Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Hunger Games - Book Review

I was given The Hunger Games for my birthday a couple of months ago and made it a priority read, even though I have over a dozen books on my shelf that have been calling out my name to be read for over a year now. Now that the Hunger Game series is complete, a movie has been made, and the store shelves are complete with merchandise, I figured I’d finally get on the bandwagon and check what all the hype is about.

In case you’re wondering, I was avoiding The Hunger Games for a couple of different reasons. One being the issue of my reading backlist. The other being that the plot sounded too much like Battle Royale. As clunky as some of the writing was, Battle Royale was a great novel. You can check out my review for it here. But when The Hunger Games came around, I figured it was just a copycat of Battle Royale and decided to avoid it like I do so much other uninspired fiction and entertainment.

When I finally finished The Hunger Games (I’m referring to Book 1 in this review), I realized that there were enough differences in character, plot, and writing style to call The Hunger Games somewhat original when compared to Battle Royale. However, I won’t say I was enamored with the book overall.

The Hunger Games opens with a great character voice, that of Katniss Everdeen. One major thing that keeps The Hunger Games apart from Battle Royale is that Battle Royale was written from many different points of view and The Hunger Games focuses on one specific character, her story told in 1st-person. It works well for the book and does a great job getting me to invest in the character.

The plot of The Hunger Games is believable and tragic. You understand from the very beginning what the conflict in the story is and the seemingly impossible odds the characters in the book have to face in order to live day to day. I especially loved the parts about the hunting that goes on past the fence surrounding District 12 and the loyalties that the residents of the district have to each other as opposed to the Capitol. It gave a sense of hope in mankind and shed light on the aspect of community.

The book progresses along pretty smoothly. I enjoy Collins’s writing style. Never once did I have to stop and reread a passage to figure out what the author was trying to say. That’s important to me as a reader, because I have so many books I want to read, I really don’t want to be wasting my time having to reread stuff I’ve already read just to understand what the characters are doing or where they are in the story. I have trouble with this sometimes in some of Stephen King’s work. As much as I love his Dark Tower series, there are many times I have to reread passages to figure out what the heck is going on or what King is trying to say. Most of that is probably due to the fact that he has so much exposition in his novels. Collins does a good job balancing exposition with action to keep the reader moving along.

The world of The Hunger Games didn’t feel filled out. In Battle Royale, the characters question the government, their world, others around them. In The Hunger Games, it seems to be well-accepted that children will be thrown into an arena to kill each other at some point in their adolescence. The parents of these children don’t seem as broken up over this as I would expect them to be. Maybe if the world was ALWAYS like this from the time of its creation, I could believe it, but the book clearly explains that things were not always like this. I’ve heard that a rebellion begins in the second book in the series, but it felt strange that it didn’t start in this one.

When I read Battle Royale, it took hundreds of pages to get through the 42 contestants. It seems by the time I got about halfway through The Hunger Games, there are only a handful of participants left alive. And herein lies one of my gripes. The killings felt a little evasive – in regards to the author’s willingness to tell/show us what happened. I’m not asking for gratuitous violence – especially since this is a ‘young adult’ book – but I yearned for a little more description as to what happened to the other characters. Some seemed to just vanish into thin air, with no real details of how they died.

Battle Royale was also a bit more gruesome than The Hunger Games, as well as more psychologically rife. That’s one thing I didn’t find realistic about The Hunger Games. It seems some of the characters do in fact question the morals associated with killing one another, but they seem way more concerned with their own well-being than allowing a corrupt government establishment to turn them into murderers. Katniss barely questions killing anyone during her time in the arena. When she does finally make her first kill – intentional or not – she stops for a few seconds to ponder it and then she is off again on her adventure. I completely understand that one doesn’t have much time to get philosophical when in a bloodbath arena dueling others who want to kill you, but still. She seems to carry little to no remorse, and I find that to be somewhat disturbing in a novel aimed at such a young audience.

One thing that I did not like about the book was the ending.
*Spoiler Alert*

Throughout the whole book, I was anticipating Katniss to rebel against the Capitol. In fact, I told myself that if it didn’t happen, and if she just went along with the rules of the game and came out the winner simply due to the fact that she killed the rest of the participants, that I would hate the book. I mean, what purpose would the book even have if it just stood to chronicle a mass of kids killing each other for the amusement of a sick and twisted government?

First, I felt surprised, shocked, and somewhat confused when the wolves came into the arena. You know, the ones who are actually mutated versions of the other contestants of the Hunger Games. That was weird, felt a little out of place, and was never explained. Granted though, there are more books in the series, so I guess it’s kind of okay that this was left somewhat open ended. But it felt random.

Hope was instilled in me when Katniss and Peeta decide to rebel against the rules of the Game stating there could only be one winner after the rule was changed earlier to include two winners. It came as no surprise to me that the Capitol went back on the rules – they want entertainment, and I knew pitting two victors from the same district against each other would satisfy that need for an entertaining fight. When Katniss and Peeta decided to feign taking the poison berries so that the Capitol would have no victors, I was glad for the welcome story twist. 

From that point on, it felt as if there was another climax that was building up. There were still a few chapters left in the book, and I had hope that Katniss would rebel against the Games and start a riot or something and that would open up the door for the second book in the series. Maybe the wolf creatures would be explained. At least, that’s what I thought might happen. Instead, for a couple of chapters, the author builds up this crazy tension and anticipation. Katniss is filled with paranoia about what the Capitol is going to do to her and Peeta since they rebelled with the berries. So while the Capitol is putting on a show of crowning Katniss and Peeta as victors, you’re left waiting with bated breath as to what the Capitol really has up its sleeve. I mean, these two kids just pulled the government’s punk card. Surely there will be retribution.

I literally find myself on the edge of my seat as I rip through these last chapters, waiting for something great to happen, something to fulfill my desire for an uprising against this travesty of a government. I mean, we’re talking about twelve districts against a corrupt government. And yet, there isn’t much mention – if any (I don’t remember) – of anyone even attempting to create a rebellion of any sort, at least not since the Hunger Games have started. (The whole reason for the Hunger Games is because there was a failed rebellion attempt years earlier.)

Instead, I’m left with a lackluster ending that seemed to be built not around the Games themselves really, but around the theme of romance and betrayal. Peeta realizes that some of Katniss’s affection towards him was contrived. I’m not sure why he would be so surprised, seeing how he was playing up that angle in the very beginning. But at the end of the book, he seems truly hurt and offended that Katniss would do such a thing to him. And for some reason, Katniss suddenly has mixed feelings about Peeta. I can believe that part to a certain extent because it would be natural for her to feel close to Peeta in the arena when he was the only one she could really trust. But her feelings seem to take a violent swing toward the other end of the spectrum as she rides that last train home, and it doesn’t sit in my mind as all that believable.

I am debating on picking up the second book in this series. Some have told me it’s better than the first book, but I don’t know. Overall, The Hunger Games was a decent read, but it’s another one of those books that makes me scratch my head and ponder why in the world it gained so much buzz – enough to be made into a movie and eventually grow into a worldwide phenomenon.

To sum it up, the book was okay. Surely not the phenomenon everyone has been raving about. It entertained me, had a lackluster and anti-climactic ending, and probably could have used a bit more filling to make the pie sweeter.

2 comments:

Sean MacKenzie said...

Hmmm, this is pretty interesting. I too have been wondering what the hype was and thanks for explaining the novel a little better for us. I might try and read the book if I like the movie. Which is normally what I do. I did that with The Help and found I liked the book better.

David N Alderman said...

I've been doing my best to read books before movies, but sometimes I don't line that up right and end up seeing the movie first. Now that I've read The Hunger Games, I'm definitely going to check out the movie. I managed to see Casino Royale and then checked out the book and was fascinated with the differences/similarities between the two.