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Monday, January 9, 2012

Sheep Review: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I think that I first heard of the Hunger Games about a year and a half ago through Ronni Selzer. To paraphrase her critical analysis of the book, "ZOMFG IT WAS AWESOME!!!".

Naturally, with such an endorsement, I had to look into the title but was largely turned off by the synopsis that I read. The whole thing sounded like a western interpretation of the Japanese novel (and later film) Battle Royale. Battle Royale is set in a dystopian alternate universe where once per year some number of students are forced to participate in a gladiatorial fight to the death. When I watched the film, it left me feeling both disgusted and desirous of a hard drink. Not really the content you want in a Young Adult book. Colored by this similarity, I let Suzanne Collins's title languish in my to-read list.

We fast forward the year and a half to Christmas of this year. I am flying out to the east coast for the holidays and on the plane ride over, downloaded the first book to my Kindle Fire. I have to report that I've never had a coast to coast flight zip by as quickly as this one did. I was page turning every moment I was allowed to use my electronic devices!

While I was away, I was able to complete all three books. Therefore, my review will cover the entire series. I'll try very hard not to drop spoilers. This means that my review will lack in specifics, as I concentrate on my reaction to the books, rather than my opinions of specific plot points.

Enough personal history. Let's talk books.

Of the three books, I'd say that the first book was my favorite. Here we're introduced to Ms. Katniss Everdeen, her family and the lives they lead in District 12, a mining community set in the distant future. Every year, two children between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from each of 12 districts to participate in The Hunger Games. The games are a fight to the death in an artificial wilderness arena. In Thunderdome terms, 24 kids enter. One kid leaves. The story here falls squarely into what I call teen empowerment fiction. We have a 16 year-old girl who doesn't quite fit into the standard teen mold. She's tested against the will of the adult establishment and wins out through sheer wit and bravado. If you read and enjoyed the "His Dark Materials" series (think "Golden Compass"), I think that you'll find a little bit of Lyra Belacqua in Suzanne Collins's protagonist.

In the second book, aptly named Catching Fire, we experience consequence. Collins forces us to see through the haunted post-traumatic eyes of her characters even as they face down very grown-up problems. We learn that conclusions that we jumped to in the first book are naive. We find sympathy for characters we previously considered inexcusable. We find that the reality of the first book is really just a small part of a much larger, flawed system. In the last few pages... Katniss wakes up to find her world turned upside down, inside out, and irreparably torn asunder. Because our culture has an almost Pavlovian conditioned need for happy endings, bitter-sweet closings like Han Solo being frozen in carbonite or Neo falling into an unresponsive coma tend to leave us reflective and uncomfortable.

Although I really enjoyed the final book, I felt like the pacing seemed rushed. It was almost like Collins was wearied by the emotional toll she inflicted on her world ... so she wrote to finish rather than to story tell. I couldn't help but think of the carnage of J.K. Rowling's Deathly Hallows as this book rolled to a close. I'm no stranger to stories involving warfare, but both Rowling and Collins focused very heavily on the internal damages that their characters accumulate. I'm reluctant to conclude that the similarity has anything to do with the authors' genders, but it's interesting to think about a perceived cost of war gender gap. What do you all think? Feel free to comment!

In my opinion the dénouement, which happens right at the end of Mockingjay, is confusing at first. After thinking about it, though, It felt satisfying and really was the only thing that could have happened which fits Katniss's personality and state of mind.

Unlike, say, Tolkien who doesn't seem to want to end a story... so he lets it drag on for 4 or 5 happy endings... Collins exits her series in a precise, and gratifying conclusion. We also get a very cathartic epilogue.

For those of you who don't already know, we have a movie to look forward to! March 23rd! Here's the official trailer:

I recognize all of the scenes in the trailer as specific scenes in the book, so hopefully that means it's true to the plot.

I give this series four action packed sheep.


  1. I just finished Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I have heard a lot of negative about Mockingjay and hesitate to spend the sheckles, but I really want to know what happens LOL so I will probable fork over the loot. I enjoyed the first two very much with my only problem being the endings - I had to go on I am looking forward to watching how the movie plays out. Thanks for sharing today :)

  2. I'm one of the persons who rather rewatch Battle Royale than reread The Hunger Games or watch the movie.
    Book 1 was entertaining I will confess, but book 2 lost me completely, so I didn't even pick up book 3.

  3. I found them emotionally exhausting! They stick with you long after you read them. I am glad the author chose to wrap up the story in three books. I agree with you about the ending. It was kind of bitter sweet.

  4. I have been flip-flopping back and forth on reding this series. It sounds like a good read, but at the same time I didn't/don't want to jump on the Hunger Games bandwagon, kinda like what I did when there was the Harry Potter craze.
    Thanks so much for the review of the 3 books

  5. I think that the movie is going to be true to the plot of the book, but I'm not sure that it'll capture the essence of the books; particularly the last two where there's way way too much internal conflict/dialog to be captured by live action. I guess there could be a lot of voiceover... but too much angsty voiceover makes for a crappy movie.

    I'm going to predict that they make exactly one movie which covers the events of only the first book. I think that it'll do better than the Eragon movie, but won't be a runaway success either.

  6. I with you Katie, I am still kind of iffy here, despite the great review ;)

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