November 21, 2014

The Hunger Games Trilogy

Over the past three weeks, I read Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy for the first time. I had watched the first two movies when they came out, and the more interesting second one made me curious enough about the world and characters that I decided I'd read the books before the next movie. I almost waited too long to carry out this plan, but I finally took the time to read this series, and I'm not sorry.

→ Presumably you know the premise of THE HUNGER GAMES: In a dystopian future, teenagers are forced to fight to the death in a televised spectacle intended to remind the people of the oppressed districts that they are powerless against the evil Capitol. I'm unconvinced that this is a logical tool to prevent rebellion (and it proves not to be), but okay, it's the premise of the series, so I'll roll with it.

When her beloved younger sister is selected for the Hunger Games, Katniss makes the deadly choice to volunteer in her place. Katniss is thrust into the spotlight of the Capitol and then into the horror of the arena, where her only hope of survival is to kill or outlast the rest of the participants, many far stronger and better equipped. Throughout this ordeal, Katniss struggles with anger at the Capitol and her situation, guilt and depression over what she must do, and constant fear.

The strength of Katniss's first person narration is what elevates this from a kind of ridiculous story to something truly gripping. The experience of being inside Katniss's head is a difficult one even in better circumstances, and that's handled well in presenting the horrific events that unfold. The story is excellently plotted to keep you reading, but Katniss's voice is the more impressive accomplishment (and the main element that had to be omitted from the movie adaptation).

→ At the start of CATCHING FIRE, Katniss has survived the Hunger Games, so she ought to be living a happy life of wealth and safety. Instead, the memories and consequences of her time in the arena plague her. And even worse, the choices she made to win the Games have angered the Capitol and put everyone she loves in danger. There are reports of rebellion in the districts, and it seems Katniss has unintentionally become a hero of the revolution.

I found this a more interesting and nuanced story than the first book, which focuses mostly on the action of the Games. This book still had plenty of action, but the rumors and realities of the uprising are the more important element of the plot and appealed more to my reading tastes. We remain in Katniss's viewpoint, and it's as well-developed as ever. Since she's both concerned with the wider world and unable to learn what's happening there, it adds tension and mystery to the perspective.

→ In MOCKINGJAY, the districts are in full revolt against the Capitol, and Katniss is being forced into the role of leader. It's not that she doesn't believe in the cause, but she's already been through so much and continues to suffer from the trauma of the arena. All she wants to do now is hide under the covers. Reluctantly, she becomes the public face of the rebellion, but she fears this is only making the situation worse for the people she loves.

I liked that the revolution is presented as a complex, morally ambiguous situation, not a simple question of good and evil. This leads to an interesting range of conflicts for Katniss, both with others and in her own mind. I also enjoyed that after two books spent mostly in the wilderness or in Katniss's poverty-stricken district, this one presents a high-tech setting that gave the story more of a science fiction feel. While much of the story was compelling, I grew frustrated by the plot as it got closer to the end, and ultimately, I didn't like this book as much as the second one.

While I didn't adore this series, I found it worthwhile to read. Collins is a solid writer, and though I have some complaints about the books, I feel they've earned their success.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Andrea Blythe visits the Tate Modern and ponders what makes a story a story: "For example, in taking a note from minimalist art, could I put a single word on a page and call it a novel, in the same way an artist can take a single color and fill a canvas and it's a painting?"

→ Jennifer R. Hubbard considers the imaginary worlds that budding storytellers construct: "Like Martin Wilson, I created an imaginary tennis tournament with fictional players and results. I also had imaginary schools full of fictional students (for which I even created yearbooks), imaginary towns (for which I drew maps and created directories), and my own imaginary soap opera for which I outlined ten years' worth of episodes."

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