30 October 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy (Suzanne Collins)

Yeah, late to this party, but after chats with new (awesome) co-workers at Posman’s, I finally checked out this mega-bestselling trilogy—i.e. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. I really have trouble expressing my thoughts without sounding glib or dismissive (see apologia in previous post), but here goes: I think they’re beginner’s dystopia, solid young-adult novels. In this sense, they’re fantastic—goodness knows I want post-apocalyptic awesome and revolutionary sentiment inculcated into kids ASAP. Totes in favor of QUESTION AUTHORITY onesies.

But I don’t quite get the crossover appeal. There’s a lack of sophistication to the story (and the writing—the constant comma splices in the first book made me twitch), and I don’t think the structure of the dystopia holds up to scrutiny. The country founded on the ashes of North America consists of a tyrannical central Capitol—decadent and cruel—that relies on half-starved, oppressed districts for raw materials and consumer goods. The Capitol doesn’t produce anything, and yet it has technology like genetic engineering that the districts can’t match. This isn’t how economies work.  And its inhabitants are uniformly wealthy and comfortable, simultaneously frivolous and totally down for watching teenagers from the districts slaughter each other in televised blood sport (the titular Hunger Games, held yearly as punishment for a previous rebellion). This is an arguable point, but I just don’t believe that the silly party people we encounter, happily chattering about their hip new hairstyles, don’t feel any remorse over the on-camera deaths of children.

I also think the books would have been far better served by being written in third person rather than first. Our tomboyish heroine, Katniss Everdeen, has the unfortunate habit of being wounded and out of commission for weeks; she’ll regain consciousness and have to be told about everything that happened when she was out. It’s not a particularly skillful way to construct a narrative, and it got worse as the series wore on. The first book, concentrated mostly on the 74th Hunger Games, where Katniss and love interest Peeta are contestants, is definitely the best, especially in the arena. Maybe I’m contradicting my last paragraph, but it really picked up for me once the killing started. The second and third books deal with the districts’ rebellion against the Capitol—Katniss’s behavior during the Games makes her a powerful symbol of defiance. There’s some good ambiguity as she realizes the rebels are also using her for propaganda purposes. But then there’s also a pointless love triangle. And the resolution was both mystifying and unsatisfying.

Again: they’re not bad books. They’re books for kids. Adults who loved them should try out The Gone-Away World, Perdido Street Station, A Canticle for Leibowitz, or Battle Royale (the latter a Japanese novel about teenagers battling to the death for entertainment which must have inspired Collins. When I read it, I kept a spreadsheet!).


  1. The story was engrossing- didn't put it down for 3 days and finished the trilogy... but it was very violent, children graphically killing other children, and generally amoral - you find yourself cheering for a heroine who kills civilian refugees without thinking, who becomes nonchalant about murder and unfeeling about deaths of people she doesn't personally know.

    1. The violence didn't bother me--I am an adult, of course, and I can see being wary giving the books to an elementary school kid.

      And I actually think Katniss' desensitization to the horrors of war is one of the better--because truer--aspects of the book. It happens to people. Good people.


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