Sunday, May 5, 2013

63. "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2008.
- - - . Catching Fire. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2009.
- - - . Mockingjay. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2010.

1,154 pages total.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

This review contains information about this series that reveals important plot points.

The Hunger Games is the first book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy set in a dystopian future. In this future, the United States is divided into 12 districts that are all ruled by the Capitol and renamed Panem. The districts are poor and tightly-knit while the Capitol is rich and wasteful. The districts formed after a rebellion against the government and, as a punishment for the rebellion and a reminder of the peace the Capitol now brings, the Capitol mandates The Hunger Games which is an arena-style fight to the death. Each district must sacrifice two children between the ages of six and twelve, one boy and one girl, to fight in the Hunger Games. The children are chosen by a lottery and then taken to the Capitol to train for the games. Once trained, the tributes, as these children are called, are thrown into an arena and must kill one another until there is only one left—this last tribute is then declared the victor of the Hunger Games.

In the first book of the series, readers are introduced to the protagonist Katniss Everdeen. Katniss’ younger sister Prim is chosen as one of the tributes from their district so Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and Peeta, the other tribute, then travel to the Capitol, train, and enter the Hunger Games. The two end up successful by tricking the game maker into thinking they would commit a double suicide rather than killing one another.

This first book does an excellent job introducing the readers to the characters and dystopian structure of Panem. Collins avoids falling into any dystopian clich├ęs that tend to run rampant in the genre such as the world being overtaken by technology or completely returning to agrarian lifestyles with no technology at all. Collins finds a nice balance between these common depictions which makes the setting of this series eerily plausible.

Right away readers are presented with important questions. Is your own survival more important than the life of another human being? In a world that is strewn with poverty, disease, and violence should one even entertain the idea of raising children of one’s own? These are all questions that Katniss and other critical characters wrestle with in The Hunger Games.

Catching Fire picks up where The Hunger Games leaves off with Peeta and Katniss on their victory tour. By rebelling against the game-makers, the two have unintentionally started rebellions in varying districts and President Snow has demanded that they settle the unrest on their tour. When the duo are not as successful as Snow desires, a 75th Hunger Games is created in which all the victors must return to the arena, sending Peeta and Katniss in for round two. During this Hunger Games Peeta and Katniss make alliances with victors from other districts and are unknowingly caught in a tangled web to overthrow the Capitol.

Catching Fire was my favorite book of the series because the arena was incredibly creative and the characters unique and lovable. This book was a page-turner—even more so than the first. It expounded on the questions from the previous novel as Peeta and Katniss discuss how to handle this round of Hunger Games as ethically as possible, and still survive.

By the time readers reach Mockingjay, the third and final book, Katniss is in District 13 with a rebel group attempting to overthrow the Capitol. Collins is not kind to her readers in this portion of the series. Beloved characters are maimed and killed. Entire districts are destroyed. In the end, both leaders, Snow and Coin (leader of the rebel group) are murdered. The end of the series is abrupt and hastily written. Many readers argue it is the weakest part of the trilogy and leaves readers with a pit in their stomach. Neither side of this war are redeemable. There is no side to root for, no victory to cheer and by the end, Katniss, the leader, mascot, and symbol of hope is broken.

It took me months to understand how I felt and what I thought about the end of this series. My first reaction was to be extremely disappointed. A nagging at the back of my mind told me there was more to this conclusion than my initial reaction. I realized the ending of the series doesn’t sit well with me because it is so darn realistic. War is messy. War doesn’t have nicely wrapped up climatic endings in which good always triumphs over evil. The line between good and evil is blurry and difficult to draw. War ends abruptly and leaves a lot of loose ends. The conclusion of this series is all these things. Instead of following the typical narrative of romanticizing war, it does the opposite. It says that war is not something to revel in. It is not something to celebrate. No one is innocent. No one is unaffected. We aren’t supposed to enjoy it and until we stop romanticizing war, there will always be another Hunger Games. 

This realization made me really appreciate Collins’ choices in ending the series. Yes, it felt rushed and yes, perhaps I’m assigning my own meaning to this body of work and she was just rushing to meet a deadline. Isn’t that what literature is supposed to do, though? Help us find a deeper meaning and navigate parts of our own psyche? I’ve heard many people bash the ending of The Hunger Games series and all I ask is that you think it over a bit more before drawing your conclusions.

4.5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: KEEP


Jennie and Mike said...

Great review! I too love the trilogy - wish this had been around when I was a kid! Agreeing with you on the end, I also like that the characters are broken by the war. Particularly evident with Katniss, Haymitch, Peeta, and Finnick, they all struggle with PTSD in very realistic ways.

To me, that is one of the greatest strengths of the books - showing the characters as human, that you can be heroic yet damaged, brave but doubtful, that emotional strength is tempered by dealing with emotional darkness.

d'Artagnan said...

Thanks for your comment, Jennie! I agree that the brokenness of the characters is what made me love them so much. They were so real in the end rather than being something I couldn't relate to by the end.

I also agree with what you say about PTSD. I've been trying to figure out ways to incorporate the Hunger Games into the study I'm doing on PTSD in the Harry Potter series.