Series Review: The Hunger Games

I would say that my reading of Hunger Games started on a high. I was forehead-deep in a number of nonfiction and bleak reading (mostly about social issues), and I was just going to tape the corners of book one (that’s a thing I always do) when I just peeked at the first chapter… and it was all over. I was surprised, because the writing wasn’t too bad. Not bad, at all. Perhaps it’s not literary fiction or poetry, but it is more than adequate for the audience that it is reaching for (and getting, easy). I read the first book in a couple days, around normal life, and finished it long after I should have closed my eyes one night. Just one more chapter…

And this continued through the whole series. I was enthralled during book one, The Hunger Games, because Panem is such an interesting place and The Games is an interesting concept. In case you’ve been living under a rock: the series is set in a futuristic North America called Panem, after some cataclysmic events decimated humanity and destroyed much of the world. The Capitol is the political center, which holds power over the twelve Districts, full of people that are basically enslaved due to a rebellion that took place 75 years before. Every year, each district is forced to send one girl and one boy teen to participate in the Hunger Games, where they must battle it out in an arena with the other 23 teens, to the death. Only one can remain standing. Katniss Everdeen (which unfortunately, as a name, still smells like litter boxes and pine needles to me whenever it is said) is the head of her family, after her father has died and her mother and sister looked to her for leadership. She is also a hunter (illegally) and feels like a bit of a loner, except for her BFF Gale. When Katniss’s sister, Prim, is chosen as “tribute” for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers in her place and into the books we go. There is also a ton of in-your-head eye candy in these books, especially in the fashion department. There’s much description of the costume, environment, food, and customs of the Capitol and the districts. Not too much for me, but I believe the series is sort of known for this matter-of-fact, over-the-top world building thing. (I did find Collins’ food choices to be a little strange, but I’m a die-hard foodie and I think her descriptions lacked finesse. You know, this isn’t the Pulitzer, it’s the best-sellers list.)

The series, by Suzanne Collins, is:

  • The Hunger Games
  • Catching Fire
  • Mockingjay

I found the first book to be a real page-turner. I also found myself easily falling for the characters and happy to be checking out this world that Collins had built, including the fashion (which I already mentioned) that is an integral part of the experience. It was paced well, perhaps lingering on details a little here and there without letting them get luscious (which she could have done), but the tone was much more practical, much more the voice (and thoughts) of Katniss Everdeen. I do think that the amazing-woman-who-doesn’t-even-understand-that-she-is-totally-amazing-to-everyone-else theme is a little overdone lately, but let’s not forget that I read the Twilight series in the not-so-distant past. The bare truth: I was dying to read the next book (but I made myself finish a couple nonfiction numbers first. Motivation, you see).

The second book was fine. By now, we’re not as much surprised or curious as we are invested in Katniss and in the characters around her. And there are many characters (even though you know so many of them are going to have to die) that are fleshed out enough to enjoy. The originality wears off after a while, and I predicted the curveball Collins throws to keep the plot moving in the second book, and from there, there is little to no mystery. We’re in this for the long haul now, and are driven by watching Katniss grow and be torn down and grow again, by wondering what will become of all these characters. These books are now more clearly about fashion, social commentary, and a romance, as well as the action and violence. The romance is… well, interesting. (It is also interesting how much Katniss is like Twilight’s Bella—doesn’t know her own powers, especially of influence and a type of beauty which may or may not be physical, we’re all up in her head the whole time as she’s figuring things out in her teen years, she has a hard time knowing her own mind, is sometimes the victim and sometimes a strong leader, a rebel, is involved in a complicated love triangle…). Which takes us to the third and final book.

The romance. Because in many ways, that’s what’s driving this story at this point: the love triangle between Katniss, her handsome and passionate best friend Gale, and her kind and influential fellow tribute, Peeta. (Yeah, I’m not exactly sure what’s up with the names in this book. Collins was, I suppose, imagining what our names might become in the future and giving each district its own naming flare, but some of them were distracting to me. I find that when names are too different, I have a harder time remembering who’s who. I’m terrible with names, in real life, anyway. But also, Gale is a girl’s name and Peeta is a bread. Haha. Or at best the British way to say Peter.) Back to the romance. I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that there must be many people who aren’t happy with the way the romance ends up. Two reasons: there isn’t enough hands-on “action,” unless it’s (literally) forced. (I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll leave that a mysterious comment.) You’re waiting much of the series (I won’t tell you how long) for that big moment when Katniss chooses (or is forced to choose by an untimely death) and the two love-birds have the biggest smooch of their life. This basically happens off-camera which is, I think, a disappointment (even though I chickened out and did the same thing in my first novel and Harry Potter relied on the secondary romance for this moment). Second, I believe that Collins failed to swing the inevitability toward the one who would eventually win out. I mean, up until the end, Gale and Peeta are on a pretty level playing field, swinging back and forth and back and forth at a quickening pace. We’re given no good clues as to what is actually going on in the girl-on-fire-who-doesn’t-know-her-own-mind-due-to-trauma-and-innocence’s heart, clues that we could have even if she doesn’t know. We could know, and that would make the conclusion much more satisfying. (Plus, I’m pretty sure that this way, half the readers got to the end of the romance and chucked the book across the room because it did not end up being the guy they were rooting for. I bet they’re still clinging to dashed hopes to this very day.)

But all in all, this is a great series, especially for YA. It’s not high-falutin’, but it is entertaining and well-written enough. If you haven’t read it yet, it makes a great quick read, when you have time to devote to some late-night hours with your eyes glued to the pages. And then you can choose your side: Gale or Peeta for the win?

MOVIES

It’s reeeeeealy nice when a movies series lives up to expectations, especially the whole way through. Note: there are four movies here, not three. In league with Harry Potter, Twilight, Divergent, and the Hobbit (with the prequel split into three movies), “they” decided to split the final movie into two parts. Milk that series! (This tactic killed the Divergent series, by the way, but seems to have worked out for everyone else, except perhaps the fans.) So we have The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, Part I, and Mockingjay, Part II. And, really, they are a better-than-average bunch of movies.

Acting spans from okay to great. The movies are really loyal to the original material, only changing plots and omitting characters where they pretty much had to, to fit the screen. In one case, I even liked the director’s idea better. So the story and characters and basically the same, and pretty much all my comments about the books can be pulled and stuck down here. Perhaps Peeta’s character was the only thing that didn’t translate as well. He lacked some of his warmth and definitely some of the charisma that he had in the books, due, I think, largely to cut scenes and speeches.

Anyhow, if you have some teen/tweens around, this is a family-pleasing series for movie night. It does, of course, involve violence and some heavy themes, so you may want to do a little check with Common Sense Media for the deets. It’s exciting, suspenseful, interesting, thought-provoking, and well done.

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