Apr 30, 15
Read on May 11, 2011
So, unlike some reviewers of this book, I was not repulsed by the premise, nor did I think this book was overly graphic or gratuitously violent. Before I commence my review, two things: 1) I am generally a fan of post-apocalyptic struggle-of-the-downtrodden literature, and 2) I am generally a fan of imposing female characters.
I would agree with those who suggested that this book is Twilight in a Battle Royale setting. The characters are admittedly more likeable (although that's arguable), but that is overshadowed by the fact that this book stubbornly seems unable to admit that it's Twilight. The setting and the premise were interesting to me, and I was actually excited to find out what sort of strategy these kids could come up with to bring down the establishment. I guess the bringing down of the establishment will be in the second and third books, in which case I kind of wish Collins had condensed them all into one.
The problem is that the initially mildly intriguing setting and almost any and all possibilities that could arise from it are sacrificed to highlight the love triangle that permeates the book. Did the oppressed poorer District kids team up with each other against the Careers? No. Did Katniss struggle morally with having to kill or be killed? Not really. Do we find out anything much about any characters other than Katniss and Peeta? Very seldom. I wanted more Rue, more Thresh, I wanted Foxface's real name, even more Cato and Clove. Wasted characters, characters that could have brought out more interesting aspects of Katniss. I wanted to know more about these characters instead of hearing more of Katniss's monotonous inner monologue.
The absence of other characters' development bothers me just as much as their disposal. We don't even find out how a lot of them die. Rue is the only one who dies in a remotely dignified way, and then with flowers and embedded song lyrics Collins manages to make it ridiculous. One verse is enough, thank you.
And Katniss (and jeez, couldn't Collins have found a better plant to name her after?), admittedly badass, starts out in a semi-promising way, but then manages to disappoint by being completely oblivious not only to the fact that she is badass but that two handsome men are completely in love with her. She's presented as such a no-nonsense person, and then suddenly she's overcome with humility when frankness could mean the difference between life and death? And then after that she becomes gorgeous, gets an insanely high score in the skill tests, or whatever, that they have to do, and becomes a silly giggling girl in her interview. Then she manages to win the Hunger Games after killing only one tribute, under conveniently justified circumstances?
And the wolves at the end. Ridiculous. Cato dying with the pair of them barely having to lift a finger. Too perfect. The Gamekeeper's radical rule change, and then the revoking of said rule change. So predictable.
And also, under circumstances primed to teach valuable lessons or at least communicate one solid moral, Collins manages to teach none, even after killing off twenty-one teens and a tween.
I enjoyed Katniss's intuition about Haymitch's withholding/presenting of gifts, though I found the leaps she made sometimes questionable. I enjoyed Rue, for the short time she appeared (too short). I enjoyed Katniss's resourcefulness. But I wanted gore. Don't set up a battle royale and skip the juicy parts. I wanted character interaction. Relationships based on tenuous trust, common interests, mutual hatred, not two puppies who are so in obviously in love with our heroine the reader thinks her stupid not to know. I wanted them to bring down Big Brother. Why set up a landscape so prime for rebellion and not even have one? A double suicide pales in comparison to what Collins could have done with her world and her characters. I wanted more than flat characters and a dystopia that wasn't fleshed out enough. Sorry, when our badass heroine's most pressing ordeal is knowing how to kiss a cute boy at the right moment, I'm just not interested.
Everything in this book has been done before and done far better. The love triangle: Star Wars. The Divine Comedy. Hell, even Twilight. Too many to count. The staged Melee: Battle Royale. The Running Man. Countless anime. Even wolf-people were made captivating in John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things. But hey, if it gets kids to read, maybe they'll get around to something more intellectually stimulating.
This review is much longer than my others, probably because I can't really understand why everyone thinks this book is so frickin' great.
Quick update: I finally watched the first and second movie adaptations, and, I'll be honest, I loved the crap out of them. And I felt confused about that, because they're actually really faithful to the books, more so than a lot of book-to-film adaptations are. So how can I enjoy the narrative the movies are telling me so much, but have so many objections to the books?
I had a discussion with a friend of mine about this subject, and we came to the conclusion that it wasn't just because I tend to enjoy Jennifer Lawrence's performances. Not being privy to Katniss's inner thoughts actually takes the "young adult" out of the books. The paragraphs of primping become her appearing in a scene in a dress (for instance, the wedding dress. She just puts it on and walks out, instead of laboring over it). The long laments for Peeta's safety become instead active, perilous tasks. The absolute despair Katniss feels is palpable and heart-wrenching, rather than over-wrought. Katniss seems much more in control, and much more real, in the hand of Lawrence than in the hands of her original creator. In short, I guess I actually like the tale Collins has told; I just wish, on the page, she had told it another way.
I welcome further discussion on this subject. I'm still kind of surprised.