Book Review: The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Warning:  review contains some spoilers, albeit mostly minor/well-known in media

As with several “it” series/books, I’ve jumped in rather late in the game with this one. It may be partly due to tremendous hype, but I was somewhat underwhelmed by The Hunger Games. The overall plot was enjoyable, albeit very much a copy of Battle Royale, and the characters likable to a degree.

However, the writing is only above par for YA fiction – nothing stellar like JK Rowling‘s work, and the plot veers into unbelievably convenient territory that feels a bit Mary Sue to me.The first 100-something pages are dull and drag, don’t fully engage the reader and don’t enthrall.  The prose is too sparse, Katniss’ narration too repetitive and simplistic to really care about her.  The book picks up once the games begin, but even then, it’s a problematic novel.

Essentially, The Hunger Games is Battle Royale meets a more intelligent Twilight, with a main character that is superficially strong, but immature beneath. Granted yes, Katniss is a teenager thrust into a terrifying reality, but she is also one who has been the true parent of her home for years now, and the contradictory maturity expressed in her opening scenes and the immaturity with which she handles her ridiculous love triangle clashes horridly.

I found Katniss as a narrator to be grating and verging on a Mary Sue.  For those unfamiliar with the term, a Mary Sue in fanfiction or writing is a character that is usually a self-insert of the author.  Said character is perfect, adored, saves the day and infallibly gets the hot guy as well.  Although uncommon in published fiction, it certainly happens:  see Bella, of Twilight.  While I don’t believe Katniss is Collins, she is unbelievable as a character.  How noble of her to save her family from starvation!  How incredible of her to offer to take her sister’s place!

Had it stopped here, I would have bought into her as a strong woman. But no:  Katniss is also loved by two different guys, who she remains oblivious to in true eye-batting fashion, is uninterested in dressing up for the pre-games interviews yet is adored! and beautiful!  and memorable! in her pretty, pretty dress.  Tee hee, she almost enjoys it!  There’s also the fact that at least twice, Katniss is conveniently spared during a “kill or be killed” scenario, and why? Because she is so GOOD and KIND and PERFECT that people give her a pass or want to be her ally. I just couldn’t buy it. I also couldn’t fathom why, if Katniss is meant to be a strong female – a truly strong female – that she needed to be “spared” to survive. Why couldn’t she just kick ass, fire arrows and claim lives?

The only character I truly loved was Rue, and well… she doesn’t make it. A shame. Peeta is manipulative and grating, and I haven’t seen enough of Gale to care. Haymitch is a subtle misogynist. Oh, wait: I liked Cinna a hell of a lot. Two characters, then.

It was all rather disappointing, and the sexual exploitation by men disturbing. A kiss equals a pot of broth? Is that the going rate for child escorts in Panem? Why is it up to Katniss to put out or die? Also, did Collins have to shove it down our throats constantly?  We get it, alright?

The ending also felt ridiculous, as if Collins wrote herself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to make the final showdown happen. She played Gamemaker and went for the absurd. I rolled my eyes and frankly, pictured the wolves of Twilight. Not a positive.

Is it better than Twilight? Absolutely, but that’s not a stunning achievement. Harry Potter spins circles around The Hunger Games, though, and it too is a tale of children and teens coping with things far beyond their maturity. The difference is in the realistic characters. Harry is fallible. His friends are fallible. They suffer for their mistakes. Katniss gets by on a smile and simply because it’s convenient for Collins to write a trilogy.

Katniss is no Buffy Summers, that’s for sure, and it’s a shame, because in the right author’s hands, she could have been.

Rating:  3.5/5 stars

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