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.
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.
- What political statement was Suzanne Collins hoping to make?
- What overall message is she sending to her young adult readers?
- Is this book about war as a game?
- 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?
- Was this a comment on us as The Capitol citizens? (Cause we’ve got sooo many “first world problems,” people.)
- Was this really just a love story and I’m over-thinking the entire thing?
- 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.