That’s right everyone: I’ve been doing a little extra-curricular reading. (And I can tell you right off the bat that as soon as I’m done the series — yes, apparently The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy — I’ll be tearing through a pile of fanfic as well. Someone remind me of this the next time I whine that I have no time to read.)
So, why the extra reading? I didn’t have a choice, really; Fate, as it were, dropped this book in my lap, and despite the business of the month, I had no problem at all devouring the thing. If it weren’t for the fact that I value sleep very, very highly, I probably would have read the book in two, maybe three sittings.
I first heard of the book, by Suzanne Collins, when Linlin recommended it (well over a year ago) in a conversation we were having about recent readings. I looked it up in the library system, noted the crazy-long wait list, added it to my queue and promptly forgot about it.
When it finally arrived, I groaned a little (how was I going to finish all the books I had out in time?!) but flipped to the first page, curious. What kind of book had Linlin recommended to me after all? I didn’t put it down till 5 chapters later. That’s what kind of book she recommended. (For the record, I would class this more as teen fiction, or young adult than “children’s literature”, but nonetheless a really good read.)
With my intro out of the way, I will tell anyone who cares that April’s book is Pollyanna, by Eleanor Porter, and if I hear any grousing about living in the Now, or choosing a book that isn’t lame or dated, I will staunchly ignore it. As I said in the discussion (“discussion”) for When You Reach Me, although I love the books other people are suggesting, I do want to ensure a goodly mix. It’s been a while since we’ve read anything pre-1990s, and frankly, Pollyanna is a classic (that I’ve never read) and I want to know why. (It was that or The Wizard of Oz, and in the end, I went with the story I don’t know.)
Right. With that done, anyone who hasn’t read The Hunger Games is advised to stop reading forthwith. Like right now. It would probably be wiser for me to save this entry for whenever I’ve read the whole series, but mehn. I’m’a go ahead with it anyhow. This way, I can see how my feelings about characters and themes change throughout the trilogy.
Are they gone? Those people who might have the book spoiled for them?
How about now?
Okay, I’m going to assume they’re gone now. Or at least very well warned. Let’s get on with it. First thoughts:
At the beginning of the story: Huh. It’s like The Lottery, only more vicious, and more interesting. A Lottery that deals with consequences. Awesome.
In the middle of the story: The characters are surprisingly interesting, if not necessarily winsome, and I do sincerely want to know more about Panam and its politics. Love the way the role of the media is both thought of and detailed throughout the Games. More awesome.
At the end of the story: Argh. Why does Linlin keep recommending books to me with completely vacant lead heroines? (Ahem, Twilight.)
Let’s face it: Katniss is not a likeable character, partly because of her manufactured “love” for Peeta (although given the circumstances, understandable), partly because of her huge resentment towards her mother (again, possibly justifiable) but mostly because you never get to know her. You get to know what she isn’t — she’s not a simpering girly-girl who knows how to walk in heels, wear a dress, or make polite smalltalk, she’s not someone who can sympathize with those who give in to fear or weakness, she’s not a girl who can just enjoy luxury without disdain for those who waste time and resources creating it in the first place, and she’s not a girl who has enough courage to let herself feel or dream or care, beyond a fierce protectiveness towards her family. With all that established though, who is she?
She’s a girl with a strong will to survive and a knack with a bow. She can hunt (both animal and human prey, apparently), she has a soft spot for young girls who remind her of her baby sister and… according to Peeta, she can sing like an angel, or at least she could when she was five. …That’s it?
I loved this story, but found myself, after finishing it, in the same position I was in with Twilight: wanting the heroine to end up together with the obvious romantic hookup not because she deserves it, but because the secondary character is so likeable, and I want him to be happy.
People, this fills me with rage.
I want to read a book where I either like, and empathize with the character (e.g. Anne of Green Gables) or I want a book where I can hate her, but still be interested in what happens (Gone With the Wind, Magician’s Nephew). I can not stand books where I really don’t care whether the main character lives or dies (quite an important issue in this story), but I end up rooting for them to live for the sake of a secondary character.
So you might ask: what is it I like so much about Peeta? After all, he’s not very manly. Baker’s son, no survival skills to speak of, infatuated with the same girl for 11 years, but never worked up the courage to tell her. What is there to admire? Well, aside from some wicked cake-decorating skills and a sly sense of humour, true love and purity of heart. Watching him through the book only half-wondering if it’s a scheme to win over the audience (of course it’s not, of course he really loves her; how could it be any other way?) I found myself tearing through the pages not to see how Katniss wins (whatever; inevitable) but to see how Peeta would lose (nail-biting). Was this what Collins intended? Maybe, but probably not. She probably figured her audience wouldn’t focus on the romantic angle quite as heavily as I do. Fair enough.
How’s the rest of the book? Impeccable. The world is set in North America, but reminds me (of all things) of a robot-less, more primitive Battlestar Galactica. The idea of each district being assigned an industry was a little contrived, but that’s pretty much the only issue I had with the world. The power struggles, the politics, the class system, the cruelty; all of it fell in line perfectly, and throughout the story nothing jarred or felt out of place.
Had I known the book was part of a trilogy, I might have expected side-stories like the red-headed avox. While I don’t know that she’ll feature in future books, it seems likely, given the set-up in the first. (If I’m wrong, it was a weird way of not-really giving Katniss’ character more depth, I suppose.) Similarly, while Katniss’ interactions with Gale seem like they were there to pretend to give some insight into her character (which they really don’t; if anything, they tell you about Gale instead), I am assuming now that we’ll get a chance to get to know Peeta’s potential competition in books two and three.
Oh, wait. Did I just bring everything back around to the love triangle again? Of course I did. In spite of the fact that this story is beautifully crafted around a premise both horrifying and horrifyingly easy to imagine (reality TV inches closer every year) and set in a world eerily close to our own… at its heart, this story is about love. Love of family, love of someone else, how far love will take you to save them… and how love magnifies betrayal, when you twist it to save yourself.
Ratings-wise, I’d have to give it a 4.3 (out of 5). I am, after all, chomping at the bit to get to the second volume (I’m 68th in line!). There is enough meat in this world, and enough depth to the characters (well, most of them) to give this book re-readability, and plenty of room for musings and what-ifs (hence my predicted fanfic binge when I’m done).