I got to The Hunger Games — the YA book phenomenon by Suzanne Collins, way late. In fact, I didn’t expect to read these books at all. If it hadn’t been for my YA writer friend Alison Mills, they may never have crossed my path.
Upon her suggestion, I downloaded a book (not this one) that came in a package with The Hunger Games for a few more dollars. I had heard of the trilogy and that it was going to be made into a movie.
Since I love a good pop-book event, I decided to read them before that happened. Because, as we all know, seeing the movie before reading the book, makes the possibility of creating your own imaginationscape pretty difficult.
So I queued it up on my KOBO and strapped it to the display of the elliptical machine at the gym. I’m all about atmosphere.
At first, I though that the punctuation would kill me. It was as if Collins and her editors had heard of punctuation and wanted to be sure that the book had some — it didn’t matter where. If I hadn’t been a captive audience for the first chapter (exercising away on a crazy machine), I might have put it down.
But then, two pages in, I don’t know what happened, I lost track of my inner critic and was consumed by the story. The neck breaking pace and video game suspense of Katniss’ tragic tale is captivating. Even if Panem, her post apocalyptic version of North America, is a transparent metaphorical, at times prescriptive, analysis of present-day, socio-economic inequalities, I was hooked.
The scene: the upper echelons are sick with riches while the lowest, starve and fear for the lives of the children they must sacrifice to the Hunger Games.The games are a twisted gladiator game where two children from each of the 12 Districts must fight to the death. There should be only one victor.
Katniss is chosen and through her blatant refusal to play by the rules, she becomes a symbol of hope for all those that are suppressed by the Capitol.
The journey that follows, some say is predictable and hypocritical, and while I agree at times, I wouldn’t say that it matters so much to the overall experience of the trilogy.
This kind of story has been written before and it will be written again. It’s a common trope. It’s genre fiction. There are rules and parameters. Expecting otherwise is foolish.
But, what I didn’t expect was how well she wove a tale that included so many things that I didn’t foresee. The love stories had complex, unpredictable reversals. People died that I didn’t want to and that I didn’t think would. The rules within the rules changed in interesting ways and though, the motivations shifted for Katniss in the end, it didn’t leave me feeling unsatisfied.
Which is not to say that I cannot understand how some people felt let down by her shift from fiery action figure to possible pacifist. Most of the actual young adults I know were annoyed about the moral turnaround in final installment.
Plus, I could have done without about 70 pages of the third novel. It became a little too obvious that the book would be turned into a movie and the action read like interstitials. I skimmed them sometimes to get to the point.
But, all things considered, Collins wrote an engaging series that brings up a lot of interesting insights. These aren’t things that we don’t already know but they are things that we don’t often think about. It’s a perception of the world that I am, personally, glad is reaching young people in such an impactful way.
I’m thoroughly enjoyed these books — I devoured them in a matter of days. And I appreciated that as I assume that readability is really the ultimate goal for a book like this. And if I am right about that being the goal, then it hit it out of the park (sorry for the mixed sports metaphor – gross, I know).