Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy

I am going to keep this spoiler free, just in case.  I mean, I can't be the absolute last person in the world to have read these books.  You won't find anything here about the plot  you wouldn't discover from reading the descriptions of all three books on the jackets.
     

In a future dystopian North America the country of Panem is controlled by the Capitol.  The people who inhabit the Capitol are, for the most part, useless gluttonous voyeurs who run around dressed like Lady Gaga.  There are 12 surrounding districts the Capitol oppresses.  When The Hunger Games begins it is 74 years after the end of a revolt from the districts.  The 13th district was destroyed, the other 12 surrendered.  As part of that surrender every year each district must send two Tributes, one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in a televised fight to the death.  Do you remember that story "The Lottery" every one of us (Americans at least) read in junior high or high school?  Well, the concept is basically that story meets Roman gladiators meets Survivor.

The story is told from the first person POV of Katniss Everdeen.  Katniss is a 16 year old resident of District 12, the coal mining district.  Since her father's death in a coal mining accident, Katniss has been hunting illegally to keep her mother and sister from starving.  On the day of the Reaping for the 74th Games Katniss' 12 year old sister is chosen as the female tribute.  Katniss volunteers to go in her place. 

In Katniss Suzanne Collins has given us a character who is a hero and is also seriously flawed.  Her heroism is undeniable.  Sacrificing herself for her sister, taking care of Rue in the arena, her dedication to saving Peeta, her determination during the war and her final act as the Mockingjay are all acts of a hero.  Her flaws are also undeniable despite the many fans who persist in insisting she is just made of awesome.  She is dangerously impulsive, seething with anger and hate, antagonistic to everyone, distrustful and has no sense of self.  Put her in the Arena with a bow, arrows, and a knife and her survival instinct and hunting skills make her nearly unstoppable.  Outside the arena she's a mess.  And in the Games outside counts as much as inside because that is where you win the hearts of the people who will sponsor you.  She would have been completely lost if it hadn't been for Cinna (her stylist) and Peeta (her fellow District 12 Tribute).  It is their genius and hard work that win her the support she needs to stay alive.  Katniss is not overly intelligent either.  Don't get me wrong, she isn't an idiot, but she is definitely not a nuanced or critical thinker.  She is never the chess player but always a piece on the board.  I like flawed characters, they are more real, but Katniss was a bit hard to swallow.  Through the first book I found her to be laudable, if not always likable, but then her character stagnated.  I feel like this stagnation was mostly the result of the romantic drama being forced on the plot.

This is my biggest quibble with these books.  I know I am in the minority here but I found the Peeta/Katniss/Gale triangle detracted from the story rather than added to it.  It was pretty obvious which way that was going to go from the beginning.  Katniss had six months between the end of The Hunger Games and the beginning of Catching Fire to figure her feelings out.  Six days a week every week of those six months she was alone in the woods hunting.  Plenty of time for introspection.  This really could have been resolved then and allowed for an even greater story of love and friendship to be told.  Instead none of these characters were able to grow and reach their full potential because they were trapped in this ridiculous plot device.

What made these books worth the read for me were the themes explored.  The decadent excess of the Capitol is a startling  look at where our own society is heading.  We are not as far away from being them as we would like to think ourselves.  The  horror of war and its fallout was also brilliantly displayed.  The books, particularly the final one, are violent and grim.  The violence is not gratuitous though.  It always serves a purpose in the story.  War is hell.  There's a reason that is over quoted.  It is true.  Collins does a magnificent job of showcasing not only the physical but the emotional and psychological consequences of war.  On both sides of a war innocents are killed, there are manipulative power hungry people out for their own agenda, people are used as tools, people are tortured and destruction is unavoidable.  Recovery is long and hard, particularly psychological recovery.  This aspect of the story was executed very well.      

Some Final Random Thoughts:
I was less than impressed with the world building.

I liked the end just fine without the epilogue.

Cinna was my favorite character.  He is the one who is made of awesome.

Finnick is also way up there on the list of most amazing supporting characters ever.

While Haymitch was despicable most of the time I couldn't help but like him.

These books should translate into movies well.

This was originally posted on my livejournal in September 2010.

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