Hunger Gaming

After much lobbying from various family members, some friends, and the Mrs., I decided to give Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games a go.  I liked the first book enough I decided to move on to Catching Fire.  Didn’t like #2 so much, but wanted to see how Collins finished the series, so I went ahead and read Mockingjay as well.  Book #3, I considered stronger, a fitting end, but I was so, so very tired of Catniss by the end…  Last weekend we rented the movie version as a kind of Panem coda.

So this won’t be the standard Beemsville media review, but rather some thoughts and reactions on the overall story of the District 12-ers as told through Catniss.

Let’s start with her.  As the narrator, protagonist, plucky heroine turned shell-shocked media pawn, Catniss is the most important person in these books.  She has a lot going from her.  A solid no-nonsense narrative voice, proven toughness and survival skills, absent parent, mother and younger dependent on her.  And beauty and charisma.  Yeah, sneaky there, Ms. Collins – the rough-hewn mountain-girl beauty, because you can’t have a protag in a YA novel who’s hot and she knows it.  Strictly not allowed.

The author does a fine job hitting the early signposts and using District 12’s relative isolation to give Catniss’ narration and initial world building  an outsider’s  perspective.  The balance of explanation and plot points are well done.  Catniss builds almost instant empathy and identification with her situation and Prim’s selection for the Games.  And we’re off and running.

I thought the first book was very well constructed.  Great pacing, action, the side-romance or isn’t it with Peeta (bread).  The 1st person narration, for which I have an acknowledged semi-aversion, didn’t at all detract from my enjoyment.

The same could not be said of the next two books.  Can’t blame it entirely on the 1st person narration, which remained consistent and illustrated the gradual evolution of Catniss’ emotional fragility and descent into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder…  But Catching Fire was entirely too hampered by the author’s narrative dithering as she attempted to buy time before the Quarter Quell section.  The whole triangle thing with Peeta (bread) and Gale quickly grew stale.

Yes, I realize one of the ironclad tropes of romance writing is ‘many desirable suitors’, for which the heroine has conflicting emotions but must eventually choose.  I understand the YA readership is primarily female and this was inevitable.  At least the first section laid the ground work for the madness to come.  As far as the Quarter Quell, itself – sure, it’s action-packed, well plotted, etc. but I became more and more annoyed by Catniss’ apparent cluelessness about the political landscape, the alliances, etc.  She’s fixated on Peeta (bread’s) survival to the detriment of all else.  In the first book she seemed more resolute, more clever, and more… protagonistic.

This leads us to Mockingjay, and PTSD Catniss spending most of the book trying to get her head sorted out.  While I applaud the author for taking on this topic, for exploring the weakness and confusion of a teenager trying to deal with that much violence and manipulation, I can’t say I enjoyed.  By the time Catniss embraced her ‘Get Snow’ mentality enough to snap out of it and lead the assault on Endor, I was reading to get to the end.

Interesting to see the evolution of Peeta (bread) into the more appealing if slightly psychotic option, even as Gale embraced his own inner psycho (kind of a Punisher-meets-Colonel Killgore ethos) to take down the Capitol.

And we did get our ending, which I won’t spoil here except to say:  it’s the correct one.  Certain friends and family members complained about it, but by my analysis it was the best and only way to go.  You have to know the author was pointing that way the entire book, and if the final act angered you:  a) you’ve seen to many Hollywood endings, and b) the author made you care, which was always her goal.

Give Collins high marks for world building – creating that suitably grim alternative future with just the right signposts and references to our current times.  Plausibility?  Check.  Haunting imagery?  Check.  My favorite being the scenes of all the kids in all the districts being rounded up to watch the games in the public squares, even as the Capitol denizens turn it into a pop-style media festival.

At the same time, with such a violent and grim setting, with power politics and control so prominent, it bothered me how PG the sex (or lack thereof) and romance sub-plots were written.  Maybe it’s part of the YA code – and since I don’t read much YA I wouldn’t know.  But teenagers are usually pretty curious about their bodies by their mid-teens, and sometimes they go to physical relationships to escape from the ugliness or unhappiness of a situation.  Other than kissing for the cameras, Collins was having none of that.

As far as the movie:  thought it was pretty solid.  The actors were convincing – especially Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Stanley Tucci as Caesar.  Really liked the two leads as well, although Josh Hutcherson as Peeta  (bread) wasn’t exactly as I imagined him.  One disappointment with the film was how they did the Muttations – basically big CGI pitbulls and not nearly as frightening as the book.  I would probably go see subsequent movies when/if released.  I’m curious to see how they might handle Katniss’s evolution on the big screen.  My guess is she won’t seem nearly as fragile and ignorant as I interpreted her in the second two books.


4 thoughts on “Hunger Gaming

  1. Hi Scott, I read the first one because it had been on Emily’s sixth grade reading list–and we saw the movie on TV last weekend. I don’t object to first person narration, and I think with YA books they’re almost mandatory since the limited sophisatiction of the narrator heightens the contrast between her view point and the world around her. I think that would be harder with an omnicient narrator.

    My main concern with these books is that they portray a society where the adults in charge are willing to use violence and death to entertain (manipulate) the masses. All books are products of their own time, and Collins is astute to see this as a real concern. I haven’t read the Amazon reviews because so many of them just reiterate the plot, and maybe some of the reviews come to the same conclusion,
    but it seems to me that ,if I were teaching this book, I’d try to get the kids to see the parrallels between what passes for entertainment and the situation in these books. I haven’t read any reviews that bring up a similar viewpoint.

    I found the “love interest ” boring. It was so obvious, and I agree that Peeta is a silly name. I also thought the boyfriend back in district 12 should have given Katniss a pass for responding with basic humanity in a survival situation instead of getting all noble and pouty.

    Don’t know that I will read the other two books. Maybe if I get a bad cold.

    Bring the kids to Philly–we have lots of room.
    Grumpy old grandma (and great aunt)

  2. Aunt Karen,
    This book may be a 6th grade reading level on some lists, but as you surmised it’s thematically well beyond that age group. I might try to teach it to high school juniors/seniors, but it would be difficult for younger students.

    • I agree. It’s like the parents who say their five year old has read Harry Potter. There are so many age appropriate books that the crawling downward of reading material cheats kids of books they may never go back to. I think this relates back to adults co-opting childhood in order to sell more and more to younger and younger kids.

      Ok–all this may be age-related on my end too. Grandmothers just want to protect their grandchildren–it’s your job to encourage their independence!

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