The Hunger Games
. Surely everyone knows this series by now, what with the buzz about the books and the upcoming movie fronted by an Oscar nominee. In the remains of the former United States, a new country, Panem, has risen, oppressive and cruel, ruling over their 12 Districts, controlling them with the yearly Hunger Games. Two tributes from each District, all pitted against each other. Only one person can survive. Well. Sort of.
It's Battle Royale
for a western audience, basically, with less bloody violence — seriously, the violence in THG is so tame — and rape commentary. It's odd that the rape commentary is what I remember most from Battle Royale
and the thing I was most relieved not to see, although there's still awesome sexual skeeviness that generally goes unremarked. Rad!
I read this book a few years ago. Of course, when I did my city was in the middle of the worst ice storms in years, we were out of power for three days and I was freezing and grumpy. Also, I had just finished Battle Royale
and was wigging out about how terrifyingly awesome it was even with a shaky translation. It was not the best time to read The Hunger Games
. There was no way I was going to give it a fair shake under than hostile and extremely chilly circumstances. When we discussed this week, I thought it would be the perfect time to give it another shot! Dsytopia for the win! A fresh start, a new chance!
Except distance, as they say, did not make my heart grow any fonder.
Before I get into the plot and the characters at all, I have to boggle over the writing. ( Which grew really long and personal so have a cut hiding the Wall of Text )
I liked the story itself, especially since I spent most of the book rewriting it in my head to be more interesting. It's a plot that can
interest me, after all. I like Evil Empires and the characters who take them down, so I consider myself pretty easy. This time around, I decided to not let it bother me that Collins coded the ending of the book with a love triangle where one side was absent for most of the novel and only cropped up when it was convenient. Seriously, YA, what is it with the love triangles? What it is with the heterosexual
love triangles, even, I might even take them with a little variety. I knew what was going to happen, and I thought, "well, if I just let that go maybe the rest will be okay!"
. But it wasn't okay.
I found myself weirdly sidetracked by the characterization of almost all the female characters. In a Surprise Twist™, the Dead Father is golden and the mother, surprisingly, is useless. I see this is other types of fantasy, too. The mother is downplayed. Maybe she dies or leaves. Father is alive and he's moving the plot along. Or maybe the father dies, and the mother remains, but she doesn't do anything but sit there like a lump while the protagonist calls up fond memories to get them through the hard times.
Other female characters are treated badly, too. Katniss often critiques their looks and behavior in offensive ways or the book frames them in really problematic ways. In the opening chapters before the game, we meet several female characters, and all the adult women are worn down, bony, have super awesome gross nicknames marking them out (crones) or are actually called witches or otherwise shown to be evil and no-good. Attractive women are judged for clearly "working for" the attractiveness. The one man like this is very flamboyant. Boy, where have I seen that
It's very strange and it hit me the wrong way all through the beginning of the book and into the story once we leave District 12. I also found it very weird how many of the women were useless, evil, "bad", or ditzy — while the men were expert hunters, kind and generous and thoughtful, or a special snowflake dead father who imparted wisdom. Unless they were flamboyant. Then they were probably gay, and therefore like women, and therefore catty and shallow.
There is a problem with this picture. This is pretty much where the book lost me.
It's not kind to its female characters. Katniss manages to be a good character and fairs pretty well, except she's given male traits, a male role in her life, numerous male role models, and for all intents in purposes is a man (she even looks different than her other family members, marking her out). Unless
she needs to be cute and young and innocent (which she does later). She is terrible at emotions, and several times in the text she rejects the role of "nurse" — typically a female role — even as she goes through the motions. I'm sorry, but I expect a little more than this. I've talked about this before, where a female character is assigned a traditional male role, a traditional male attitude, and considered to be spunky and badass. But you gain that by them being someone emotionally stunted, and Katniss's problems manifested in her trust issues and failure to recognize her own emotions and be led around by the metaphorical nose when it came to heart issues. So you can have a strong woman, physically, but she has to be an emotional dimwit
to offset all the awesome.
I don't find that cool or subversive. I find that predicable, boring and ignorant.
There's no suspense. Everything
in the novel is handed to us on a platter. Yes, easy reads are one thing, but the level of telling is obscene. Even the premise — the games themselves — fail as a tool of suspense, because so much of it is off-screen, bumped for a ham-handed, sexually exploitative romance that was never really dissected in the text.
All in all, I get why these books shot to super stardom. It's easy to see, because they are easy to gobble up, popcorn-style, and I like books like that. Think they're totally fine. But when they come paired with what I think are really problematic characterizations, I just pop out and can't get back in again. My first reading of this book was not wrong: it's just not that good if you try to critique the text.
Here is what I said last time I read this book and I find it still applies:
The Hunger Games is too busy shacking up its main characters. Theme? it asks. Here, Katniss, make out with your competition for some drama as men (don't think I missed that) steer you into appropriate sexual behavior that will get you rewarded. Is that actual critique of our reality-obsessed based entertainment, that the big corporate sponsors (men, in the form of Haymitch) bully and entrap people (girls) into doing stuff that maybe isn't so smart for fun times for other people? Maybe the whole thing works as a critique of something. Maybe I'm not the audience. Maybe I am a big old bummer who wants to dislike everything popular!
I don't know if I'll be reading the second and third books. Friends want me to, and I might do so just for comparison's sake: to see if Collins manages to mature in her writing, to see the resolution of all the obvious hint-drops in the book, to watch the (vomit) love triangle play out in a horrible way just for my own personal pleasure. TAKE THAT, YA GEOMETRY.Lady business
: big old bag of bile.Minority report
: there were a few (don't look here for GLBTQ reps), but the body count was high in this one, captain.Ink notes
: I've read fanfiction better than this. In fact, I bet the fandom for this book writes better than the author.Shelf impact
: themed, carried off nicely. Possibly the best thing about the book.Final thoughts
: Iris On Books
, The Literary Omnivore