Seth T.'s Reviews > The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset

The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset by Suzanne Collins
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Mar 29, 2012

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Read in December, 2010

To start things off right, a quote from Hunger Games. "The girl’s scream. Had it been her last?" Context: Katniss has been confronted with a girl who had her tongue cut off as punishment and remembers seeing her years earlier just as she was caught. According to memory, as the girl was dragged away, she screamed. Now years later and in the present, Katniss wonders: "The girl’s scream. Had it been her last?" Because people without tongues apparently can't scream.

We'll get back to this and what it tells us about Suzanne Collins.

To start things another way, I'll admit this: I had no interest in Hunger Games until, upon hearing someone actually describe it, I thought: "Holy smokemonsters. That sounds like an American rip-off of Battle Royale." From that moment on, there was little that could stop me from diving straight into Suzanne Collins' derivative little world.

See, Battle Royale was this Japanese movie (adapted from a book I haven't read yet—Christmas, anyone?) in which the government, for inexplicable reasons, takes a class of thirty highscoolers every year and dumps them in this jungle-y arena and demands they fight to the death with a single victor remaining in three days lest the explosive collars they all wear be detonating, rendering no survivors. I mean, what's not to love, right?

So Suzanne Collins basically takes this idea and expands it and tries to give the story a more plausible explanation. (In the movie, the Japanese government televises the BR in order to, get this, quell youth violence in the country. I know, right?) Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America. There is the ruling State, the Capitol, and there are the thirteen vanquished American colonies districts (or twelve since one has been destroyed). For the last seventy-four years, the Capitol has demanded the sacrifice of a teenage boy and a teenage girl from each district to remind the districts annually of how miserably their rebellion failed and to keep them mindful of how absolutely the Capitol rules every aspect of their lives.

I don't know, but this strikes me as being only slightly more sensible than the Battle Royale justification. Apparently government officials in the future are as dumb as they are today.

In any case, the beauty is that these two sacrifices from each of the twelve remaining districts are not just killed outright, like on an altar atop a stone ziggurat Aztec-style. No, that would be too easy. Instead, they fight in televised survival games (inexplicably called the Hunger Games). These are wildly popular (like I'm told Survivor or American Idol used to be), especially with the Capitol crowd and contestants take on a form of celebrity and their stylists are princes and princesses among men.

[art by the stupendous Vera Brosgol]

So Hunger Games is the story of Katniss and Peeta,* two sacrifices from District 12. District 12 is the loser District. Katniss is a hunter (advantage) and Peeta is a baker's son (disadvantage). And since Peets has had a massive, sad, stalker-crush on Kats since they were, like, five, he is determined to keep her alive forever. Interesting dynamic when, Highlander-style, there can be only one. This is basically the same thing that happened in Battle Royale, so it was a comfy place to be.

Seeing how Katniss is going to get out of one scrape after another is exciting and the three books are compelling enough reading that I finished the whole thing in about nine days. (And by "about nine days," I probably really just mean ten days.) As demonstrated in the above, the writing's not fantastic by any stretch. Collins suffers from a typical need to over-dramatize, to the point where irrational things are treated sensibly. But (!) it's still a league-and-a-half better than Twilight, not that there isn't much that isn't better written than Meyer's delicious collection of vampire doggerel. I only compare them because they both occupy that meta-genre of light, compulsive reads that others may better know as Summer Reading. And yet, here we are in December! Regardless, I was several nights up far past my bedtime letting Collins plot have its way with me.

And for the most part, I really enjoyed the experience. There were very few lulls, most of which occurred in the first fifteen percent of books two and three as they tried to recover from the burst of excitement that capped off the immediate predecessor. The mediocre writing is entirely forgivable simply because the books not about that. Hunger Games is almost pure plot, so that's really all we should be expecting from it. Still, there were two major difficulties I ran into while reading.

The first is that the narration's kind of a cheat. Collins tells her story in the first-person present, meaning that we are supposedly getting new information at the same rate as Katniss is. Yet, the things this (largely clueless) girl chooses to report lead one to believe that she has future knowledge. She drops a ton of hints about the importance of the mockingjay, is constantly reminding us that she's wearing her mockingjay pin, and won't stop narrating about how the bird or its image is showing up everywhere. As a reader, we pick up that this is massively significant (because she beats us over the head with it), but since Katniss in the present she's narrating doesn't realize that, there's no reason for her to continue to point it out. That would be like you telling me about your day and stopping every five minutes to remind me that you're wearing your Chuck Taylor's and then after three months of this, Chuck Taylor's suddenly become sentient, rebel against humanity, and then install you as their king. Unlikely, at best. So narrator-Katniss knows everything while narrated-Katniss doesn't. It's a poor choice.

Collins almost certainly chose the first-person present because it builds tension (FPpresent is a standard usage in thrillers), but she wanted to be able to use things like heavy foreshadowing, which can only honestly be done in first-person past tense or in the third person. With FPpast, you're almost assured that the narrator survives the climax (save for narration from the after-life), so you're missing the kind of tension and intimacy that the present tense can deliver. Third person stories leave any character open to plot-driven dismissal, but they lack the immediacy and intimacy of the first-person.

The second is less tangible but perhaps the more serious offense. At this point, things may get vaguely spoiler-y so those who haven't read the books yet may wish to skip the following paragraphs and just end the review here.

So then, in comics, a trend has been noticed. It's been going as Women-in-Refrigerators syndrome for lack of a more exciting term. Essentially, it describes authors' propensity to abusively use female characters to prompt character development in male protagonists. The bottom line is that it doesn't pay to be a female character in superheroland because you'll inevitably wind up raped, maimed, tortured (in a sexy way!), accidentally killed off, murdered, or dismembered and stuffed into a refrigerator just like Green Lanterns girlfriend was—all for the sake of motivating the male lead in some direction or other. Of course, in the male-dominated world of the superhero, female associations are one of the hero's greatest weaknesses and the best way to really stick it to him.

That's poor Alex's body stuffed in there

Since the lead of Hunger Games is a teenage female, in order to commit a similar abuse, Collins can't just use other male and female associations to give Katniss the gut-wrenching motivation she needs. So then, what is frail in comparison to a teenage girl. Children. Specifically, little, sweet girls. Collins uses little girls twice (once in Book One and once in Book Three) to give her protagonist a human side that is otherwise unseen. Collins realizes that her hero is just a little too cold and too distant and so she must find a way to get the reader to sympathize with her. She puts forth a sweet little girl whom you'll come to find endearing and wise and beautiful and in need of protection from the dirty, cruel world that Collins has crafted and, of course, what's more painful than watching that little girl be destroyed for the sake of a melodramatic tug at one's heartstrings.

Kat cries and does something heartfelt and we think of her as human again. At least for a little while. And then we realize that this was the entire purpose for this character in the scope of Collins story and then we feel abused. These were never meant to be character; they were always only a means to humanizing a character that Collins didn't have the chops to humanize in a more talented way. I was a bit grumpy when Collins used the tactic in Book One, but when it reared up again in Book Three, the books became thoroughly diminished in my eyes. I felt abused by Collins' contrivances.

For this reason, I lower what would have been (meta-genre in mind) a four-star book series down to three. It's still good and worth the read (unless you have more important stuff on deck), but Collins disrespect for both her characters and her readers lessens their value.
*note: Suzanne Collins should not be allowed to name anything. Not books, not characters, and certainly not real-life children. The one bit of silver lining here is that thankfully, this almost assures us that in four years we won't be babysitting a gaggle of brats named Peeta—apparently Bella was uncommonly common after the Twilight wave surged.
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message 21: by Carissa (new)

Carissa Agreed 100%. The mockingjay-related denseness drove me nuts throughout Catching Fire.

message 20: by Seth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Seth T. Yeah, Carissa, I couldn't quite figure out why it was referenced so often because it plainly didn't need to be. Despite the fact that Kat should have known four pages into Catching Fire the importance of the jay to the rest of the districts, we as readers had it beaten into us so thoroughly that by the time Plutarch (was that his name?) pulls out the pocketwatch and specifically shows her the jay symbol, we're all groaning at the obviousness of the whole thing.

I'm fine with Kat being clueless. I know plenty of people who wouldn't recognize that they had become the symbol of a rebel uprising. But I'm skeptical that those same people would narrate the rebel uprising and the fact that they were the symbol of it without actually recognizing that they were the symbol of it.

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

well yeah I thought about that too (the battle royal reference which is a greater comparison then putting it bluntly and saying "well this reminds of twilight" because it gets nowhere near to that (silly fandom trying put their hands on everything) anyways... I liked the books (I consider myself a proud fan) The three books are wonderful and full of excitement.

message 18: by Carrie (new)

Carrie Totally agree with every bit of this review. I was getting frustrated thinking I may be the only one who thought all of that when I heard everyone raving about these books. My biggest frustration was that EVERYTHING was predictable (all 3 books) down to the "chink in the armor" bit in 2 giving away the ending halfway through the book.

Rebecca Radnor Never heard of this battle Royal reference, but you DO of course realize that she has regular references to Rome and Greece and that the 2 teenage tributes thing is part of greek mythology... yes?

message 16: by Seth (last edited Mar 18, 2012 08:39AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Seth T. Yes, I do. The gladiatorial and Colosseum-theme stuff owe a debt across the ages, but the reason Battle Royale gets referenced so often in reviews and first-reaction pieces is that Collins' plot sounds like an American adaptation of the Japanese novel/film. And the barebones story seems to owe a much greater debt to BR than to Roman history. That said, Collins' story diverges from BR in interesting ways and in the end establishes itself as its own brand—though perhaps one homaging BR.

Rebecca Radnor Seth... it goes beyond that... its kind of sad how no one is taught the classics anymore so you guys reference to some cartoon you read... when those cartoons are referencing the classics...

Here's a greek mythology lesson:

message 14: by Seth (last edited Mar 18, 2012 09:21PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Seth T. Yes, thank you. I was suspicious that there might not have been enough patronizing going on in this thread. Consider my concerns on that count now greatly diminished.

I'm not certain why you imagine that it's a dearth of acquaintance with the classics that would lead one to first think that Hunger Games was somehow adapted from or homaging Battle Royale. I grew up reading extensively into Norse, Meso-American, and Japanese mythologies as well as, yes, both the Greek and Roman pantheons. My wife, a classics teacher, takes her junior high students through Herodotus, Homer, Virgil, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, and a little Aristotle. We both know our stuff on the score of Greek/Roman myth, history, and culture.

And yet, for all that, both of us when hearing the synopsis of Hunger Games, in separate instances, first thought "Huh. That sounds like an American Battle Royale." The reason we thought this is: Because it does sound like that.

message 13: by Destinee (new)

Destinee Sutton The author's name is Suzanne, not Susan.

message 12: by Seth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Seth T. You're right. I have this problem where when I write, I do it so quickly that I tend to rely too much on the phonetics in my head. I also don't do a lot of proofing, which is lame of me but at least I'm honest about it. I accidentally posted a review recently of a book by John Zmirak but when I did mention his first name, I confused him for someone else and called him Steve Zmirak. I was so careful to get the last name right that I completely tanked it on the first name. You'd think I'd learn, but apparently not.

Anyway, thanks for the alert. I'll edit to fix.

message 11: by S (new)

S I believe it was mandatory for the peeps in the districts to watch, but I'm not sure.
Anyway, I didn't think of the movie Battle Royale when I read the books. I thought of Glen, from the movie Accepted yelling out, "BATTLE ROYALE!" with that hilarious look on his face. Apparently, not only am I uneducated, but immature as well. Darnit. {:

message 10: by S (new)

S P.S. Great review as usual. They're always interesting whether I've read the book or not.

message 9: by Franklin (new)

Franklin I've never even heard of Battle Royale so after reading a few reviews at first, I was thinking that Wow, there's a lot more haters than I thought until I finally realized that I'M the ignorant one. :(

Anyways, I thought your review of the books was well justified and I agree with quite a bit of it. I just didn't feel annoyed when Katniss kept on repeating things about the Mockingjay. I don't know why. I guess I was just focused on everything else that was going on.

And I totally agree about what you wrote about your "women-in-fridges" point, but only after I watched the movie. It seemed pretty weird to me that Katniss pretty much fell apart after watching the little girl in the movie die, especially since they only knew each other for barely a day. Then it dawned on me on why Collins put it into her book when you explained it.

Seth T. Hey N! Thanks for the kind remarks :)

Franklin, I hope you don't think that because of my Battle Royale comparison that I didn't like Hunger Games for what Collins ends up doing with it. I enjoyed the trilogy pretty well (apart from the few little details I complained about) and was pretty ravenous to see where it would end up.

I've only seen the film adaptation of the Battle Royale novel, but I recently read that the book's final line goes like this: "Every person in a dream is you." That sounds pretty worthwhile to me and one could even read that as an interesting filter over Hunger Games as well :)

Bernadette I could almost agree with this review if it wasn't for the epilogue of Mockingjay. It has Katniss narrating in first person again in the present. It clearly states that one of her coping tools was to write down memories. Are we sure it was in first person in the present? When I read it, it seemed like she was recalling memories (at least it came off that way to me). If this was the scenario, then it would make sense why she was putting so much emphasis on the mockingjay symbolism.

Also, it was stated in the book that the mockingjay did have a small sentimental meaning to her, and this meaning becomes a little stronger after Rue's death in the arena.

She had talked about how the mockingjays would stop when her father sang, and as stated in the book, her father died in a mine collapse. Then, after Rue's death, she sang to the girl and the mockingjays copied her. Along with this, Katniss' urge to not appear as a pawn in their Games (I believe this was sparked by Peeta when they were talking on the roof in the first book) would have made the mockingjay pin a little more sentimental to her then as well.

The jabberjay in the book had started as a weapon during the rebellions. It was a weapon of the Capitol, and it would memorize and repeat entire conversations. When the rebels finally figured out that the jabberjays around them were taking their plans back to the capitol, they fed it lies. It became a joke on the capitol. Of course, when they were released to die, they mated with mockingbirds, and the new breed that formed from the mingling was the mockingjay. Because Katniss recognized that as a slap in the Capitol's face, and because of her continued urge to show she isn't a pawn (which she becomes anyway until the very last book), I believe that although Katniss doesn't recognize that it will soon become the symbol of the new rebellion, it still holds enough sentimental value to her to be repeated constantly through the book.

Man. xD I really hope I was accurate with this. My memory is about the size of a goldfish's, and I didn't have any of the books on hand to reference from. Haha.

Stella Wow, I already hated this trilogy/author enough before learning that her story was a total ripoff. Now I have yet another good reason to defend my opinion when people treat me like some kind of alien for not thinking that this is the story of the century. Thanks! Lol

message 5: by Nevena (new)

Nevena I didn't read the books (I came here to see if I should). Now I understand all the mixed messages I've been getting about them (I'd rather read something else). Your point about those little girls who don't survive and are meant to inspire and humanize K. tells me everything I need to know. That remark about the style tells a lot, too. By the way, about that girl screaming, it would be her last if they killed her afterwards, which they probably did, if the movies tell the truth..I think the question was - is she alive? Some people say that movies are better.. I wonder what do you think about that? :) It's for masses, but it seems like it would make the thickest think.. I think it can only have a possitive effect on people. Maybe some of them will stop watching those big brother shows.

Seth T. @Nevena - She didn't die. She was captured and enslaved and had her tongue taken. Katniss makes this remark upon seeing her sometime after the incident.

I haven't seen the movies yet, though they seem an enjoyable enough diversion.

sofia guzman You know a lot about the hunger games I don't even remember that part and I've read it a zillion times!

message 2: by Betty (new)

Betty I guess it's not for a 12 year old. I do not understand why granddaughter was so delighted that series was included in the list of books she could choose from for her reading class assignment. Crazy , I would not want to read it after reading all the reviews here. You guys all did great with your thoughts and so on

message 1: by Betty (new)

Betty I will call her now and tell her "NO I WILL NOT BUY IT " She had ask me to buy the series so she could have her own,but this is not a gift I would buy for a 12 year old. I do not think kids should be reading this book are books at all. It would give me nightmares.

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