brian 's Reviews > The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
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Dec 24, 13


on the one hand, the hunger games fits my idea of what 'story' meant back when i was a kid, transporting me to #6 school library c. 1986, where mrs. greene would read aloud and i'd go all outerbody, floating off to the ineffable realm of 'lost in a book' world. over the two days i read this thing, i had that slight bookbuzz between reading sessions (better than any booze or drug i know) and 'fess up to sneaking pages in at any and all available intervals (at the coffeemachine, on the shitter, walking the hound, etc)...

on the other hand, i found it a book of incredible wasted opportunities.
my problems?
here are a few:

after such a bold move as taking her sister's place in the hunger games, katniss doesn't really have all that much to do. she dodges a few magic bullets (i'll get into that later), and makes out with a baker's son, but she never really has to do anything she doesn't want to do (or, perhaps, anything that could potentially damage her standing (read: sales) with the book's core bookbuying demographic) -- this thing never lives up to the expectations collins herself has set, and katniss rarely has a moment of introspection or reaction.

(is a spoiler alert necessary? has anyone not already read this book?)

who does katniss kill?

1) a boy who just murdered 12 yr old rue.
2) cato, while he's being slowly tortured to death.

the first is easy. wildly justified and never given a second thought. (literally. even if the murder is 100% justified, it's gotta impact any non-sociopath, right? could collins have spared a single page to either a nice existenzy moment in which katniss became acutely aware that she took away 'all he has... all he's ever gonna have.*' or, at least, a kind of natural revulsion at the sheer physicality of plunging a knife through flesh and bone?) and the second is a mercy killing, an act of kindness and bravery. why create this 'battle royale' scenario only to breeze over the most challenging part? why not dig a bit deeper into katniss's character, get a bit into 'the horror, the horror'? there seemed a deliberate attempt to keep things a bit surfacey and transfer all the 'deep' stuff onto a somewhat manufactured love triangle.

and as for those magic bullets.
i suppose it's possible to run blindfolded across a busy five-lane highway and avoid getting clipped, but... it's very unlikely. and dramatically, it's stupid. it becomes comedy. it's bowfinger. if you're gonna toss katniss into this world, milk it. goose your reader. push it to the brink, lady. you took the easy way out on the 'big' issues, why take the easy way out with your set pieces?

lemme examine a single scene to make my point -- the penultimate action scene in which katniss rushes out into the opening to get the medicine. here's what happens:


1. a knife whisks through the air and slices her forehead. now, katniss didn't see it coming, didn't dodge in the nick of time... it just happened to fly by so as to conveniently bloody up her forehead, but without instantly transforming her into a drooling vegetable. seriously lucky. down to the microsecond & micromeasurement lucky. but let's move on.

seconds later:

2. katniss is pounced by some chick who holds her down and traces a knife over her lips. about to plunge the knife in, at the very last millisecond... she's thrown off! ok, another 'down to the micromeasurement' save in the same scene.

and seconds later:

3. the guy who pulled the girl off is about to kill katniss, but, again - at the last second! - when he learns she was good to rue, he lets her go. what?!?! really?!?! this late in the game? knowing it's kill or be killed? he lets her go? b/c she was sweet to a girl that he would've had to kill, anyway?


sorry. maybe any of these elements on their own would be fine, but three of 'em in a single scene? (a knife that is microseconds from its mark followed by a killer who is microseconds from her mark followed by a killer who has a 'at the last microsecond' change of heart)... when nearly every set piece plays out like this, i gotta say one thing to miss collins: diminishing returns! diminishing fucking returns!

and puh-leeze don't take refuge in the argument that it's a YA book. now, look. with YA there are wider parameters (you can, for example, be a bit more derivative in that your audience is reading this shit for the first time), but why soften your edges? why create great Hitchcockian scenes of suspense and breadcrumbs only to have them lead up to Bayesque (michael, that is) setpieces of luck, chance, magic bullets, and serious muddafuckin' boooshit?! and why downplay the psychological and/or moral effects of murder? i don't get it.

collins seemed almost to have a checklist in terms of catchy story elements and ways to catch hold of the zeitgeist. which is not a disparagement. she's a great storyteller with a knack for making said story applicable to the contemporary human dilemma (society of the spectacle, fascism vs. liberty, etc) -- and, it's terrific that kids are reading books about a tough, no-nonsense chick who has a kind of political awakening...
but collins, in this first volume, was kinda lazy.
which is a shame b/c she made something pretty special.

*unforgiven
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Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

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message 1: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny I still haven't read this... but having apparently heard every single thing that happens, maybe I don't need to? I looked at the first two pages once and found her prose style very unappealing...


message 2: by Eh?Eh! (last edited Mar 27, 2012 07:52AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eh?Eh! Nice. It pulled me along but I'm able to flip the switch to turn off the cogs pretty easily, too often and most times involuntarily. Are you planning to finish the trilogy? Or maybe wait as the movies (inevitably) come out?


message 3: by brian (last edited Mar 27, 2012 07:58AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

brian   for me, manny, the story chugged along at such a clip that i was able to largely ignore the prose, which shuttles between pleasantly plain and painfully drab. but, it definitely required a slight mental shift for one who never really reads YA stuff.

yeah, eh, i definitely plan to finish up the trilogy. thinking about book 2 on my flight to nyc in a few weeks and book 3 for the flight home.


message 4: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Hm. Next time I see a copy in a bookstore, I'll read another few pages and see if I find myself hooked...


message 5: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell brian wrote: "the story chugged along at such a clip that i was able to largely ignore the prose, which shuttles between pleasantly plain and painfully drab"

Heh, yeah, that was what I thought too.

Manny, I might advise just reading the first book, if you get into it. The second was meh and the third one is really divisive (people seem divided into "too grim to read" and "too grim like IT IS" camps).


message 6: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny A YA novel that's too grim to read? Well, I'm curious...


message 7: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell 3. the guy who pulled the girl off is about to kill katniss, but, again - at the last second! - when he learns she was good to rue, he lets her go. what?!?! really?!?! this late in the game? knowing it's kill or be killed? he lets her go? b/c she was sweet to a girl that he would've had to kill, anyway?

OMG can't believe I am about to defend Collins's writing/plotting, because a lot of what you say is on the mark. But I did think this particular moment worked because of the system of ethics she'd set up in the book. Every time Katniss incurs a debt, she's nearly frantic. She owes a huge debt to Peeta for him giving her the bread that saved her family, and a lot of how she treats him depends on that -- she's not grateful, or even that attracted, she's obligated. Thresh is obligated to her because she helped Rue, and killed the person who killed Rue. That's why he doesn't kill Katniss -- he's wiping out the debt. Yeah, it's also because they both cared about Rue, but I think that's almost secondary to him in the moment. So I thought that was one of those "last-minute rescues" that actually really worked, because it had been set up by the (usually awful) worldbuilding.

The whole "Let me tease you with my knife and blab endlessly about how I'm going to kill you OH GWWWRRRAASAACK" bit, yeah, that was pretty bad.


David I think this review is like a golden shower on everything that is good and pure in the world.

I wish Katniss were here to throw a mutant wasps nest on your dumb head.


message 9: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny David, throwing mutant wasps nests at people never solves anything. You should know better than that.


David Manny wrote: "David, throwing mutant wasps nests at people never solves anything. You should know better than that."

I know it by intuition, but I'd like some firsthand empirical data.


message 11: by Lorraine (new)

Lorraine Brian, is this worth reading? I ask this because your review of twilight is solid. The hype is overwhelming and I am tempted to read it JUST BECAUSE but if it's gonna make me ill like twilight did then forget it


message 12: by brian (last edited Mar 27, 2012 11:39AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

brian   yeah, despite its flaws, i found it well worth reading, lorraine. it's like the brothers karamazov next to twilight.


message 13: by Lorraine (new)

Lorraine I think even both my theses would look like shakespeare next to twilight, so in fact that's not very convincing ;) I get your drift though. I shall harass someone who has a copy to lend it to me, being unwilling to buy it myself. Frankly I am a bit wary, partly because this seems (untimely) -- the publication of an anti-corporate, anti-hegemonic dystopian novel. Being "YA" I am not confident that it would explore -- as 1984 and Brave New World do to some extent (through the narratives' treatment of art objects) -- its own status as consumer product, tailored towards reaching a segment of the market. And moreso than ever I think with the market (target market) not being what it 'was' back in the mid 1900s an author who wanted to write or construct a dystopia would have to deal with his/her own complicity in it. I wonder how it would stand up to Baudelaire... "C'est l'Ennui! L'oeil chargé d'un pleur involontaire/ II rêve d'échafauds en fumant son houka/ Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat/— Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!" -- a valid accusation, especially today moreso than ever. However I ramble. Thanks for the tip.


message 14: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny This is what I love about Goodreads. Somehow, I didn't know the origin of "Hypocrite lecteur — mon semblable — mon frère!", despite having first read the line more than 30 years ago, and now I find it in a Hunger Games review.

Thank you Lorraine!


message 15: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Manny wrote: "This is what I love about Goodreads. Somehow, I didn't know the origin of "Hypocrite lecteur — mon semblable — mon frère!", despite having first read the line more than 30 years ago, and now I find it in a Hunger Games review"

Great comment, isn't it?


message 16: by Sparrow (last edited Mar 28, 2012 05:41PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sparrow These are such legit criticisms, I think, if a person is going to look for a reason to ask the kids to get off his lawn. Those things did give me moments of pause in the first two books because it could go either way, right? Collins is either totally aware that she's running back and forth across the border between cheeseball action movie and serious political comment / drama, or she's not very interested in the action in and of itself. The third one left me feeling that she was luring everyone in with the cheeseball action to really crush us once she knew she had us trapped. That worked really well for me, but I can see how it's not for everyone. And I like cheeseball action, so that worked for me, too.


brian   ha! i love thinking of myself as a cranky 'get off my lawn' 'it was better in my day' guy-in-training. and, yeah, i kinda wish the above stuff didn't bother me and i could just surrender... well, we'll see what happens with books 2 & 3. will report back.


Sparrow haha, yeah, in my day we used to write books up hill both ways in the snow with no mittens. I actually think the second one is heavier on the magic bullets that bothered you in this one. But, I do think there's some reflection on the killing people. My thought on that was that during the games she was just holding her breath and surviving, and then after the games she had more room to reflect on the emotional meaning of death. Maybe that seemed more natural to me, though, because I tend to have really delayed emotional reactions to big events.

Um, giving explanations like that makes me uncomfortable, though, because it's like, "what was Katniss thinking?" rather than, "why did the author construct the story that way?" But, I think the same reasoning could be said for what Collins was doing in not pausing to give moral instruction about what killing does to our souls. I like that she leaves a lot of room for the reader.


message 19: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim I notice that some people seem to think that the premise and events of the story are far too grim for a YA book. But you sum up exactly why it wasn't grim enough. I'd love to read the adult version of Hunger Games - you know, the one where Peeta is horribly decapitated early on and Katniss is left to stab and stalk and snarl her way to victory alone. I think it could work.


Avynne i agree with the part about how she didn't really talk much about how katniss felt about murdering the dude...i mean her avoidance of katniss' feelings on some things just annoyed me a little. and this girl was unbelievably lucky which also annoyed me, but as i'm reading it i'm thinking "yeah stinkin right" and then i'm like am i the only one who feels this way? i think that with a lot of books and then find out that someone else felt the same way...


Cecily A good summary of many of the things that make me puzzled that so many adults love this book.


Shanah Davis Great review, and I agree with your points, but those things didn't detract from my 5 star rating.
I also wished she would have had to go a little deeper. Maybe kill an ally or been hurt worse than a busted ear-drum. Her having to kill say, Rue, would have been one scene I would have never forgotten in so many tragically emotional ways, but I would've praised the book to the lit gods for life.


message 23: by Ayman (new) - rated it 1 star

Ayman Teaman Excellent review :) It has some really good points that I didn't mention in my own review....and you can't blame me; there are just TOO many bad things about the book -_-

Thanks!


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