I recently finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
I had heard a lot about this book, and I kind of got the impression this might be the “next big thing” now that they’re filming the movie and everything. So I randomly picked it up, and it was awesome.
(Side note, I am often picking the creme-de-la-creme, but it seems to me that I’m as likely, or even MORE likely, to enjoy a Young Adult (YA) book, than a so-called “adult book” (no, not that kind of adult book). Not sure if that says something about me, or about the quality of YA literature these days.)
Before we get started, let me just say that there will be spoilers later, but I will mark them. So if you don’t want spoilers, read until the spoiler alert and then stop.
The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future where some kind of catastrophic war has half-destroyed the U.S., and it is now ruled by a despotic dictator in the corrupt, Roman-style “Capitol”. In order to punish the districts for their uprisings during the dark times, each district is required to send two “tributes”, children, who will fight to the death in an arena for the enjoyment of the masses.
The first book in the series is absolutely fantastic (I thought the second book was okay, and I didn’t like the 3rd, but that will be covered below in the spoilers). The book reminded me so much of a fantastic movie I saw years ago, called Battle Royale. For a second I was kind of annoyed at the similarities, but then I realized I loved that concept, and there was plenty of room in my heart for two stories about it.
Katniss Everdeen is a great protagonist. She’s smart, strong, competent, rebellious, and the consummate protector of the weak. I think the thing I liked about her the most is that she is a flawed hero, and she is aware of if. When Peeta or others care about her, she recognizes that she just can’t care about them the same way. She’s just not built that way. I thought that seemed very real. The romance in these books is very different than your traditional romance, very one sided (very different than, say, Twilight).
So that’s what I liked about the books. I would certainly recommend the first one, The Hunger Games, and even the second one, Catching Fire, which I thought was very good except for the ending. And then, of course, if you get that far you’re probably going to want to read Mockingjay as well, just for completeness. Overall a strong trilogy, and one I enjoyed.
*******************Okay kids, spoiler time!!********************
The problem I have with Catching Fire is the ending. I loved that they contrived a way to get them back into the arena, however, the ending just wasn’t very satisfying to me. A little too deus ex machina, with district 13 showing up to save Katniss with all this advanced technology. We knew there was something afoot, obviously (for example, Plutarch showing the mockingjay on his watch), but it was all just a little too tidy.
I guess the problem for me was that Katniss wasn’t really responsible for the ending. I like my protagonists to be, well, protagonists. In the first one, it was all her, and that’s part of what made her a great character. In the second one, all of this plotting, etc. is going on around her, and she’s completely unaware. Her role in the “true plot” of what was going on regarding the rebellion wasn’t very active.
That’s the perfect segue into the final book, because my main complaint about it is that Katniss and Peeta essentially become non-entities. The character of Peeta is literally removed from the story, and Katniss spends the whole time in some sort of psychological funk, stuck in district 13. Same for Finnick, who I thought was a really good character to come out of the second book. The three of them have almost no impact on the war whatsoever.
Even the one part that seemed a little more active, the assassination attempt on Snow, was a total waste of time. All the people who sacrificed their lives to get them to the mansion, and really they could have just sat behind the army and arrived at exactly the same time. It served absolutely no purpose, other than position Katniss to see the death of Prim (which could have happened anyway, if they would have just stormed the Capitol with the army). Remove it from the book entirely, and nothing is changed.
My other problem with book 3 was that I had a lot of trouble suspending my disbelief about the “defenses” of the Capitol. I understand Ms. Collins wanted to find a way to have Katniss entering an arena for the 3rd time, but it was very contrived. Never would a society protect itself almost exclusively with clever traps, regardless of the technology level. Can you imagine if Washington D.C. was protected by pods that would release killer bees of all things? Killer bees? Are you kidding me? That’s one thing when they’re used for entertainment against unarmed kids, but against an invading army? One of the main defenses was a complicated trap where the street folded up and there was a meat grinder hidden underneath! Sheesh.
The one thing Katniss accomplished in book 3 was to kill Coin. Even that, though, seemed like it could have been accomplished in some other manner. She was right to do it, but she never explained to anybody WHY she did it. They spent so much time talking about how much power Katniss had as the Mockingjay, and yet she never used it. I thought she was going to have a big speech to the crowd and use her power to bring Coin down. The arrow actually seemed anti-climactic.
So overall, I guess my criticism is: you have this great character, why not use her? Why take all of the power and decisions and action out of her hands?