For those who have yet to read The Hunger Games, I definitely recommend doing so for a few reasons. I suggest reading it because it is a book that has captured the interest of a wide group of people. An argument could be made that these are the Harry Potter or Twilight fans looking for a new fix, but regardless of that, the general public is giving this book a lot of weight. I always advocate awareness of what captivates people. I also advocate understanding why the younger demographic gets passionate about different things. In this book there is both survival AND complicated love story, which tells me a lot of teens and twenty-somethings feel a connection with both of those themes. Good to know. Of course, I also suggest reading it because it is a gripping story which is told relatively well. I didn’t expect the story to be so strong; I was expecting a fairly shoddy piece of work, in all honesty. It was so popular, given so much hype, and the movie was made so quickly that I figured it had to be pretty easy to swallow. It is easy to swallow, but it at least tastes fairly good on the way down.
Here is a more complete explanation of what I disliked and what I appreciated about the book:
I enjoyed The Hunger Games (by Suzanne Collins), which was enough of a surprise for me, but there were some things that distracted me from the story. For example, I found it very distracting that Katniss’ internal monologues about the two guys sort of in her life were so…um…dumb. I ended up seeing Katniss as kind of a thick-skulled, oblivious girl by the end. I’m all for the stories when the main character doesn’t know love when they see it; the tension created when the reader knows something the main character refuses to acknowledge can induce a lot of screaming-at-the-book fun times. However, Katniss moved beyond the endearingly oblivious to the obnoxiously oblivious. I get that she’s supposed to be focused so hard on survival that she can’t figure out what’s real anymore, but she doesn’t even entertain the possibility that Peeta is being serious! And forget any contemplation of Gale.
All that aside, the other thing that distracted me from the story was how little you knew about anyone other than Peeta. Technically, the flashbacks revealed more about Katniss, but since we were privy only to her perspective, I felt like I was kept out as well by that inner defensive wall she has. The only characters I really got to know were Peeta and possibly Cinna–all by Katniss’ observation. I think I possibly know Gale better than I do Katniss and he was only present for the first couple chapters!
My husband also read the book and was distracted by the many inaccuracies of wilderness survival, especially given the time frame. This is not his review but since I know next to nothing about survival, I thought his point was worth mentioning.
The reason I found these so jarring was I thoroughly enjoyed the plot. This book is driven by the actual Hunger Games, the political and social divides, and the question of morality. There is a strong female character and a love story with two good guys to complicate matters, but the real star of this book is the constant presence of the Capitol in the lives of beaten-down, subdued, and duped citizens–which, by the way, is an issue not even resolved in the first book. I loved every moment of contrast between affluence and poverty, performance and freedom, peace and rebellion, alliance and trust, love and survival. I loved the glitzy Capitol versus the grim Seam. The illusions set up by the government as the “opiate for the masses” was implied at every chapter, which I thought was a wonderfully sinister way of keeping the true enemy to the forefront of the story. Katniss and her crew were in such stark contrast, simply by their varying degrees of awareness. They were not deluded by the Capitol and therefore became reluctant (at least on Katniss’ part) rebels.
Speaking of Katniss, I have to give Miss Collins credit for maintaining the first-person narrative with a teenage girl wracked by unbelievable stress. It is not an easy way to write a book and I think she pretty much nailed it with Katniss. Doing the book in this way added some much-needed immediacy to maintain the heart-pounding pace of the story. At times it gets awkward describing everything from a first-person view, but I think it was well-balanced. The only reason I felt I knew Katniss at all was through her inner voice. Even there, however, Katniss kept up a wall around what she really thought or felt at any given moment. That falls in line with her character, but it left me at a disadvantage to see Katniss from other angles. The impressions of other people are there, but it’s harder to see them when the reactions are still held in the bounds of Katniss’ observations.
As I pointed out, this crisis between down-to-earth people and the Capitol did not come to a head in the first book; Miss Collins spent the entire first book setting up the conflicting worldviews. I have yet to finish the series so I can only hope there is more progress in the second book. While the first book was an excellent picture of the contrasts, there was not enough personally-targeted menace for me to believe the Capitol will care about what Katniss does now that the Games are over. I know that is the direction the story is headed; I don’t care nearly as much as I should about what Katniss WILL, in fact, do. The end of the story seemed to focus much more on her love triangle problems, which I thought a poor substitute for a cliff-hanger ending.
Over all opinion: Great, exciting main plot + somewhat bland characterization + a few thought-provoking issues = a fun read, good for traveling.