This was one of those books that I kept putting aside for another day… afraid it was going to be another disappointment like Chima’s The Warrior Heir—...moreThis was one of those books that I kept putting aside for another day… afraid it was going to be another disappointment like Chima’s The Warrior Heir—a book that had a promising premise about two warriors who are friends, but placed in opposition, forced to fight to the death in a tournament. But the story was just missing that certain spark which makes a book a good read. Little did I know that I had nothing to fear by reading The Hunger Games.
The book’s like a mix of Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale and the final two episodes from the first season of the new Doctor Who series: “Bad Wolf” and “The Parting of Ways,” an intriguing blend of theocratic dystopian rule and extreme reality television—from excessive cosmetic and stylistic transformations to “muttations,” the results of genetic engineering research done by the Capitol, to survival games with children fighting to the death to become the victor and bringing fame and respect to the district they happen to represent. It’s a creepy book, but it’s thought provoking and offers a lot more thematically than many of the young adult fiction that’s in circulation.
I also like that the book’s written in the present tense. It gives the reader a sense of immediacy, and like the protagonist Katniss, you’re not necessarily anticipating what’s going to happen next—as you’re reading, you’re living the moment with her. Though, I’ll admit that I foresaw that climatic moment at the end of the game. I couldn’t think of a better way that would’ve allowed the characters to show their opposition to the Capitol’s rule.
However, I did wish that the first section of the book focused more on the other tributes, i.e. contestants, in the game, rather than the central focus on the pageantry and preparations involved with the opening ceremonies. The reader only gets to really know one other tribute, the twelve-year-old girl, Rue from District 11. The other tributes are nondescript entities and even remain unnamed; it’s as if they’re insignificant. And when their deaths are announced, you’re left feeling somewhat detached, almost as if you’re playing a video game—there’s no conscience involved. I felt that this detracted some of the significance of the book’s message.
I was also somewhat surprised by Katniss’s beliefs as she’s getting closer to home, that the influence of the Capitol’s “growing farther away by the second,” that as soon as the cameras are turned off, she’d be free from further scrutiny. I would’ve thought that she’d be constantly wary of big brother watching her every move, given her past actions and especially since the reader never sees the removal of the tracking device that was placed into her arm at the beginning of the games.
Nevertheless, Collins’s book is very good, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. And I’ve also been good not to read any of the spoilers, which is somewhat uncharacteristic of me. :-) But I do have a gut feeling that there’s going to be some sort of sacrifice at the end. (less)
Catching Fire is certainly aptly titled. The little spark sent into motion by Katniss has gradually allowed the kindling to smolder and finally catche...moreCatching Fire is certainly aptly titled. The little spark sent into motion by Katniss has gradually allowed the kindling to smolder and finally catches alight. Little does Katniss know that her decision to offer Peeta those berries—a choice mainly driven by her conscience—would be seen as an act of defiance to the rules and law of the Capitol and would become a symbolic gesture, giving the people of the Districts the courage to stage a resistance.
The first book gives the reader a sense of the fine hairline cracks that were present in the infrastructure of the government. Catching Fire accentuates them, depicting a government on the verge of collapse, scrambling to reorganize and desperately trying to contain and maintain order. When President Snow makes his announcement regarding this year’s conditions for the Hunger Games, I couldn’t help but shake my head, thinking, “How pathetic.” The fine line that exists for this ruling is readily apparent: It could easily portray the power of the Capitol or it could just as easily depict its weaknesses. It’s a risky gamble, which in itself shows how desperate the Capitol is trying to patch up the cracks.
My main complaint regarding the first book was Collins’s failure to portray and even name the other tributes in the Hunger Games, which made their deaths seem insignificant. At least in this installment, Collins gives the reader a better glimpse of these other characters. Yes some are still unnamed, but she does develop them and gives them various attributes, such as the pair from District 6. I also enjoyed the descriptions of “finicky” Finnick. ;-) But when you get to the descriptions of the deaths of some of these secondary characters, they’re not as easily dismissed and written off, but highlight the gravity of the situation. I’m glad Collins does this.
I’m also glad that the romantic bits aren’t the main driving force that’s holding the book together, like many of the young adult novels coming out now. This series has much more substance, which I quite like. But as for Katniss’s love triangle, I find it a bit uneven. It’s understandable that Peeta’s character is more built up than Gale’s, but as this is a story told from Katniss’s point of view, I’m having a hard time really trusting Gale’s character. Most of the information that the reader learns about Gale comes from Katniss’s own recounts; and when they do interact, the dialogue isn’t very substantial. I don’t think I’m getting a full depiction of his character… that the Gale that’s seen is more of an idealized version described by Katniss. I can’t help but feel that Gale’s a ticking time bomb with an aggressive streak… not necessarily physically dangerous, but still capable of creating some sort of disturbance.
In terms of content, the book’s great. However, the editing was badly done. I found a number of awkward sentences and some that were even missing words. For instance, “Oh, you’re one who—” when it should be, “Oh, you’re [the] one who—.” I’m hoping that Mockingjay is edited better. (less)
After reading the first book, I initially predicted Katniss’s death. In my mind I was picturing a tragic ending like the ones in Tess of the D'Urbervi...moreAfter reading the first book, I initially predicted Katniss’s death. In my mind I was picturing a tragic ending like the ones in Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Mill on the Floss… a sacrifice… the heroine’s death with her lovers respecting her memory as they try to move on. I had pictured Gale as a mix of Angel Clare and Stephen Guest, both of whom still mourn the loss of their respective loves, but have also moved on with their lives. I thought eventually Gale would transfer his affections to Katniss’s sister, like what Angel Clare does with Liza-lu, Tess’s younger sibling. And that Peeta would resemble Phillip Wakem, steadfast in his love for the girl he’s lost, trying his best to keep her memory alive. But as soon as I considered the significance of Mockingjay’s title, I knew my prediction would be wrong.
Mockingjay is one of those titles heavily leaden with symbolism. On the one hand, it represents the bird that was born out of the ashes of one of the Capitol’s failed genetic experiments, a new species surviving against the odds. On the other, it serves as a symbol for Katniss and her position in the middle of this civil war among the districts and the Capitol and her own struggle for survival.
The preceding books to the trilogy show how a single personal choice based on conscience can be manipulated into this grand symbolic gesture of defiance against the current state of rule, giving credence to the need for change, leading to the birth of the resistance movement. From the beginning, Katniss was being used… a young girl thrust into the center of this war game, a silent piece forced into play under the rules of the adults in control.
I liked how Collins portrays both sides of the war. There’s no clear delineation of which side really represents the baddies. It’s apparent from the start that the practices of the Capitol are disconcerting and sick. But as soon as we’re immersed into the center of the resistance movement, it becomes readily apparent that their interests aren’t as innocent either. Katniss is stuck in the middle, trying to make sense of it all… to figure out the correct route she can take that will help her survive against all the odds: a choice still heavily immersed in conscience.
Well, turns out that my suspicions regarding Gale were well founded. It serves as another example of how well can you trust your narrator. Truly liked how Collins does this. Katniss’s stories regarding Gale’s background gives the idealized version of Gale. In this final installment to the trilogy, the true essence of Gale’s character comes out through his dialogue. I kind of smiled at the Les Misérables reference… how Gale declaims Katniss’s style team for stealing the piece of bread and how he associates this small act of defiance as a symbol of the evil that the Capitol represents.
As for the ending, I quite liked it… how the characters are placed into a situation where they’re forced to learn how to accept and trust each other, and how those initial steps build on those feelings, developing them into something more… an acceptance and affection that I believe is better founded now than any relationship that would’ve formed had that initial situation not have occurred.
I was really looking forward to reading this, since it is a boy book—a marked change from the other young adult literature I’ve been reading, but even...moreI was really looking forward to reading this, since it is a boy book—a marked change from the other young adult literature I’ve been reading, but even though Ship Breaker is an award-winning novel, I must say that I’m quite disappointed by it. Take away all of the action, blood and gore, and suspense, and there’s little else. Ultimately, this is a book that at the outset seems to boast a lot of promise but in the end, doesn’t give. The book’s all talk and no show. As readers, we’re left feeling like that exchange between Pima and Nailer near the end: “ ‘It’s a damn strange world out there,’ Nailer said. ‘Yeah,’ Pima agreed. ‘You about ready to go see what’s in it?’ ”
Ship Breaker is like a jigsaw puzzle. At the beginning, you’re given the box and are asked to put all the pieces together. However, as you’re arranging the puzzle pieces, you realize that the box only contains half of the pieces you need to complete it. Because of this, I found the book truly frustrating, even though I did realize this book was part of a series.
What truly upset me was the lack of world building, especially since this is one of those post-apocalyptic novels set in the future. In other post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels that are part of a series like Ship Breaker, namely The Hunger Games, by the end of the first book the reader’s given a good foundational understanding of that futuristic world—the history—linking past with the present, how the current government works, how the people are set up, the various changes in the customs and traditions, etc. After finishing this novel I was left with so many questions that were as yet left unanswered. Like the landscape Bacigalupi paints for his readers, his story’s just as torn up and full of holes. For instance, we’re not really given a time frame as to when this book is set. Is there a government, or are countries now controlled by the various corporations that are briefly mentioned? There’s a brief mention of war and warfare, but is it war over capital headed by those corporations…or is it about gaining new territories to seek better resources and supplies, or even a bit of both? Where did these grounded oil rigs come from? Were they beached because of natural causes—hurricanes, the rise in sea level, or were these ships towed in as spoils of war…so workers could have better access to them when stripping them for parts? At book’s end, none of these questions are really explored or even explained. Like Nailer, we’re left in ignorance.
The genetic engineering aspects of the book—the half-men, giant men with canine features—are also not explained very well. When they’re first mentioned, I was immediately reminded of that Dean Koontz novel, Watchers, which describes two genetically engineered creatures who’ve escaped from a laboratory. One creature is a dog that was given a humanlike intelligence…he can understand speech, as well as read and write by moving blocks—the dog’s means of communicating with humans. The other creature is some monstrous human hybrid, that’s grown to hate the human race and especially that dog, and seeks to destroy everything and everyone that comes across his path. In a way, Bacigalupi’s half-men seem to be hybrids of both creatures.
But, his back-story about these creatures—how they’re trained and then sent off to various patrons—seemed a bit sketchy. The narrator states that when these creatures are created, they’re immediately trained for their specific purpose to be a soldier or a bodyguard. In both cases the half-men are being taught to express a specific genetic engineered trait: to feel a fierce loyalty to one specific “master” and the family and friends of that particular master—a kind of imprinting. OK…but since they’re engineered to imprint, wouldn’t the half-men be imprinting that loyalty to the first person they meet, i.e. to the trainers teaching them, ultimately undermining the exclusivity Bacigalupi’s trying to portray? One of the half-men we’re introduced to in this book, Tool, is portrayed as being “unique” in his situation—a half-man who feels no sense of that fierce loyalty or obligation to anyone other than the brief encounters he makes with others. I just don’t understand why Tool’s situation is so rare…I’d think there’d be many more like him. As a side note, I thought it rather ironic that the half-man Tool seemed more human in terms of world wisdom than his fellow men, especially Nailer. I hate to say this but when considering Nailer’s attachment to Nita, aka, Lucky Girl, he’s like a little dog that keeps coming back no matter how many times he’s been abused, stepped on and lied to.
For a novel that won the Printz award for best young adult novel for 2011 and was named a finalist for the 2010 National Award, I expected a lot more. I find it all truly upsetting, disappointing and clichéd, especially with the inclusion of those two—possibly three Cape Fear moments. Given my suspicions and the fact that there’s a sequel in the works, I’m heavily leaning on the three…. ;) But, regardless and despite the book’s limitations, I’m sure boys would love all of the action. (less)