So I don't read much YA, haven't really since about fifth or sixth grade. It lost my interest. There are some authors I enjoy, like John Green, Maureen Johnson, or Philip Pullman (can we count Neil Gaiman because of The Graveyard Book? I THINK WE CAN), but otherwise, I'm pretty much outside of that literary sphere entirely.
And then I heard about The Hunger Games. There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book lately. Praises trumpeting to the skies. The heavens themselves singing the glories of this book.
Wow, I thought. Suzanne Collins must be pretty good.
I picked up the book for a couple bucks at a Scholastic warehouse sale, read it, and was stunned.
How. Do people. Like this?
I'm shocked. Completely, utterly shocked.
The writing is tosh, the characters dull, the action ridiculous, the plot poorly executed, the "romance" horrid, the climax pulled out at the last minute, and rather poorly, too, the whole concept so completely screwed up I couldn't believe it.
And to add insult to injury, I mosey on over to Amazon to read some reviews and find people comparing it to The Lord of the Flies.
EXCUSE YOU?EXCUSE YOU?!
No. Not now. Not ever.
Right, so, let's be professional about this. A copy-and-pasted summary from the back of the book (I would suggest reading the wall o'text, 'cos, if you don't know the story, you won't know what in the hell I'm talking about):
"In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before--and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love."
Aw, you might think, reading that summary, that sounds like a multi-faceted, heartbreaking work of staggering genius (reference noticed? Yeah?) that I am really going to enjoy. What a stunning display of the true depths of humanity.
Ah hah. Ha ha. Hah hah hah.
Maybe I was expecting too much. 747 5-star reviews on Amazon at the writing of this, another 180 that were 4-star. Only 71 3- to 1-star reviews. Mm. Definitely in the minority there.
Let's get into this.
I did not enjoy this book, as I've said.
And here's why.The Writing.
The writing was less than enthralling. I'm not looking for Dickens here, but Lordie. Keep my attention. There are some strong moments. The first couple of pages? Yeah, I wanted to keep reading. Right when the Games started, too. Collins hit a stride here and there in the book, a stride that was so genuinely Katniss that it kept me in the story.
Don't ask me about what happened with the rest of the story, though.
The present tense was tedious, Gale's dialogue ridiculous and unrealistic (no one tirades like that, especially not an eighteen year old man raised in such a tough life), an overabundance of rhetorical questions that were beyond obnoxious riddling Katniss' narration. It was a weak voice that felt weak, like Collins wasn't going as far as she could. Like she was just as bored with some bits as I was.
This whole book read as a middle-aged woman trying to write as a teenager, and not very well either.
Also, Collins chickened out. Where is my violence? Where's my gore? Where's the pure emotion and intensity of these Games? 'Cos, frankly, man, I wasn't feeling it. It was all tell-tell-tell, all through the book, but at the Games especially. There is a particular point in the Games, right at the start, when all 24 of the competitors entered the arena and an enormous golden Cornucopia is out there. Katniss constantly refers to it as a coming "bloodbath," even after the fact.
Bloodbath, you guys. You didn't see it, but it was intense. Too bad you missed it.
The fact is, it's lazy writing. This first person narration, the evasion of action sequences, it came across as Collins not wanting to write the hard bits. We're told how horrid those Games are the entire 147 page build-up to them, and it just deflates. Katniss, our narrator and protagonist, is thirsty. She's hungry. She's lost in unfamiliar terrain. She's tired. People are trying to kill her.
Oh, boo hoo.
I don't care. There is a complete lack of emotion and intensity in this book that all possible impact is lost. All the possibilities mentally from the pure terror associated with these Games, the constant fear of what was around the next bend, what was waiting behind a bush or tree to dash your life out, the suspense, the relief, the thrill over the smallest thing, was gone. Every little opportunity to connect the reader to the text, the characters, the world, was missed. I never felt more disconnected from such a politically vivid world.
The closest I got to feeling something, anything, was when Katniss was still back in her home district, District 12. There was some genuine emotion there, when she took her sister What'sherface (ahaha I can't remember her name) AHH Primrose that's it. If that tells you how little an impression these characters make. Couldn't even remember this kid's name. Anyway, when Katniss takes Primrose's place in the Games, there was some emotion there. Some feeling.
Don't ask me what happened to it.
After that, it was all very disconnected. Didn't care. All possible effects of this book were lost.
Let's talk for a bit about the point of view it was written it, shall we?
First person narration is such a hit and miss. If you've got a little Holden Caulfield on your hands, with such a stark voice that you can't help but love it, then I love you. I love you, and I probably love your story. If you've got Generic Narrator #6932, wow I don't want to read your story. I might still love you, but that depends on who you are.
In this book, it definitely did not work. Not only did Katniss not have a voice, but it was just a logistically bad choice on Collins' part. God, man, I didn't want to be stuck with this kid the whole time, not with the pure scope of this story! I missed so much. It was like being shown this whole feast and just being given the grubby little fish sticks that your Aunt Edna brought. You've got twelve districts, the entire capital, at your fingertips, and you choose first friggin' person? Are you insane? I wanted to be at the campfire of the Careers, the players who had been training their whole lives for the Games. I wanted to watch the silent District 4 member Thresh work. I wanted to see the stupid bloodbath at the Cornucopia, for God's sake.
I felt ripped off, gypped. It was like Collins weaseled out and said, "Mm, you know, nvm, you just get Katniss here." And Katniss said, "But I'm boring. ):"
AND SHE IS.
But that's not what we're talking about at this point.
So, the writing of The Hunger Games? Not totally horrid, but not exactly good. Two out of five stars.The Plot.
Dude. That was just cool. It was a fantastic idea.
Less than well executed.
The "love triangle" felt rather shoved in, linking back to the crummy writing thing. I'm pretty sure that Katniss didn't love Peeta OR Gail. Well, you wouldn't get that from the actual story, anyway. It's pretty convenient that Collins went out of her way to tell us that Katniss loved the kid, right? The boy from the bakery that she never cared about until the Games started. Or, hey, how about this: Katniss loves her best friend Gail who is eighteen and physically desirable even though they all live in muck houses and probably look gross and hollow-cheeked and malnourished in general from how Collins describes it from back home! Isn't that completely and totally original and not thrown in at the last second to make some horrid attempt at drama!
Yeah. Wasn't impressed by the love triangle. Felt trivialized, like she was doing it 'cos All The Cool Kids Were Doing It.
It also really pissed me off that whenever Katniss needed something, it just floated down on a little silver parachute from the heavens, with the little excuse that it was a gift from her sponsors. What a horrid little cop-out. Lazy writing. I felt cheated every time one of those little packages came in, like Collins was making this writing business easy for herself.
It was all relatively concise, didn't really lag too often, I thought (though it came pretty close. If the pre-Games writing went on another 10 pages, I would have put the book down. Too much exposition, not enough story, sort of like listening to sport commentators).
I don't have much to say here. Not shabby, at its core, and for that alone it gets three out of five stars from me.Characters.
You know what?
This novel contains an overabundance of unrealistic characters in its little pulpy self.
Let's start, shall we?
Katniss Everdeen. Our narrator. Our beloved protagonist. Our lighthouse here.
I think her mother the apothecary must have poked around and found herself a little marijuana from those fields before giving birth to this kid. Good Lord. No one of complete mental awareness would name a child that. Not unless they happened to be a psychopath and enjoyed that moment when the kid came home in tears from elementary school because Little Timmy made fun of her name. We won't even go into some other character names. (Like fucking Glimmer. No shit.)
I'm getting carried away.
Right, well, Katniss. Wow. What can you say about Katniss?
She loves her mother and sister. She talks about her dad a lot. She speaks with too many exclamation points and uses too many rhetorical questions. She hunts a lot.
She's also really, really boring.
There is absolutely nothing spectacular about our narrator. Nothing that really makes her... matter. She's just like every other independent, stubborn female character out there. So Strong and Stands Up For Herself. What a Great Role Model. She's dull. Another nobody written like she's a nobody. A face that matches thousands.
We're told people like her. That's great. Because I'm pretty sure I don't.
There were sparks of characterization. She always kept the audience in mind in the Games, which I rather liked. Showed her priorities, how the world of it has affected her not only in the immediacy of the moment but also over the years. Manipulative. That was cool.
But otherwise, she was... bland. I only remembered her name because it was so WEIRD.
The other characters don't get much better. Stereotypes. Not very... impressive. I barely remember half of them, and that was not for a lack of attention while reading. They just weren't memorable. I'm guilty of this myself, but I recognize it. Not so sure that Collins does. Haymitch was such a pathetic display of the typical "drunk gruff guy who really cares deep inside" that it was painful. Gale, Kantniss' hunting partner and friend, barely registered to me. I only remembered him because Katniss kept talking about him in the much aforementioned retarded rhetorical questions that she asked herself to keep from getting lonely, I guess. I dunno. Guess that's what happens when you don't have any friends.
Peeta, Katniss' fellow District 12 representative, was relatively okay. Didn't love him, didn't hate him. Wasn't horrid either way, didn't seem like a total failure of a character. Generally meh. Average.
The only ones I liked were a few of the Capitol characters, like the stylist Cinna's assistants or Evie, the District 12 spokeslady person. They all did a good job of presenting the flightiness and materialism of the Capitol, a remarkable contrast to the general plain and woodsy main character. That I will give her credit for.
Also I loved Cinna. He made an impact. He was original. He was quiet, level-headed, a voice of reason from the Capitol. Reminded me of the, well, pretty much the clown from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at first, just because of the shared name, but I got over that.
Other characters I liked: Thresh, Rue, "Foxface" (she was a redhead. Don't judge me), Katniss' father.
Yeah, you know what?
THEY'RE ALL DEAD.
Except for Cinna. He's still alive and kicking.
Also, something of note: What's with all these District 12 characters having such a great education? I mean, good Lord. This is a mining district. First priority: don't starve. Second priority: get a job. I was stunned that there was a school to begin with, much less that not a single District 12 resident used double negatives at least. It didn't make sense. That's the kind of environment where schools and proper grammar are for rich kids, you learn your letters from your mom and dad, and the joined up letters were harder and you don't read much higher than a fourth grade reading level.
I mean, use some realism, please.
I give it three of five stars. The extra one is for Cinna. It's a Cinna star.The World.
Here's the basic scheme of things:
Twelve districts of folks ruled by a Capitol of a bunch of rich guys obsessed with their appearances. Totalitarian.
The explanation for how it came to be like this is stupid and makes no logical sense. I would have preferred that Collins had just set it up as an alternate reality, or never given a full explanation at all. Would've worked out better for her, I think.
I've got nothing against this system. For the most part, it's got the realism things down. There are some misses, but it's at about a four-star rating. It's pretty darn good. With some refining, and it would be a good dystopian society to add to the list.
Here's what I'm a little less thrilled with:
The painfully obvious parallels of the Capitol to ancient Rome.
They weren't missed, Miss Collins. Nor was the fact that they weren't very well done.
The Games are an obvious nod to the Roman gladiatorial games. Pitting human beings against one another as a fight to the death for the thrill of it. Collins takes it a step further, enhancing the arena, televising it across Panem (which is straight Latin for "bread." What the hell? I thought when I first saw that. That doesn't MAKE SENSE. And it still doesn't. Don't ask me why the hell it's name "bread." I don't know why the hell it's named "bread."), chucking in 24 players in there instead of just 2.
All right, I could live with that.
Then there are the Capitol members with Roman names, like Octavia, Cinna, and Venia. Heavy emphasis on Good Food.
Call me cynical, but my next point, I think, was completely unintentional on Collins' part. The treatment of districts by the Capitol is distinctly Roman in nature. As the city expanded, right around the gentle shift between Republic and Empire, Rome began conquering more and more places, they had a general method of treatment post-conquering: the carrot-on-the-stick idea. You do good, you get rewards. In Rome's case, it was special treatment, the allowance of every member of the conquered area to become Roman citizens, sometimes tax redemption. Just send the Roman army some troops, and you're gold. You do bad, you get punished.
The treatment of the various districts is a lot like that. Some are favored by the Capitol and treated well, and others are not.
I don't think Collins intended that, haha. She's not one for that kind of careful weaving of a story, I've found. Probably dumb luck.
Otherwise, I dunno. It didn't feel like she knew much more about ancient Rome than a generic Google search would tell her. Call me a Latin dork, but there was so much more she could have included, militarily and politically, to really embody this idea that the Capitol is supposed to be like Rome. Right now, message was only received because of the Games and the characters' names. Oh, and the Avox, traitor people who got caught, got their tongues cut out, and became Capitol servants. Isn't that tasty? Their name literally means "without voice," a splice of "vox" and the preposition "a/ab". Pure Latin there, behbee.
It was a real hit and miss for me, the Roman references. It stopped a bit too short for my taste, like it really biffed it on the chance of enriching this society even more.
Speaking of. The society wasn't half-bad. It was pretty accurate, economically and socially, to a surprising degree. There was some spots of general "what?" reactions, such as the surprisingly high-quality and important education I mentioned earlier, in District 12. Otherwise, though, it really wasn't too shabby. I'd give it 3.5 stars.Overall.
The Hunger Games definitely wasn't a complete waste of my time, but good? Nah, not in my opinion. It's a mindless read that I probably won't pick up again. Left me generally unimpressed. Not even Cinna could earn it another star.
Ultimately? Two out of five.
(Yeah, I'm aware that you don't get the same result mathematically when you average it out. Math doesn't count here.)