Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I enjoyed the book as a whole I did have issues with The Hunger Games

Issues:
~Stephanie Meyer’s Approval – The fact that an author like Stephanie Meyer recommends this book was one of the reasons I avoided getting involved with The Hunger Games in the first place and I can see why Stephanie Meyer is happy to endorse it. Female protagonist with minimal physical description so the Reader can easily slip into female protagonist’s frame of mind? Check. Has a multiple love interests but is completely oblivious and continues to think she’s unattractive? Check. Stupid Pointless Love Triangle? Check.

~Character Reaction to Depression – I felt that Katniss’s frame of mind towards her mother was unfair. I understand how her trust issues with her mother are supposed to signify (albeit Freudian-ish) that because of Katniss’s upbringing, she has difficulty trusting people and letting people in (given her totalitarian environment, it’s completely understandable). However, I felt it was unnecessary to act as though her mother’s legitimate grief was in the same league as Crystal Meth (Depression: Not Even Once!). I suppose I do need to take into consideration just how young Katniss is.

~Stupid Pointless Love Triangle – I have no issue over the fact that Katniss would feel conflicted over her relationship with Peeta, it’s perfectly understandable, given that the situation is that if she doesn’t play along, her whole family could be murdered, not the best basis for a relationship. However, it is not understandable for Katniss to declare at the beginning of the book that her and Gale’s relationship is “not romantic” and that she loves him “like family” only for her to flip-flop about, like a dying fish washed ashore. When Katniss said at the end of The Hunger Games “I don’t know how I feel about Gale” I called BULLSHIT! Yes she does, she told the reader at the beginning of the book, she has no romantic interest in a guy she cares for like a brother. END OF STORY.

~Modern Warfare Tactics – I get that History is written by the victors and while I know Suzanne Collins did lots of research on survival skills, I’m not sure she did that much research on modern warfare, which involves killing people from a distance (the further away the better). Katniss said the Rebels couldn’t take over the Capital because of the mountainous environment it was built in and that soldiers were picked off the mountain by the Capital’s air-force. Why would they bother climbing the mountain instead of say blocking the tunnels in and out of the Capital? They’d run out of food eventually.

~Small Grammatical Issues – the author tended to mix past and present tenses in some scenes which was a little jarring, and there were some lines which I thought should have been removed

General Observations:
~Katniss VS Bella – Now, I’m going to be honest, I think of Bella as emotionally manipulative and sociopathic (just like Edward, just passive), Bella is a truly awful person where as I think Katniss is genuinely good person doing whatever it takes to protect her family and survive in a harsh dystopian world. Is she a better written character than Bella? Yes, however that’s not exactly difficult challenge, I suspect Katniss suffers from Everyman Syndrome with a dash of Misplaced Priorities, an especially potent FPP (Female Protagonist Problem).

~Haymitch Abernathy – He and Cinna were my favorite characters in the book and I pegged him for a stealth mentor the moment he drunkenly stumbled on stage. He’s got a tough gig. Effie Trinket, on the other hand, I wanted to shoot her in the face, Effie Trinket is why we can’t have nice things, however I suspect that was intentional. The two of them make good foils.

~Themes and Symbolism – There’s some heavy stuff in this book supposedly aimed at a Young Adult audience, I’m not saying a YA audience can’t or shouldn’t handle it, the issues of Classism and Child Soldiers are very relevant issues that need to be talked about and I admire an author willing to bring these subjects to light.

~Character Epiphany – I liked how at the end of The Hunger Games, Peeta and Katniss came to very different conclusions, Katniss figured out pretty quickly she had just been turfed from one dangerous trap to another, that the Hunger Games never truly end. It’s nice foreshadowing for what’s to come.

Overall, an enjoyable read, however I can understand how some people would prefer the movie adaptation over the book. The Hunger Games suffer from the same problem as the Harry Potter series, the reader only sees and experiences what the Protagonist is seeing and experiencing. I know I’m going to hate the Stupid Pointless Love Triangle looming ahead of me, but I’m actually looking forward to the next book.

View all my reviews

3 comments

  1. Given that we’re supposed to sympathise with a thoroughly sociopathic PTSD-suffering Katniss in Mockingjay, I find the attitude towards depression here unforgivable. (Speaking as a sufferer. Speaking as someone struggling with it right now.) Now, if Katniss spoke to her mother later and said hey, I now know how rough it is to go through that shit and I’m sorry, it would be a redeemable character arc, but as she doesn’t … no, Collins, your attitudes towards mental illness and mental illness sufferers suck, and I hope like fucking hell you never write about mental illness again. I surely don’t appreciate that the characters with mental health issues are useless, broken or sociopathic!

    I actually do think Katniss is as sociopathic as Bella, sorry. Think on her attitude towards the Careers, people who are just as screwed over as she is and trying to make the best out of a horrific situation … but they’re evil? It works if you don’t think about it (actually, that pretty much works for the whole book given the amount of plot holes – I can’t get past the requirement for watching the Games versus the lack of electricity available, myself) but as soon as it does it all falls apart. It’s even more obvious in the second and third books; she’s at her best in the first book.

    Likewise, I hate the way Effie is villanised by the narrative when she’s no better or worse than Cinna (Saint Cinna?) – a person doing a shit job where she has a hand in the deaths of young people. What’s the difference between both characters, save that one’s a woman and portrayed as an airhead, and one’s a man and portrayed as sympathetic? (Feminist novel my arse.)

    My problem with Collins’ writing is the passiveness! “I watched my hand creep over the quilt” or something similar from the first book – ye gods, you can’t even have your protagonist own the movement of her own hands?

    Compared to writers like Tamora Pierce who also write YA about heavy issues, I don’t actually find The Hunger Games to be all that far out there. More hype than actuality, to be honest. Probably because Pierce does a far better job in writing about war and violence and misogyny and other gritty real world issues children should be exposed to, with a large variety of strong, courageous heroines (courageous in many different ways, mind) who take action and try to change the world (which Katniss never really does). Please, world, just go and read the Emelan books or the Protector of the Small books!

    I agree that the first book is readable and actually kind of compelling if you overlook quite a lot, but the second book is bad and the third book, IMO, is irredeemable.

    (The movies, at least the first two, work better for me because I’m not forced to endure Katniss and her continually sociopathic thoughts. No, I don’t buy that this is as a result of trauma and therefore okay: plenty of people I know have endured traumatic things and not become sociopaths, and while I also know people who have endured trauma and have questionable attitudes towards other people as a result – which is understandable if not awesome – they sure as hell shouldn’t be portrayed as heroines we’re supposed to emulate. I despise the notion that I am not responsible for my own behaviour and attitudes towards other people just because I have a history of bullying/abuse/not-nice-things. Talk about dis-empowering – and what an awful message to send to survivors! So I don’t know if I’ll see the Mockingjay movies or not.)

    • I love your comments, they are almost as long as my blog-posts, so thank you, I really appreciate the effort you continuously go to. My biggest problem with The Hunger Games was the same problem I had with Twilight, if it wasn’t happening right in front of Katniss/Bella then it wasn’t deemed important enough for the Reader to see. Frustrated me to no end. I completely agree with you about the passive narration, I think my favourite bad line was “I was used to making my face look like an emotionless mask. So I did.” made me want to pull my hair.

      I haven’t read the other two books so I can’t debate about Katniss’s sociopathic behaviour as well as you can, so fair enough, it’s a shame there isn’t any follow-up between Katniss and her mother, I was actually looking forward to the possibility. I’ve never read any of Tamora Pierce’s books, so by the looks of it I need to get into those and perhaps do a comparison review. I kind of got the impression that all the career tributes volunteered for the position for the chance of money and glory, as opposed to being picked at random, which naturally makes them look bad in comparison to Katniss (I could be wrong though). I think the real problem with the career tributes were that they weren’t developed, at all, but there was a reason for that.

      The career tributes are designated villians, just like the Voluturi in Twilight (who I felt made the occasional valid point, I guess I like to play Devil’s Advocate). Another similar aspect of Twilight that The Hunger Games has was that there weren’t any real emotional stakes involved, we all knew what the end result was going to be, the career tributes weren’t real people so killing them wouldn’t be a problem.
      If Collins had organised it so that Peeta, Rue and Katniss were the last ones in the arena, that would have been interesting but a difficult decision. I don’t want to sound as though I’m advocating for child murder, but Katniss was never put in that position, she never had to make the hard choices.

      I mean Rue got development and The Reader learned about Rue and even Thrash by default (I suppose) but’s Rue was only used as a plot device for Katniss’s character development (I also suspect that Rue is some form of foreshadowing with regards to an alliance between District 12 and 11). Collins could easily have used that Tribute interview to her advantage and give at least some hint of character development, but because Katniss wasn’t interested in it, it didn’t matter (it matters damnit!). I think that’s also the same problem with Cinna/Katniss and Portia/Peeta relationship dynamic, I just assumed Portia was assisting Peeta just as much Cinna was helping Katniss, however the reader just wasn’t shown it (and the reader should have been).

      I think it would have been interesting if the situation had been Effie and Helena, rather than Effie and Haymitch. Two women, doing roughly the same job (just from a different angle), one is completely broken by The Hunger Games, one wraps a self-preservation bubble around her in order to cope. One women eventually gets her shit together and kind of redeems herself, while the other woman doesn’t change and continues to buy into the system, because the system is so much bigger than one person and it’s all she’s ever known. I would find that situation rather intriguing, but that could just be me. I find it hilarious that people actually think of The Hunger Games as pro-feminism, Katniss and Peeta’s gender roles have simply been reversed which isn’t progressive at all, this book has more internalized sexism than Twilight and that’s saying something.

      Wow, I should probably have emailed you instead of writing this massive comment, sorry about that. Anyway, thanks for commenting but go and relax 🙂

      • It’s not effort as much as it is a chance to talk to someone who groks it, and you know I’m ridiculously verbose as a starting point. The last few days at work I have been fielding questions about my love for The Hunger Games because of my THG T-shirt, so I’m even more enthusiastic about my dislike than usual because I can’t tell customers exactly what I think and feel! (It’s not the customers’ fault: it’s fair to assume that somebody wearing a THG T-shirt likes the franchise.)

        Start with Protector of the Small. I have issues with Pierce’s Alanna books (a very ciscentric subject/approach – in point of fact, that’s the narrative I tried to destroy/viciously deconstruct with the character of Raider ibei Zahrian) but the PotS books are almost universally considered Pierce at her best.

        if it wasn’t happening right in front of Katniss/Bella then it wasn’t deemed important enough for the Reader to see.

        WORD to this. There were many important conversations that should have been described and were only reported, and the book lost a lot of emotional emphasis – that’s not children murdering children – because of it. Very sloppy, in my opinion.

        The Careers volunteered, sure, but only after a childhood of being trained and educated to do so – brainwashing. (The parallels with Peeta in the third book are quite shocking in that light, but I haven’t seen anyone discuss the Careers’ upbringing as the abuse/brainwashing/Hitler Youth process it is.) They’re victims, but that’s never said, as you say, because they’re very much the Designated Villain (and I dislike those sorts of villains). And, no, the Volturi made a fair few valid points, IMO! You’re not the only one!

        the career tributes weren’t real people so killing them wouldn’t be a problem … If Collins had organised it so that Peeta, Rue and Katniss were the last ones in the arena, that would have been interesting but a difficult decision. I don’t want to sound as though I’m advocating for child murder, but Katniss was never put in that position, she never had to make the hard choices.

        All of this. And even then Collins avoided any ugly moral questions by having anyone Katniss kills either attack her first or die from their own stupidity/mistake (Fox Face). I would have LOVED to see the book end with Peeta, Rue and Katniss and the horrible that happens. I’d have loved to see tributes stand up and say no, we’re not going to kill fellow children; I’d have loved to see those children die as martyrs to their cause, slaughtered by brainwashed children and spark a revolution – one that is authentically sparked in the way the Panem revolution is not – that way. I’d have loved to see hard choices – very hard choices – and real characters die. (Cut-outs with no names aren’t meaningful deaths.) The result of Katniss’s berry trick is painful, truly, given how long the people of Panem have been okay with the child death murder games.

        (I have just realised, actually, why I’m writing my trilogy the way I am. Brainwashing, secrets, wider society not knowing in order to provide legitimacy to the horror, sacrifices, revolution, the cast people have come to like in the first book dying thereafter, a hero who has made questionable moral choices in the same of survival and knows it, and, eventually, one hell of a martyr to hir cause – but only when ze has everything to lose. I’m not saying I’m doing the world’s best job of it, but I’m trying to do most of the things I wish THG had done … and didn’t.)

        Rue made me cry, I admit, but she existed only to make me cry/motivate Katniss.

        I think it would have been interesting if the situation had been Effie and Helena, rather than Effie and Haymitch. Two women, doing roughly the same job (just from a different angle), one is completely broken by The Hunger Games, one wraps a self-preservation bubble around her in order to cope. One women eventually gets her shit together and kind of redeems herself, while the other woman doesn’t change and continues to buy into the system, because the system is so much bigger than one person and it’s all she’s ever known. I would find that situation rather intriguing, but that could just be me.

        NO. NOT YOU. I want all this. I really want all this. SOMEBODY PLEASE WRITE THIS. Throw in queer characters and I WILL PAY MONEY FOR THIS.

        I find it hilarious that people actually think of The Hunger Games as pro-feminism, Katniss and Peeta’s gender roles have simply been reversed which isn’t progressive at all, this book has more internalized sexism than Twilight and that’s saying something.

        This cannot be said loudly enough.

        No, this shouldn’t be an email, because maybe someone will happen across this and learn or think, and in that case, these words are absolutely worth it. 😀

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