This isn’t really related to anything Asian. Except perhaps Cho Chang in “Harry Potter.”
Anyways – I’m writing this because I have finally finished reading “The Hunger Games” trilogy, and it’s being touted as the next “Harry Potter” – sort of. It did get a lot of attention over who would play the lead character Katniss Everdeen.
To figure out the furor around this book, I wanted to find out how it compared to two previous series – Harry Potter and Twilight. I couldn’t find any review satisfying enough, so I decided to make my own. Hence, I spent the last two nights sleeping at 2:30 am trying to finish reading “The Hunger Games” trilogy.
I could add “His Dark Materials” series into this post too – but I think it would make it insanely long. Unless you want to know what I think of it.
So on to the reviews – from most recent to oldest.
The Hunger Games:
The series is comprised of three books, “The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire,” and “Mockingjay.” It follows the protagonist Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old huntress who lives in an almost post-apocalyptic North America, where the country is called Panem and thirteen districts surround the Capitol. It’s ruled under a dictatorship, where the districts are held under strict control and serve only to fulfill the excessive lifestyle of the Capitol citizens. Panem is all about propaganda, reality television, and The Hunger Games, an annual reminder of the districts’ failed rebellion seventy-five years ago.
The Hunger Games is pretty much like Battle Royale – two representatives (a boy and a girl) from every district is sent to the Capitol and trapped in an arena, where they must kill each other for the amusement of the citizens. Katniss is sent in as the representative for her district, along with Peeta Mellark, “the boy with the bread.” He’s the only one who’s ever looked upon her kindly, aside from her best friend and hunting partner Gale Hawthorne. He also harbors a secret, longstanding crush on her.
I won’t spoil the rest of the series, but needless to say, Katniss’ actions during the Hunger Games spark a flame within the dissatisfied citizens of Panem, and her subsequent actions catalyze a rebellion that was long brewing.
Clearly, this book was addicting enough that I stayed up all night for four nights to read each book. I couldn’t wait one more day to finish it. “Mockingjay” took me two nights, only because I had to force myself to sleep. I can’t explain why the books are so addicting definitively, but I think there are three parts:
- The series is complete and I can find out the end if I wanted to. Had I discovered “The Hunger Games” when it first came out, I might have been less addicted, forced to wait the months in between publications.
- The book is fairly easy to read, and doesn’t really try to confuse you.
- It moves fairly quickly. Within a couple of pages, we can go from a battle ground to the aftermath weeks later.
Despite having stayed up reading the series, after I finished it I realized I had a very conflicting feeling of dissatisfaction and satisfaction. It’s as if I was missing something in the books. “Harry Potter” didn’t have this problem for me, but I think one of it’s flaws is that the book moved too fast. I didn’t get a chance to enjoy and appreciate each character. In fact, I don’t think I ever really liked the characters. I read the last page of each book before finishing them because I just wanted to know what happened. Once I knew the ending, I wondered, “Well, how did we get there?” That’s what kept me going in this series.
I honestly must say that the plot is mundane. Battling to survive and sparking a rebellion, with the standard archetypical love triangle – wow so original. Its only highlight is how it is more critical of society than it is of politics today. The idea of lives being under the lights of a camera almost 24/7, and of how we viewers enjoy watching the trials and tribulations of people we don’t know mocks at how American society has become obsessed with reality TV. The excessive use of plastic surgery in order to form the most beautiful of beings reminds us of our own fascination with it, and the idea that everything must be dressed up prettily in order to have power over the people is sad but true.
But this message is not as effective to me as I thought it would be. While I do believe in Collins’ message about how reality TV can be destructive (if that is her message), I am ambivalent to her comments about beauty. A great deal of words is spent on describing how Katniss must be beautified before she makes a public appearance, and about how beautiful she appears once transformed. To me, it just felt like the author was having a field day describing and thinking about the makeover process. (It would certainly play out well in the movies.) There is a purpose to her transformation, and it can be made parallel to her personal growth (though I don’t think she grows very much), but it feels shallow because we are constantly reminded that Katniss is prettier than she thinks, that she can command a room’s attention without trying. Oook – so a girl who doesn’t think she’s pretty is actually pretty, and all the while gets the makeover of her life?
“The Princess Diaries” was much better in telling that plot line.
Now as to the characters, I don’t like them very much because I don’t think they grow very much. Peeta remains the same caring, unselfish protector, even if he does go crazy for a bit. Gale is ever steadfast, and also headstrong in that he believes in rebellion before he knew that there were rebels in the country. And both of them unconditionally love Katniss, which bores me. Their love triangle was the most ridiculous thing ever because Katniss has to choose which boy she likes better. Oh the pains! The horror! Which to choose? Can she have both? Or none at all?
As for Katniss, I find her a sniveling brat, a self-deprecating wit, and a young child all rolled into one. She’s incredibly self-aware that she could be manipulating people she loves, and incredibly sharp about what her role is in the rebellion. However, there are times when she is completely naive about her feelings, and constantly misunderstanding those around her (particularly Peeta and Gale). I am never convinced whenever she thinks badly of Gale or Peeta, or anyone else. Maybe because I’m jaded, but also because there are signs that clearly show they aren’t trying to betray her. Also, I find that she always manages to black out and/or go insane at exactly the right moment, so that we never have to go through how the rest of the battle plays out, and we have everything told to us later on when we’re safe in a hospital bed at a bunker with an IV drip ensuring our life. Wow.
I have plenty of issues about being shown rather than told, and Collins prefers to tell in as short paragraphs as possible. That definitely accounts for why the books speed by so fast.
I enjoyed the second book the most, as there were more unexpected twists in that one than in the first or third book. The first book was a tad predictable and regular; it also wasn’t trying to pack too much story into it. The point of that book was to survive the Hunger Games. The rest of the series had to pack in all the other political details, all the other subplots; basically, they had to reflect a bigger world around Katniss. Book 2 did well in capturing that big world; Book 3 did not, and it was clear the purpose of that book was to just give us closure. There were moments in the first book when I was reminded of “Eragon,” where in that series, chapters would be spent describing the desert, the slow journey from point A to point B (I don’t even remember the story – that’s how memorable it was). In book 1, there were plenty of moments spent just watching Katniss trying to survive her harsh surroundings in the Hunger Games arena.
I also never felt complete closure with the last book. I don’t think Katniss ever really improved from how she was in the beginning, and if she did I was told about it, and therefore I am not convinced of it.
“The Hunger Games” could have been quite the series, but I think book 3 didn’t do it justice. I have to say that the themes in it do make the book better, because I feel like Collins is at least saying something – about how people can easily get caught up in an endless cycle of destruction, about our obsession with beauty, about questions of reality and fantasy, and about our sickening fascination with reality TV, in whatever form they come in.
I don’t think the movies will do it any justice though, as when I tried to visualize the world it wasn’t very imaginative. I get this feeling that it might end up being like “The Golden Compass” movie – where it should have been a movie franchise but wasn’t.
Verdict: Read it, but don’t expect much from it.
Next up: “Twilight”