The Hunger Games Trilogy – A Review

The Hunger Games, published 2008

Catching Fire, published 2009

Mockingjay, published 2010

I’m going to treat my review of these three books as a collective whole, as I do not see them as separate stories, but rather as one contiguous tale told with two lengthy bathroom breaks. Please be forewarned, there are SPOILERS.

It’s about: Set in a not-so-futuristic North America, where controlled deprivation of basic human needs and fear of the reigning political power: The Capitol, are normal, Katniss Everdeen is a self-reliant 16-year-old, who voluntarily takes the place of her younger sister to participate in the annual nationally-televised Hunger Games. Only two options exist in the Games: survive or die, and it’s Katniss against 23 other youth. Having survived the Games as the reigning champion, Katniss makes the obligatory victory tour of the districts, only to discover she has become the unwilling symbol of political unrest across the nation. Forced to go back into the Games as a contender for the second year in a row, Katniss joins forces with the other contestants, and openly revolts against The Capitol, and an all-out revolution unfolds. The final showdown against The Capitol places Katniss once again in an arena, where life and death are seemingly just a game.

I thought:

The books were extremely difficult to put down, but I’m still pondering over the reasons why. I liked Katniss. A lot. I think she’s a great strong female protagonist, and to the best of her character’s developed ability, she is focused on principle foundations – or at least what she thinks are her foundations. Ultimately, the books allow her to explore (although at a rather elementary level) her guiding principles and how emotions affect and impact her in that process. Love interest #2, Peeta, was my favorite from Go, although I am unsure if my affection for him is actually my brain’s inability to acknowledge the antonym at play with pita bread, and my deep and abiding love for this flat bread marvel of the Mediterranean. Yet another mystery I will likely never solve. Love interest #1, Gale, was shallow, underdeveloped as a character, and never had enough screen time to become a true player in the overall story.

But why couldn’t I put down the books? I think it was because of the anticipation that something good had to come out of so much bad, but it never did, and here’s where I come completely clean about this story, and hopefully enable many of you to question your own publicly-proclaimed “love” for these books. Let’s be honest. I thought these books were horrific and gratuitously violent. I was shocked and riveted to my seat in disbelief because the target audience is young adults. For a story whose basic premise is “kill or be killed,” weaving a poorly-constructed love triangle throughout its pages is a lame excuse for young adult fiction. The plot is always at its weakest when we are not in the arena of the Games, and we are not in the arena a lot in books two and three, although Mockingjay (Book Three) had the most lulls in the storyline, and could have been whittled down significantly (I’m talking entire chapters here), and not lost anything against the plot.

Look, I don’t always need a happy ending to be satisfied, and I was tacitly content with the story’s conclusion. Where else was Collins going to go with the story, anyway? She’d pretty much painted herself into that corner. I just felt like there were loose ends, plot developments that ran out of steam somewhere along the way, and characters whose person could have been more richly developed. That’s all.

  1. What political statement was Suzanne Collins hoping to make?
  2. What overall message is she sending to her young adult readers?
  3. Is this book about war as a game?
  4. Katniss, Peeta, and the other “champions” of the Games clearly suffered from PTSD, yet no one took their suffering seriously. Is this a statement about how we as a society treat war veterans enduring this serious side effect of war?
  5. Was this a comment on us as The Capitol citizens? (Cause we’ve got sooo many “first world problems,” people.)
  6. Was this really just a love story and I’m over-thinking the entire thing?
  7. If you proclaimed to “love” these books, will you please tell me why?

Verdict: Read it once, but don’t worry that you’re missing out on something amazing if you never get around to them, and would rather reread Harry Potter for the tenth time, instead.

Reading Recommendation: If your young adult has already read the books, you’ll definitely want to read them, too, so you can discuss them together. If not, many many adults have been captivated by the story, and perhaps you will, too.

Warnings: With a nod to the YA label: Extreme violence, graphic death scenes, discomfiting moral dilemmas, weakly-attempted love story.

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    GREAT post. We’ve already talked about this so you know I agree. And this part: “Love interest #2, Peeta, was my favorite from Go, although I am unsure if my affection for him is actually my brain’s inability to acknowledge the antonym at play with pita bread, and my deep and abiding love for this flat bread marvel of the Mediterranean. ” Hahaha! You are funny. :)
    But yes. Reading these books was an unusual experience because I was unsettled by them while I was, at the same time, riveted to the plot. I still tell people I liked the books, and on the surface I did. But I’m glad you’re raising the important questions, because there are some serious themes that I think get overshadowed by the action-packed story. Does the target audience think about the issues you listed? Does Ms. Collins intend them to? I hope so.

    • says

      Exactly. It’s the overshadowing of the deeper issues that troubles me, and I’m afraid won’t have voice in the movie adaptation, but we shall see.

  2. says

    I really like this review. I am one of those ” loved it” people. But I still don’t know why. I think just because I didn’t want to stop reading. But I found the first book to be the most intriguing. The second and third were quite lacking and I found the ending unfulfilling.

  3. says

    It was so difficult to put them down; I didn’t, actually. What would you have changed in the ending to make it more fulfilling? I’ve heard others say they were dissatisfied with the ending, too.

  4. Dawna says

    Thanks for the great review. I have not read the books, upon many recommendations from others to avoid them. I am squeamish at tussling violence, and do not desire to read this level of violence. I tell my teenager as she makes fun of my “naive and simple” movie and book choices, “I cannot control what I dream, but I can control what I read and watch, which gives fodder for my dreams.” But, now I must have the conversation with her on the obsession with this series. I both dread and hope to hear the response of “it is just the popular thing to do!”

    • says

      Has she actually read the books? If so, I definitely encourage a conversation with her that drives at some of the overlooked messages of the series – beyond the superficial love story that tends to mask the deeper meanings.

  5. says

    It was a good story. I have read the 1st one, and am not sure I will make it through the remaining 2. It seems to be a mashup of The Lord of the Flies and The Most Dangerous Game, two stories I read in High School, and probably wrote reports on. I do not tend to read much fiction anymore, and read this one due to the fact that my 6th grader is reading it currently as a whole class assignment. I too believe the love story element didn’t seem to fit well. I never really felt invested in the characters like in Harry Potter. Even after just the 1st HP book, I craved to know what the next chapter was in the story, with the Hunger Games series, not so much.

    Great Post!!

    • says

      If you weren’t instantly compelled to move along to book two, I doubt you will. What I’m more curious to know is WHAT IS THAT TEACHER THINKING?! Do share what kind of class discussions they’re having about the book. Are you like me, Paul, and feel like J.K. Rowling revolutionized how we interact with the stories we read? Harry Potter has changed us all – and for the better, in my opinion.

  6. adam says

    My takeaway from the story’s raw depiction of violence and war is that they are both predictable and unpredictable. While violence and war can bring about significant change quickly, no one can truly predict or control the outcomes of violence and especially war.

    I liked the story and the symbols. I think the fact that most readers are both fascinated and abhorred by the violence in the story is actually a pretty good parallel to our own real world fascination and abhorrence of violence and war. I am at once deeply against violence and war and the senselessness of those that use it as a first resort to make change (religion, politics, crime, etc.) but also captivated by the violence and madness of history’s lessons in violence and war and follow current events that are so filled with it.

    I also think there are some other interesting metaphors that can be drawn from Katniss related to women, society, and change.

    In the end, she becomes the symbol that she never intended to become out of circumstance and finally out of determination to stop being manipulated.

    • says

      Adam, I love your insight, and am grateful you shared it here. I think you hit on something we don’t like to admit: we are fascinated by war, violence, and crimes against humanity. And perhaps in our desire to understand the violence, we are drawn to stories that depict it, hoping to uncover a truth, a metaphor, a reason.

  7. Kathryn Pepper says

    Hey Arminda, I really enjoyed your review. Like you, I couldn’t put the books down. However, my obsession in completing chapters waned from book to book. The first book was compelling for one obvious reason: children were being forced to kill each other. As gruesome as that is, I really think that was why it was so hard to put down. I liked the second one probably equally to the first one but I knew before even reading it that Katniss would be going back into the arena. I mean, what else could she possibly do that would be more exciting than that? The third book was disappointing. The political issues weren’t taken care of. I was confused and unsatisfied. (My husband thinks the author left the ending slightly ambiguous so she can write another book and get more money.) Anyway, I did enjoy reading them. They are very superficial at best, but how deep can a young adult author delve?

    P.S. What is that 6th grade teacher thinking? Out of all the books in the world that those kids can read, Hunger Games is the best one they can think of? Wow. Also, thanks for your review, Arminda. I haven’t found anyone else with this opinion of the books. It’s very refreshing.

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