The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: ★★★★
“Hunger Games!” is a shriek assaulting my ears, a bombardment of text violating my range of vision—and repeatedly!—for the last year or so (guestimation). And what the heck is Hunger Games? I think—you know, aside from it being a book. Well, because I am me, Raya (code for: passive individual who places procrastination at the top of any and every priority list – i.e., I didn’t even bother reading a plot overview), I remained clueless until recently when the movie hype grew into a pandemic. From that I gathered this: dystopia-like setting in which adults treat 24 teens battling it out on national television as a festive event.
Wait, what? That is what Hunger Games is about? (Because I still didn’t bother reading a summary overview and thought…) In my world of literary taste, such a brief synopsis classifies as absurd, as in, “Preposterous idea!” But because I am me, Raya (also code for: I do not judge books based on lamely brief descriptions), I chose to read the book to see if I can understand why Hunger Games is so damn popular—maybe I might even like it.
So I read, and—to my surprise—Collins ensnared me. I am sorry, but if I am to live a moderately productive life I need to sleep and get up at proper hours. I need to go places and do things. I can’t snuggle into my favorite reading spot in the house all day as my eyes move rapidly from word to word, my hands turning pages as I plunge deeper into the plot. But that is exactly what I wanted to, because, as Stephen King says, Hunger Games is “a violent, jarring, speed-rap of a novel that generates nearly constant suspense,” and I, too, “couldn’t stop reading.” I was up at two in the morning still guzzling coffee so that I could stay awake long enough to meet the last page. The wreck this action inflicted on my life is trivial; I survived, as always. I just needed—yes, needed—to know what would happen on the next page, and the page after that, and the page after that one… until I reached the end.
I must admit, though: if it were not for paced suspension and nagging curiosity, I am more inclined to say that I simply like the originality and give a three-star rating. I’m a Katniss supporter, of course, but other characters felt flimsily built. Everything told is strictly partial to Katniss’s perspective. Hence, because the setting chiefly takes place in the Hunger Games arena—away from Katniss’s home, friends, and family—there is little current interaction between the protagonist and the people she cares about.
But then there is Peeta—Peeta, Peter, pita pocket. (Take note: I dislike pronouncing his name, so after I decided I’d had enough Peter slip-ups, I re-named Peeta to The Peeta Pocket.) The Peeta Pocket attends the Hunger Games with Katniss and essentially serves as a love interest. He contains enough warm, fuzzy, passionate feels for Katniss to stuff up infinite space. Then there is Gale. Gale, the strapping BFF who probably has passionate feels for Katniss, too.
And then there’s Katniss. She’s confused, impales things with arrows, and seemingly has great trouble sorting out boy-related emotions. Gale has been her BFF hunting-buddy since age twelve, but very little is said or shown to illustrate (or infer) that there may be more than friendship prospering. The idea that Katniss may harbor a deeper affection for him doesn’t even cross her mind until later. Only once Peeta Pocket confesses his love does she realize that “Gale” and “Peeta” strung too closely in thought causes unease.
Prior to the Hunger Games, Peeta was “that boy who gave Katniss bread when she was a starving five-year-old ready to die.” Prior to the Hunger Games, they never spoke. Not only is Katniss confused about Peeta and Gale, but she’s conflicted over trusting Peeta. He is, after all, her enemy (at least he’s supposed to be). Is playing Lover Boy his game strategy or does he genuinely like her? Mmm, I placed a bet on the latter from the get-go.
As far as Gale and Peeta Pocket appear character-wise, however, they come across distant and flat. In fairness, Gale is hardly present, but Katniss’s memories shouldn’t limit his character. Why can’t her memories enhance and exploit his personality into something more than one-dimensional? She states an obvious fondness, that she sincerely misses him, but I cannot gather the extent or reasoning of her (or Gale’s) feelings because they are not shown. For all I care, Gale is dwarf planet Pluto. He is so distant from the core of things that I scarcely notice him. Peeta, on the other hand, is indeed present, but I have a difficult time looking beyond his love-sick role. If I toss aside his Katniss-adoration, what left is there to look at? I haven’t a clue. Peeta is a baker’s son; bake a seasoned personality. I want a multi-faceted Peeta Pocket, okay.
Essentially, all of this creates a nebulous web of a possible romantic triangle, and I have trouble falling for it. Among everything else—government oppression, starvation, survival, preservation of self—the romance felt oddly out of place even though it holds a vital position in character interaction. The Peeta/Katniss star-crossed lovers aspect is used to influence the spectators of Hunger Games, and therefore in effect is staged… but it’s also meant to feel real and genuine, which I find difficult to believe when Katniss is telling herself, “Kiss Peeta for the audience…” They’re filmed live, after all.
More in-depth character exploration would have been nice. If Katniss wasn’t so damned confused about her love interests, this feature of the book may have come across as more authentic, understood, and most of all: organic.
In other news, despite steady suspense that hooked and reeled me in—and I mean: once I was in, I was in and didn’t want to leave—I find it predicable. Given the nature of Hunger Games, which is to say that only one of the twenty-four may survive, it’s easy to predict what will happen to who and coolly say, “I told you so.” Like Rue, for example!
The instant Peeta makes Katniss aware of Rue (“I think we have a shadow”), I thought to myself, “Self, this is what’s going down, so prepare: Katniss and Rue will bond (especially because Rue reminds Katniss of Prim), and then Rue is going to die. It will be a touching death scene in which Katniss cries and does something special—a commemoration or tribute of sorts.” Sorry, did I spoil it for you?
Oy vey, I say.
And yet: most of what I knew would happen seemed inevitable, but they help Katniss develop character in some regard. I thought how nice it would be for Rue and Katniss to form a bond, but once that bond is formed… No, Collins, please don’t do what I know you’re going to do! But then readers get to see how Katniss reacts and deals with it, and whether or not incidents with Rue, Peeta, and others transform her.
Frankly, though, I still think Katniss is very much the same as she was at the start of the book. She’s a survivor and an expert hunter. It is stated that what goes on in the Hunger Games—how kids are forced into killing one another—is barbaric in Katniss’s mind, and how it’s treated like a spectator sport repulses her. While Katniss focuses on surviving the game, some more reflective insight on the ‘barbarism’ and killings would have, I think, been a wonderful window to peer into and watch her change. But, sadly, the only major change I witnessed is how she feels about Peeta.
Oy vey, I say.
By the large, Hunger Games wears an alluring suspense that unexpectedly waves an interesting plot in my face like delicious bait. (I say “unexpectedly” because I said, staring at the cover, “There is little chance I will enjoy this!”) But I bit into it and didn’t want to stop eye-gobbling its words. Suspense can be a yummy thing sometimes.
So, then. Obviously I’m reading the next two books that complete this trilogy, but only if there wasn’t this dreadful Internet rich in Hunger Game spoilers… (Because I now know where every character ends up. I couldn’t help it—I spoil myself silly.)