Monday 14 November 2011

Devouring Books: The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I can't even think of anything sensible to say about this trilogy other than READ IT READ IT READ IT because, seriously, so much excitement and action and unstoppable readingness, as well as sadness and a love triangle (everyone knows about that right) and death and destruction, and do you really need to hear any more?

Basically, yeah, I loved them. I'm kind of thinking I need to deal with each book separately, because I've been trying to write about all three together whilst also not giving anything away which is sort of impossible, so I'm going to write about them and give stuff away so STOP READING if you haven't read them yet because, seriously, you don't want to know what happens. You just don't. You won't get the full joy of these books unless you don't know what fucked up thing is about to happen, so yeah, go away and buy them and read them, and then I'll let you read this!

Before I start though, some universal things: I'm not going to pretend these books are the best written things ever, because they're not. But, they are SO readable, and really just hook you in so you can't really not read them, even if you sort of want to. Also, I'm not really going to do the whole Peeta vs Gale thing, except to say that I made my decision in the middle of Mockingjay when I realised that I was really upset that Peeta wasn't quite... himself, shall we say. AND, if Gale loved Katniss that much, surely he would have taken Peeta's place in the Hunger Games to protect her. And does he? No he does not. He is smoking hot though... (for a more complex discussion of Peeta vs Gale, I recommend Forever YA, especially this, wherein the writer very cruelly compares Peeta to Riley from Buffy. I mean, no one deserves that kind of treatment...) But anyway, I'll say very little else about it other than when it's unavoidable, because, like Katniss, I am more involved in her continuing to live than in wondering who she's going to do that possible living with. Because, shockingly, some things are more important than boys.

One last thing before I get started- I was SO conflicted upon first buying this book, because it had a ringing endorsement from Stephen King (who also, according to Wikipedia, compared The Hunger Games to his own books, The Running Man and The Long walk, which sounds a tiny bit self centred to me, but also totally accurate, especially in the case of The Running Man, which actually seems like a more difficult Hunger Games) BUT it was also recommended by Stephanie Meyer, and what does she know about a good book? (Ooh, contraversial. Especially since I haven't read Twilight. But still). On the whole though, Stephen King saying that things are good pretty much drowns out all other opinions for me, so I bought it. THANK GOODNESS! Now, onto the reviews...

The Hunger Games

So, as I think we've all guessed if we've got any kind of knowledge about what goes on in these books at all, they take place in Panem (some futuristic, dystopian and HORRIBLE North America), where, if you live in the Capitol you're fine, but if you live in one of the 12 districts you're basically living in poverty and once a year your children are subjected to the 'reaping', where one boy and one girl are chosen from each district to fight in the Hunger Games, which is a fight to the death, staged for the amusement of the Capitol and as a punishment for the Districts once having the nerve to rebel against the injustices they face. Man that was a long sentence!

In this world, in District 12, the smallest and poorest of all the districts lives Katniss Everdeen, a strong and plucky girl who you'd pretty much want to have on your side in any fight, except she probably wouldn't want to be on yours because she's not exactly a people person. It would be pretty easy to dislike her because of her growliness (something which other characters fully choose to do) but since we're inside her head it's hard to, especially because she's so honest about her own faults that it's difficult to reprimand her for them. Also, girl's awesome with a bow and arrow, which is lucky because when her sister (basically the only person she loves in the world) is 'reaped' for the Hunger Games, Katniss takes her place without hesitation and, as readers, we're all in love. The boy chosen is Peeta Mellark, who Katniss hates a bit for having saved her life once (not because she's suicidal, but because she hates having to 'owe' people), but, fortunately for her, Peeta has a huge crush on her because she's sort of awesome.

So, they go to the Capitol, are paraded around like cattle and Katniss describes her clothes a lot. To be fair, they are awesome clothes, and her personal fashion designer is completely awesome, but here's my issue- why are they so placid and accepting of all of this? Why isn't someone saying 'This is WRONG', because I know that, if picked for The Hunger Games, I wouldn't be able to just sit around and be dressed and made up and then accept my certain death (I would definitely die in The Hunger Games, I'm not even going to pretend I wouldn't). But I guess that, any open refusal or embarrassment to the Capitol would end up in my death anyway, so really there's no choice at all. And that's why they call it a dystopia, guys!

As for the Games themselves- in a way, there's not all that much tension because, since you know it's a trilogy before you start reading, you're pretty confident that Katniss, and almost definitely Peeta, are going to survive, even if you're not exactly sure how that can happen. Interestingly though, this doesn't distract from the action and drama and trauma at all, and this was, I felt, the most compelling part of the book, which makes me feel a bit sick because I'm exploiting all these fictional people as much as the Games organisers and supporters are. But at least I feel bad about it, right?

So basically, my main feelings about The Hunger Games- poor Rue! Bad Capitol! I love you more than Peeta or Gale, Katniss, even though you're kind of moody! Mind generally blown all round! And, finally, how soon can I get the next book?! (The answer to that was about 3 days later...)

Catching Fire
I'm pretty sure the rejected title for this one was 'Katniss gets fucked over and I hate everyone'. I mean, it definitely wasn't, but really?! Another Hunger Games? For those poor people who have already been put through basically torture and have to face the nightmares of what happened to them every night? President Snow has a lot to answer for, and he's a creepy fucker to boot!

Unfortunately, because I read the back of Mockingjay before I read Catching Fire, I pretty much knew that was going to happen, so it wasn't as much of a shock as it should of been. But it was still HORRIBLE. I definitely couldn't cope with the prospect of a second games, even though everyone was trying to help Katniss and Peeta, saving their lives instead of killing them and so on, but it was still so awful. And yet, could I stop reading? Of course I couldn't, because these books are really really good. Like really.

I think probably most upsetting in Catching Fire was that moment when Katniss was about to enter the arena, and Cinna was all beaten up in front of her. I mean, it was all I could do to keep from screeching 'CINNAAAAA!!! NOOOOO!' and, you know, I'm outside of the fictional universe the story exists in and hence I know it is fictional. But that doesn't make it ok, because Cinna is basically amazing. Just wah. Also, I think that the clock arena? Kind of super-impressive, albeit evil. And definitely better than the arena in the first book, if by better, you also mean more evil and twisted (but just also cleverer and interesting).

And that end was so... unexpected and exciting, and I was traumatised for Peeta and I just couldn't even process what had just happened, and oh MAN was I glad that I'd bought Mockingjay along with Catching Fire, because boy did I need to read it right away!


Mockingjay was mainly like being kicked in the guts repeatedly. There are times when you think Katniss might be ok, that the things that have been done to her haven't caused her irreparable damage, and then something else happens to set her back and you just sort of want to DIE all over again. So basically, Katniss is all sedated and wandering around reliving her Hunger Games experiences over and over again, worrying about Peeta and what might be being done to him, and resenting the fact that she's being used as a symbol for a cause she doesn't really want to be head of, and really just wanting to go home, even though, since District 12 was destroyed at the end of Catching Fire, that's impossible.

If I'm completely honest, this book made me really miserable. It's bleak, I'm not going to lie to you- it seems like nothing will ever be achieved and nothing will ever really change, and the majority of people are going to be unhappy forever. Take Peeta for example- Katniss misses him and wants him around again and just to know that he's safe, and then when he finally does get back, he's been turned into a weapon to be used against her! I was just like, Collins, what are you doing to me woman?!

It was just before this point that I realised that I really really missed Peeta, and hence decided that he was my favourite. I think this is mainly because we get to know more about him than Gale, so I sort of automatically gravitated towards him, but more than that, I think only he and Katniss could be together after the Hunger Games because it's basically the most significant thing that's ever happened to both of them, and no one else (other than, say, Haymitch) could understand what it was like. So, because of that, I think they kind of needed each other- rather than Katniss making a choice, she almost couldn't not be with Peeta, because Gale would never quite understand what she needed like Peeta does, because Peeta needs the same things.

Anyway- I did really like, in Mockingjay, the times when Katniss got to kick some ass (limited, because she's a total symbol who can't be put in any real danger) but when they got back into the capitol, things started to piss me off. Namely, really great characters being killed off (including Finnick, which I can't even... It's just not... ARGH) and this whole wild goose chase going on and then Katniss sort of kind of missing all the action (as in she doesn't storm President Snow's house all by herself and sneak up on him and assassinate him which would have been AWESOME) except that what she does see is her sister, for whom she entered the Hunger Games to begin with being blown apart and WHY COLLINS, WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?! You know? I mean, I could have coped with practically anything else, but not that. It was cruel.

Another thing I couldn't cope with was the part where the new President (I've completely forgotten all names now because I finished these books weeks ago...) suggests that they need one last Hunger Games, and I was clearly like NOOOO, as any sane human would be, and when Katniss says yes ('for Prim'- FOR PRIM? REALLY? Because I thought the point was that Prim is the opposite of everything the Hunger Games stood for...) I just about wanted to throttle her, regardless of her grief. BUT, after copious research on the subject, ie reading basically everything about The Hunger Games on Forever YA, it's been drawn to my attention that Katniss only says this as a distraction technique so she can kill the new President (Coin! That's her name!) but I was still in shock and horror at the whole thing.

And here's the thing about the ending- Gale goes away to District 2 (I think...) to be a big army guy or something, and Katniss's mother has gone off to be a medic or whatever (which is really nice of her when her [least favourite] daughter is grieving her ass off) and Katniss is kind of left alone, until Peeta shows up in the remains of District 12, where a kind of naturally sedated Katniss is living. And it's kind of like 'aww, I wanted them to get together, yay!', but it also annoys me that Katniss is all like 'oh, I didn't need someone like Gale, I needed someone gentler like Peeta', when actually, she didn't really have much of a choice in the matter, since everyone else left her. I, of course, think she should have ended up with Peeta, but Collins maybe doesn't make it extremely clear why she should, other than, he's the only one left.

There are so many more things to say, (I haven't even mentioned the Orwellian things I found!) and I'm sure even more things I missed since I really blasted through the books, but to be honest, if you've made it this far you're a total trooper and should probably get a prize. So I'm going to let you go now, and, you know, thanks for letting me rant incoherently about The Hunger Games. I'll meet you back here when the first movie comes out...



    Also I'm convinced Haymitch and Effie are going to end up together, if only because they were the only adults around Peeta/Katniss at the beginning. IT WILL HAPPEN. Although I so, so very much wish Haymitch weren't being played by Woody Harrelson in the movie. Ugh. Anyway.

    Are we sure about the kill-Coin thing? Because I thought she herself was surprised she did it, so it wouldn't really be a plan then. Maybe I should re-read that part.

    Also, I totes disagree on her just ending up with Peeta by default. She acknowledges that Gale is too violent. She is too, and she wants someone who can balance that in her, so Peeta is kind of ideal. I mean, Gale wanted to kill ALL THE PEOPLES and Peeta was always like "whoa, hold on, let's all think about this before the killing, aight?"

  2. I'm not positive about the kill Coin thing actually, I just read this one thing on Forever YA that was all like 'oh it was a plot so she could kill Coin' but the alternative, that Katniss would actually agree to another Hunger Games is something I can't deal with, so I accepted it pretty easily.

    AND I agree that she would have ended up with Peeta anyway, cause Gale's all like "ALL PEOPLE FROM THE CAPITOL ARE EVIL", and Katniss is like "well things aren't really as simple as that" and she clearly needs to be with Peeta BUT I think it could have been better expressed by Collins in that it sort of just seemed like Katniss was just left with the guy who didn't have something better to do. You know? Or am I just insane? Or both?

  3. Yeeah, the Gale/Peeta thing was rushed at the end, but maybe after all Collins didn't care about it that much? Or maybe she kind of halfheartedly had the Gale subplot in there, but she was totally really into Peeta (which is a right and proper opinion), so when she was able to, she just shunted him off and let those crazy kids get together.

  4. Ah, now you're making me want to read them even more. I, unfortunately, haven't had the opportunity to do so yet. Now I really want to!

    - Nick @ Whispers

  5. Collins is both a talented writer and a gifted storyteller, two things that do not always go hand in hand. In The Hunger Games trilogy, she has created characters that will stay with me and has given them a hard and difficult story that will haunt me. She also managed to keep the quality of the series high throughout which is not always the case with a book series.