As my first post for Geekus, I decided to review my most recent read, The Hunger Games trilogy. My non-spoiler assessment is that I thoroughly loved these books. I thought Suzanne Collins did an excellent job getting into the mind of a young woman who was thrown into a horrible situation, who not only found the inner strength to survive, but to ultimately fight back. I would highly recommend this series to anyone, though I would put a PG-13 rating on it. Though it is considered fiction for young adults (and is published by Scholastic….I had no idea they still existed), I seriously question its suitability for children under the age of 13. It is extremely violent, and I think Collins treats killing a bit too casually at times, especially in the first book.
So, if you haven’t read the books stop reading this post and go read it yourself! However, if your interested in a more detailed discussion of the book, continue reading.
What I Liked:
I loved the premise, girl volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a sadistic game put on every year by the tyrannical government, forcing 24 children to fight to the death in an arena for the Capitol’s entertainment. Girl survives the Games, only to inspire a revolution and ultimately to overthrow that government. Being an Objectivist and being as pro-individual, anti-government as I am, I am a sucker for any story where a person has to personally take on the government, and succeeds. Despite everything that the government does, Katniss never lets them take control, her spirit is never conquered. I also greatly appreciated the twist ending, when she kills the leader of the rebellion, knowing that she was just as horrible as the government she just fought to overthrow. I felt that was the direction the third book was going, and I am glad taht is what happened. In that way, Katniss stood for individual freedom, and not for one brutal government over another.
I loved the main character, and sole narrator, Katniss Everdeen. I think Collins was wise to stick with her the entire series and never split the narrative. Far too often, fantasy/sci fi writers split the narrative too much, start to follow characters that no one cares about, and ultimately makes parts of the series unreadable (are you listening Mr. Martin). Not that there is anything wrong with having a split narrative, but it has to be controlled. When I read the Hunger Games series, I thought a lot about Harry Potter, which is really the only other young adult series that I have read that I would compare this to. Rowling decided to start splitting the narrative in the last three books, usually only in a chapter or two at the beginning of the books, but I think this hurt the series overall. If you are going to follow Harry Potter the whole time, then lets stick with that, I don’t care what the muggle president thinks, and as a writer, you should really be able to work in all the foreshadowing you need into the protagonist’s observations. If you are going to split the narrative, then commit to it and don’t let us bore ourselves to death for 400 pages as Harry wonders aimlessly in the last book. I think that series would have been way better had Rowling really committed one way or the other, but I still feel like it is caught in between and is hurt by her failure to really decide which way to go.
In staying with Katniss, Collins was able to get very deep into her psyche, and you really got to see how a person would survive being put into these horrible situations. I also thought she did a good job with the love triangle througout the trilogy. Katniss struggles to decide between two men (the fire brand Gale, and the kind-hearted Peeta) as she is learning about herself. Her ultimate choice comes only when she learns who she is and comes to terms with all the horrible things that had happened to her. For a while, I thought Collins would leave the matter open, but I liked the fact that Katniss made a choice, thereby affirming that she learnd who she was and what she needed, and wanted, out of life.
I think I really loved this series because everything is wrapped up. There are no glaring red herrings, no plot lines that get dropped off, and the conclusion makes sense and is consistent with everything that was happening in the story. Sadly, I think this a failure of far too many fantasy/sci fi writers, but it is not a failure in this series.
What I Didn’t Like
As much as I did enjoy it, I still think the series has flaws. I think Collins writing style is a bit too mechanical at times, and it always takes a while for me to adjust to reading in the first person. This may just be a personal preference, so I don’t want to be that critical, but the writing style stood out, and not in a positive way.
I also think Collins rushed the ending of each book, especially Book 2. Most of Book 2 was about Katniss’ struggle to return to normal life, only to be thrown back into the games once again, all the while the first inkling of a rebellion start to take shape around her. Then all of a sudden, as she figures out a way to beat the Games once again, there is a whole other district that comes out of nowhere and has been feeding the fires of rebellion all along. The whole thing happened real quick, and was presented as a summary at the end. Not that I didn’t enjoy where the story went, it just happens so fast that I was a bit disappointed. I have to wonder if this was a function of limits that were put on her by the publisher. I am sure Collins was given page limits and had to pick and choose where her focus had to be. This is one problem with sticking to a trilogy format, you can’t really blow a storyline out as much as you want and/or need to.
Finally, I think Katniss kills a little too casually in this story. For a character who is hurt so much by the pain of others, and the pain that is inflicted on her, I thought it was odd that she killed so casually herself. Once thrown into the arena, she had no problem taking people out, and she didn’t even think twice about it from the start. I really expected a scene where Katniss struggled to make that kill, or hesitated to do so. It almost makes Katniss too hard of a person. Perhaps that was the ultimate point, and why Katniss needed Peeta in her life to temper her hardness, but I still think her casually attitude towards killing (especially in the first book) is a bit out of sorts with the rest of her character.
I highly recommend this trilogy. It is extremely satisfying from beginning to end.