katniss by some people. I do not think she is a Mary Sue at all. Sure, she has mad archery skillz, but she suffers from the emotional and psychological effects of PTSD daily, she makes bad decisions, she’s often shortsighted (as teenagers can be), she is indecisive, unsure of her feelings at times, she is often thoughtless, lacks compassion, whiny, self-centered, etc… She’s definitely not perfect.

    I think the first-person perspective was a bit limiting, and at least the first book suffered from it. The first book is similar to Battle Royale in that kids are put into an arena to fight to the last person. Battle Royale shifted perspectives amongst all the teens, showing the audience their motivations and thoughts, making each of them either more sympathetic, or at least we understood them a bit better. In The Hunger Games, we only see Katniss’s perspective, and it’s hard to see the other kids as three-dimensional people, with their own motivations and thoughts. Though I guess we’re meant to identify with Katniss.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I think you’re right on the Mary Sue part. It’s probably unjustified bias when it comes to that sort of character but ultimately, she was extremely flawed.
      I guess as a “person” I disliked her, but for her role in the story she was definitely realistic. 

      I wonder how it would’ve worked if the story was written in 3rd person? I hated Peeta but I think I may have liked him more if I could have had more insight into what was going on inside of him throughout the books. Also, I love Gale, and I think people would hate on him less if they also were able to get his point of view a few times. 

  • If you have not read about Dan Harmon’s “embryos” and how they shape character development, this article is worth your time. http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/09/mf_harmon/all/1

    The basic summary is that every situation should drive a character through the same 8 steps:
    1.  A character is in a zone of comfort
    2.  But they want something
    3.  They enter an unfamiliar situation
    4.  Adapt to it
    5.  Get what they wanted
    6.  Pay a heavy price for it
    7.  Then return to their familiar situation
    8.  Having changed

    It’s that 8th step which is missing from The Hunger Games. From the first page until the last the characters never change. Katniss never evolves, never learns, she is a purely reactionary character through much of the books (when you really think about it, she only made two major decisions in the entire series). Gale is the same. The only character who goes through some emotional change is Peeta, and that is purely due to plot contrivance.

    The books were fun to read, but I basically had to disengage the critical thinking part of my brain to get through them. They are the literally equivalent of a Transformers movie, cheap fun that you don’t (and shouldn’t) put too much thought into.

    Having said that, I am very excited for the movies because they are ripe for adaptation. This is one of the few cases where I could see the movies being better then the books.

    • Anonymous

      You hit the nail on the head; there was no real evolution. You’d think at some point Katniss would’ve put her foot down and stop letting people use her, but she was a pawn pretty much the entire time. Knowingly, too. Or Gale might’ve softened up. 

      I liked Peeta better after he was hijacked. Because without the lovey-dovey bias he finally was able to see Katniss’ flaws. I think it’s cool he decided he still loved her afterwards, actually; but it was the crap before that I couldn’t stand. 

      Thanks for the link! I’m definitely gonna read through that (since I do hobby writing!).

  • MEPerez1991

    Oh I have a strong feeling that it’s going to be very high on the teen angst. Granted we don’t see much of the “Who do I love” crap because Katniss was too thickheaded in the first book to see what type of the prediciment she was in romance-wise. Though with how popular that other series was, it wouldn’t surprise me if thr cave scene was played up more. Here’s to listening to sappy music everytime Katniss and Peeta have any sort of personal exchange!

    Anyway, I disliked the ending. It felt rushed, and way too mind f***ed for words. I get that she was truamatized, she lost so much along with the feeling of being used… I can see why she would lose it.
    Ah well… She ended up with Peeta, so I’m happy with it.

    • Meperez

      Curse this phone! I meant to rename myself as TriggerSad… :<

  • The ending was definitely my frustration with the entire series, even with my love/hate that kept going with Katniss. Like you, the death of Prim felt incredibly random and a little unneeded. But I think it was done to force Katniss to the ending where she kills Coin. And it frustrates me to no end that ‘the world’ didn’t seem to see what Coin had done to drive their ‘hero’ to such grief and vengeance.

    Also, with Gale abandoning Katniss, I kinda saw that coming to with his obsession over bringing down the Capitol. He seems very focused on what he wants and his beliefs and I kinda feel like he kinda pushes those onto Katniss. I never really saw him as particularly giving or as likable as Peetah. And personally, I don’t care for that “the ends justify the means” that he holds to. (And I think you see the lash of some of that with how his bomb invention ended up being what was used to kill Prim in the end.) And it’s how I came to accept how things turned out in the end with Peetah and her together.

    Katniss voting yes to a final Hunger Games definitely felt out of her character as she’d been trying to be more humane about things. It could be for any number of reasons. Her looking for someone to take vengeance on for the death of Prim and picking the people of the capitol. Or perhaps, it was part of a plan of hers. She basically just got confirmation that Coin was just as terrible as Snow. And probably could connect the dots and realize she’d have to play along with what Coin wanted so she could get close to kill Coin. As is, the addition of this to the book was pretty wack considering everything else to me. =/

    As for if the world is better off or not. I kinda look at how Katniss was. How she was always determined to be independent to protect people from getting hurt. How she wouldn’t get married and have children because she didn’t want to bring children into a world that they would suffer in. And I don’t think that changed. You see the monuments and the peace that has occurred and Katniss’ worry that her children would find out about their parents roll in the games and the situations to their ending. And I tend to think, there’s no way she would have left such hard set beliefs to not bring more children into the world to potentially suffer if there was a chance they would. It’s what fueled much of her actions, to protect the weak and the small I think. So I believe in the end, I think the world was likely seeing peace without the groups sacrificing children and killing for entertainment / control. I don’t think she gave into the pressures of being a domesticated housewife myself. But that’s just me!

    Someone said of the movie that it could be a lot better as far as fleshing characters goes than perhaps the books. Like Izari, I’m hoping it’s not a massive emo-fest (though I confess after reading this yesterday I picked the first book again when I got back home and was dropping buckets of tears with Rue’s death scene). I fear I have already built a lot of hopes for this movie in terms of accuracy though. =/ I am hoping to not be too let down if I am wrong!

    • Anonymous

      Ooo, thanks for the great reply!

      I always liked Gale more, but I preferred Katniss and Peeta together. I think a lot of that has to do simply with my perspective. What I enjoyed most about the story was the politics and the dynamic of revolution; I’m not a romantic. It seems natural, then, that I’d prefer Gale to Peeta. I found him more practical and realistic given the situation they were in. War is ugly. War involves difficult and sometimes less than ideal situations. He understood that. 

      Ultimately I don’t think Gale was as bad as people say he is. I think on the surface it’s easy to forget that he’s just as much a victim as everybody else because he’s so strong and, at first at least, has a bit of a playfulness to him. But he also suffered and had to endure the same pain and suffering as Katniss. 

      And especially considering the story is from Katniss’ point of view, we’re influenced by her feelings and how she views events. This is most evident at the end when her words about him leaving were something like “He got some government job, probably kissing another pair of lips.” That’s extreme bias; it’s obvious. He loved Prim like she was family, and he loved Katniss. I’m sure Prim’s death really hurt him. 

      He has some MAJOR flaws, don’t get me wrong, but so does everybody. His were just way more tangible. His major shortcoming was blind anger; that’s a given. He was so driven by this opportunity to overthrow the source of his pain that he made some bad choices (or tried to push bad ideas). The worst of which was, of course, trusting Coin.

      But I still think it was BS for Katniss to blame Gale for Prim’s death. Nobody saw that coming from Coin. Nobody. Not Katniss, not Gale, or Haymitch or the rest. Coin basically tricked everybody except those in on her plan, despite people picking up that she wasn’t exactly the greatest person in the world. In one way or another, people were so involved with getting rid of the evil they’d known all their lives that they were blindsided to the evil that was waiting for the opportunity.

      The tragedy of Prim’s death and the death of all those children was a collective responsibility from everybody involved. Gale designed the bombs, Katniss was involved with the distraction, soldiers flew those copters, Snow used children as a shield, Coin sent Prim and the other medics into the hot-zone, etc. etc. 

      As far as Katniss and Peeta’s ending.. I’m still meh about it. Again, I’m not a romantic, so for me Peeta’s entire person was unappealing. And Katniss even said, she waited 15 years before she finally gave into kids. Even with things “getting better” she still didn’t’ want them. She did it for Peeta. I’m sure she still loved them and was as good a mother as she possibly could be, but, I still think it was her preference not to. 

      Anyways. I hope, hope the movie will be good. I think if they focus more on the right people and events it’ll be great!

  • Gor-Ey-La

    I was so frustrated with the ending and Katniss herself. I mean, in the first book she was so independent and spirited, not letting anyone bully her despite being forced into the Games and I think a lot of readers including myself were extremely impressed with her spunk and actually looked up to her (this was why I loved the first book so much). 

    Unfortunately, I think by the third book that spunk was kinda lost. After, she dressed up as the ‘mockingjay’, I think she just went with the flow and just let people bully her but worst of all for me, she crumbled under her own weakness in the end. I know Collins probably wanted the ending to be realistic and Katniss is only human but god, I was so frustrated by how weak Katniss was at the end.

     I know, that given that she was so young and what she had been through, she should have been traumatized but because the first book protrayed her as being so strong I never thought she would crumble under it. I wanted her to recover, wanted her to somehow contribute in the rebuilding Panem, help rebuild Panem into a world that she knew would be a safe place for her children,even if she just showed up in the Capitol to show her support to the others but didn’t do anything (I know, not realistic) and she could have done something because as the book said, as the ‘mockingjay’ she was the most influential person in a way, not because she had actual say in the government but because people looked up to her.

    I wanted her to become the strong if cynical person that she initially was and gain a bit of optimism in life and the future for her children, instead of succumbing to the pity party that her and Peeta would have for the rest of their lives (which I think Izzie aptly described as “living traumatized ever after”) because they thought they were helpless to change anything. Even though that might be a predictable and perhaps unrealistic ending, I think that would be the type of ending that would leave a small, satisfied smile on the reader face instead of the depressed cloud that overcame me with her “Oh yeah, by the way,1) now I’m deemed as a lunatic for killing Coin 2)I’m still traumatized after 15 years with no chance of recovery (mostly because she’s not really trying) 3) The new government is probably also gonna be corrupt so I’m not happy with the future and life in general and my children are never gonna be happy either”.

    So in my opinion, the first book was great and I loved it. The second was ‘okay’ towards the end (mostly because I loved the new characters especially Finnick who surprised me for actually being a likeable person despite initially being portrayed as a good-looking but self-centred womanizer) but I had to cringe at the beginning where she jumped back and forth between Peeta and Gale. The third book…well, I was excited for the ending when I started reading it but from the beginning it was a down fall…it was pretty much an anti-climax