Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins [2008-2010]

I have a load of comics photographed and ready on my phone, but I have been really forgetful about downloading them to the computer, how silly of me. So for now, enjoy this probably really long review of the insanely popular, Hunger Games series.
I actually found out about this series two years ago when we were on vacation eating breakfast in the hotel dining room. There was a TV, and a news report about the 'wild teen phenomenon series'. Now, I'm sort of a titanic contrarian. It's a little hard for me to like something that's popular, but the premise sounded interesting and since there didn't seem to be any sparkly vampires, I gave it a read. That was all a few years ago, so forgive me if some of the details are a bit fuzzy. Also, this is going to be very rambly and disjointed, so... maybe get a snack.

The Hunger Games takes place in a post apocalyptic future where the people live in 12 separate districts, and lead mostly miserable lives. There's also the Capitol, where rich people live. Every year, the Capitol puts on games, and a teenage boy and girl are chosen from each district to fight to the death in the titular 'Hunger Games'. Katniss Everdeen (Why is it that names like Eowyn and Bilbo don't seem silly, but Katniss Everdeen makes me want to melt in a puddle of giggles?) is a 16 (why are all the heroines these days 16?) year old girl who supports her family with hunting- specifically archery. On 'reaping day', the day the Hunger Games contestants are chosen, her little sister Primrose is chosen. Katniss bravely steps up and takes her place.
That's a pretty interesting premise, though already sort of falling flat, at least to me. I know that some stories are just dark (Les Miserables, Odd Thomas), and that's no problem. But kids killing each other?
Why is that tolerated? Why don't the parents work harder to stop this? Why are the children so open to killing each other? I understand that some of the districts encourage violent behavior, but what I don't understand is why everyone else is okay with it. Aside from the heavily trained careers, none of the other contestants are that eager about killing each other. Why don't they band together and defy the capitol and all that? Why are Katniss and fellow District 12 contestant Peeta the first ones to defy the capitol? These are the 74th annual Hunger Games, and nobody in all those decades has thought to rise up and protect their children. I know, I know. The government would punish anyone who rebelled, yeah. But isn't freedom worth it? If so many people hate these games, why is it so out of the question to just stop?

On the other hand, this does make for an interesting point. Nowadays, people are very desensitized to death (abortion is one example of murder people don't really care about, and even encourage.), and there are striking parallels between the culture in The Hunger Games, and parts of our culture.
I mean, not everyone who reads the books likes them because of the parallels. It's a little disturbing to see reviews for these books praising them as 'pulse-pounding' and 'thrilling'. It's like even as the readers side with Katniss and abhor the violence in the story, they're at the same time embracing it.
I know. These reviews are of the book, but it's easier to just get pictures
of the characters from the movie. This here is Katniss.
As for the characters, they really are mixed bags. Katniss Everdeen is certainly interesting, and some of the things that she does are admirable and brave. I mean, she takes her sister's place in the deadly competition, that's pretty good.
A concern for me when I started the book was that it would make random slaughter look appealing and totally okay. At least at first, Katniss only kills when she absolutely has to, and it clearly leaves it's mark on her when she does.
However, there is an incident where she kills somebody out of mercy. This is a little difficult, since the person in question obviously wasn't going to survive, and they were in tremendous agony. Later in the books too, Katniss becomes more ruthless when it comes to killing. She kills an innocent bystander, a woman from the capitol, when she wanders onto scene and surprises Katniss. There are some odd remarks, like "I could still see the grease on her lips from the fried chicken she was eating.", but I'm not sure if this is supposed to be guilt, or just random observations from a hardened mind. Because over time Katniss is hardened, and that's understandable. Even in the beginning though, she's a cold person who puts her family above all else. The only person who has her sympathy is Primrose, the aforementioned little sister.
A cold, harsh attitude doesn't exactly make for a likeable character. It might make for an interesting one, but could you imagine hanging out with Katniss? One of the of the marks of a likeable fictional character is that you can imagine yourself hanging out and being friends with them. I could be friends with Odd Thomas, or Emma Woodhouse. Heck, I think even Marius Pontmercy would be a decent fellow to be friends with. But Katniss? Nah. She doesn't seem too easy to get along with.
Not that a character has to be buddy material to gain the reader's sympathy, of course not. Eponine isn't somebody you could be casual friends with, and yet she beckons a ton of sympathy. However, Eponine had something that, at least in my point of view, Katniss didn't. Eponine redeemed herself in the end, doing her best to make up for the mistakes she had made.
Katniss? The redeeming qualities that she had in the first book disappear gradually through the series, and by the end of the third book, I didn't care much for her. She went from the strong, independent girl who did everything for her family, to a dependent lapdog, doing everything for her slack-jawed boyfriend. Which brings us to our next character...
"Tee hee. I like turtles!" :D

Peeta Mellark. A bland love interest if I ever saw one. Peeta barely has a personality, I mean let's take a look. He loves Katniss. He decorates cakes. And he's apparently really charming, funny, and likeable. Not like we, the readers get much of that charming likeableness. Because most of his time actually in the story he's mooning over Katniss! He has no really unique characteristics. He's cute, he's brave, he's a talented painter, and he loves you Katniss more than anything. Peeta's not really his own character, and gets almost no development though the course of three books. The most interesting thing he does is get brainwashed into wanting to kill Katniss. And even then, he's pretty bland.

The romance between Katniss and Peeta isn't that special either. It starts as a ploy to get special help from sponsors during the games, but as it turns out, Peeta actually did love her. Of course, Katniss is torn between Peeta and her childhood friend Gale. Yes, Gale is a man. Over time though, she becomes totally entirely in love with Peeta.
Now, there are romances that I like. Having a love interest isn't really a bad thing. But it bugs me when a tough girl gets a love interest and then BAM! She's no longer strong and independent, but rather, she's totally melted into a spineless jellyfish. The romance is a definite weak spot in the story, for me at least.

Along with the characters, morality too is a mixed bag here. I know that not everyone is going to agree with me here, so you can feel free to skip this paragraph, or present your point of view, but I'm just going to go by what I believe. Oh. There's also spoilers, too.
The games themselves aren't presented as something cool (though I don't doubt that there are at least a few fans who'd like to be tributes...), and the reader certainly isn't supposed to approve of the killing. However, in the third book, Katniss vows to kill the tyrannical President Snow, in some kind of revenge-rampage. She insists that she be the one to kill him. However, in the end, the leader of the rebellion, President Coin, is the one Katniss kills. Which brings me to another point that I didn't exactly like about the books.
In the third book, Mockingjay, there is a rebellion that Katniss joins in to overthrow the oppressive government. Allright, finally people are doing something about it! Well, don't get too exited. Because it turns out that the insurgents are just as bad as the Capitol they're trying to overthrow. In one of the battles, the rebels actually drop bombs onto their own battlefield doctors (including Primrose.) who were tending to injured children. Why? They made it look like the Capitol dropped those bombs, that way it would stir up more outrage among the people. And once they're overthrown the old government, President Coin suggests that they force former citizens of the Capitol to participate in their own Hunger Games, as a sort of revenge. This idea doesn't happen, but it's quite depressing to read a book where you can't root for any one side, or even character. I'd root for Katniss, buts she's too fixated on revenge. I'd root for the rebellion, but they're just as bad as the government they want to overthrow. See, when you don't have any characters to root for, it makes for a very depressing, bleak, and utterly lightless read. Real life can be depressing, but there is also light.

The writing for the Hunger Games books is unique. It's told in the 1st Person, using the present tense. That's part of the reason the stories feel so fast paced and immediate, since the way they're written makes it feel like it's happened right now, to you. It does work for the series, and keeps the tension ramped up. The descriptions of characters and locations is pretty good too, and the storytelling is fast-paced and well executed. The plot- whatever qualms I might have with it- is mostly well done, but there are one or two little plot holes, and some of the characters are very flat.

The Verdict: C
I'm giving it a plain ol' C because even if I don't think this series is that great, I don't think that it never should have been written, either. Most of the immoral aspects of this series are presented in a negative light, as things that shouldn't be. And at it's core, it had an interesting message. So while I'm not eager to read it again, I suppose I don't regret reading it.

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