Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy [[ Shhh…SPOILERS! ]]

The Hunger Games Trilogy BoxsetThe Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I will start by saying I came into reading The Hunger Games trilogy with the mistaken impression that Suzanne Collins was an undiscovered writer till this point, who possessed some spectacularly impressive raw power. This apparently could not be further from the truth, and I wish I could find what on Earth I read that implied as much. Collins is a TV writer and award-winning writer of children’s books–far from a stranger to the world of writing, which explains MUCH about how wildly popular this series became: She has skill. From the deep characterizations provided of main and even relatively minor characters to the rich portrayals of Panem and the arenas that completely immerse the reader in this dystopian world, she is able to captivate our attention from the start.

I sped through Book 1, The Hunger Games–devoured it like I myself was some wild-eyed muttation (I love how she played with language, too). Katniss is not a likeable person. Except that, oddly enough, she IS. Losing her father at a young age and having to step up when her mother didn’t has hardened her, made her a fighter and a protector, and as self-sufficient as a child of 16 years could hope to be. She comes off as bossy and snarky and perhaps even bitchy, but her strength and self-confidence balance that out and we accept one with the other.

Everything in life is a power struggle of sorts, in Panem no less than our own world. Katniss displays what control she DOES have over the disgusting tragedy that is a reaping by taking her sister’s place, and that sets the entire trilogy into motion. Once she leaves District 12 for the Capitol and becomes part of the Games, any semblance of control is ripped from her. Haymitch agrees to help her and Peeta, but they must do exactly as he says. Effie keeps them to a militaristic schedule. Even from outside the arena, the Gamemakers interfere in ways only they can. Haymitch dangles carrots in front of her (suspended by silver parachutes) to get her to play along. But at the end of Book 1, she wrests control again with her handful of berries. Whether she loved Peeta at that moment or not is irrelevant–which is what President Snow knew. It was a statement that no matter what, the Capitol was NOT in complete control; that she would rather kill herself than ONE. MORE. PERSON. …whether that person was a lover, a co-conspirator, or merely an acquaintance.

The same basic themes continue in Catching Fire, with Katniss having to bend over backwards to suit Snow’s demands to save the lives of her family and friends, but she is still granted the appearance of having power when Haymitch agrees that it is Peeta’s time to shine in the arena and this Game must be about protecting him. Soon enough, though, we learn the truth.

It becomes more complicated in Mockingjay when she struggles with Coin over her demands in exchange for being the Mockingjay. Coin needs some way to gain support in all the districts–to control them, as it were–and she cannot do that without Katniss and the symbol the girl has become. So she acquiesces to her various demands, and whether or not torturing the prep team and intentionally putting Prim in harm’s way as a first responder at the Capitol, she does uphold the bargain: Buttercup; immunity for Johanna, Enobaria, Annie, and Peeta; hunting with Gale.

Katniss continues her struggle for control–not political control, but the power to do as she sees fit, fend for herself, and see to her own agenda–when she plans to steal Boggs’s Holo and take off on her own, but then receives it from him on his deathbed and ignores his advice to distrust the others and kill Peeta. A good choice, ultimately, as without the rest, she likely would not have made it far.

And of course, her ultimate act of control–shooting Coin instead of the already-dying-anyway Snow. Personally, I think she made the choice because she knew Coin was no better, already wanting to start up a new Hunger Games and continue the killing. Whether Pryor will be any better, who can say?

I was quite satisfied with the way the story ends, though having noticed reviewers who were not, I decided to read some of the reviews now that I wasn’t concerned with spoilers, so that I could find out why. Overall, I was pretty disappointed with the reviews and came away with the feeling that perhaps those readers didn’t get all that they could have out of the book…that they missed the point.

The complaints were generally over the ending of Mockingjay: Katniss settling down with Peeta. How the one thing she should have had control over was taken from her since Gale didn’t even return to 12. How by the third book she is such a worthless mess of a wreck that she’s an insufferably weak character and not the strong heroine we saw in the first book. How losing Prim made the entire thing pointless. How there was too much corruption and horror shown with a significant lack of compassion.

Many of these, in my opinion, are plain wrong. There is still plenty of compassion shown all throughout Mockingjay, but compassion generally starts small and works its way out, while hatred and violence go wide-scale far more easily. We see the bombing of the children, but also the District 13 medics who rush to their aid. Tigress helps conceal the 5 remaining of Squad 451, brings them food, helps them better disguise themselves. Even Buttercup, on understanding Prim is dead and not coming back to him, curls up with Katniss to bring them both some comfort. The rest of 451 felt compassion for Peeta when he joined them, though Katniss was still shunning him. Kinnick opens up incredibly and we see how deeply he’s been hurt, and he shares his rope with Katniss and Peeta, helping them out of their own dark places. I could go on. And if the point was that Katniss herself showed no compassion, think again. Early on, we saw Katniss visiting a hospital full of wounded people who loved her so much, and she indulged them far past what anyone expected her to. She often considers how many people have died because of her, whether indirectly or at her own hands. I don’t know what more compassion could have been squeezed into this book without adding a unicorn that farted sparkles and magically transformed all of Panem into a wonderful happy place filled with rainbows and gumdrops. I found it chock full of realism…not lovestruck vampires that sparkle in the sunlight (talk about a muttation…).

And of course losing Prim ultimately made her entire foray into the Games pointless. But if it had been Prim in the 74th Hunger Games and not Katniss, there would have been no star-crossed lovers, no Mockingjay, no uprisings, no revolution…and the Games would still have continued. That’s the point: that all Katniss Everdeen wanted from the start was to protect her little sister and in the end was unable to. Because war and fighting and hatred themselves ARE. POINTLESS. We only destroy ourselves and each other, as Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, Gale, and so many others were destroyed, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.

The criticism about her being an empty shell of a person perhaps bothered me the most, as if the reviewers had never heard of PTSD. Throughout the entire trilogy, we’re shown what happens to victors. Haymitch has led a lonely life drinking himself into oblivion, mentoring more children toward their death every year. Others turned to morphling for a break from reality. Others simply went insane. Others, like Kinnick, were good at masquerading as though nothing were wrong at all, when we ultimately discover he is just as broken as the rest and ever so vulnerable. These are CHILDREN who were forced to hunt and kill each other, to fend for their own lives in a fatal game of Survivor. The ones who died were the lucky ones. Is it any wonder that by Mockingjay, Katniss has a tentative grip on her own sanity and needs mood-altering drugs? My suspicion is that finally understanding what the Games have done to the victors is in her own mind permission to let herself fall apart in the way she had wanted to ever since escaping the arena the first time, having to wait until she was through keeping up appearances with Peeta, only to discover she would never be finished, and that the mere appearance would not be enough for Snow. But make no mistake, her spirit and her fight are still just as much there in Mockingjay as they were in The Hunger Games–she’s still breaking the rules, still doing what she feels she needs to do. She’s more fragile, perhaps, or at least she is treated as such, but she isn’t weak. She is still driven…still that girl on fire.

As for how the love triangle worked itself out, this of course was bound to be a point of contention. From the very beginning, we want to see Katniss together with Gale. They seem to be such a perfect fit and so happy together. And yet, it isn’t until Peeta professes his love that she even considers Gale in that light, because as she emphasizes herself, she wanted no family, no children who would have to fight in the Games. We have to wonder during Book 1 if perhaps she is indeed falling for Peeta…and whether if Gale tragically had not still been there when she returned to District 12, the two of them might have fallen more naturally into a romance. Maybe there is a point at which she loves them both, it’s hard to say. In the course of the trilogy, she has changed, and so has Gale. She has seen senseless violence first hand and he has watched her kiss someone else, likely wishing it could have been him, only to be kissed and then mostly rejected once she returns home and kept at arm’s length after Snow’s visit. And Peeta never seems to figure out which way is up. She throws herself from him to protect Gale, but then when Peeta is rescued from the Capitol after much obsessing on her part, it’s Gale she leaves to welcome Peeta. Then back to Gale after she’s attacked. Personally I feel sorry for Katniss…Peeta and Haymitch pushed her into a situation she wouldn’t have chosen, and she develops what are perhaps SOME real feelings for Peeta, but still can’t shake what she already felt for Gale. The poor girl has taken a lot of flack for leading them both on, though I personally don’t blame her. She did what she had to in order to survive…then to save Peeta…then to protect Gale and both their families. Had she won alone and returned, she might have resumed a happy life of hunting with Gale and ultimately settled down with him. But by the end, it’s obvious that Gale, too, has changed, working with Beetee to turn his snaring techniques into weapons. It turns her off, perhaps for good.

And just as well, I think, that Gale takes the job in a distant District, leaving Katniss to Peeta, having recognized that “Katniss will choose whomever she thinks can’t survive without.” Because their relationship had never been one of survival, and at this point in her live, she is forever going to be in a survival-mode–both Peeta helping her through her nightmares and she helping him to weather his hijacking flashbacks. Their mutual insanity and the understanding of it is the only thing that will keep them sane, because they understand each other in a way that non-victors never could. As she says, she needs the calm that Peeta offers, not more fire from Gale added to her own. They “grow back together” and comfort each other, and when he asks her, “You love me; real, or not real?”, she tells him it is real. The question is whether it really is or not. Whether she truly does love him, or simply knows that he needs to believe that she does. But it is closure, nonetheless. By admitting this to him, she is admitting to herself that she has given up on Gale.

The one thing that I think really disappointed me was Katniss voting in favor of a Hunger Game featuring the Capitol’s children. Even for as much of a bitch as she could be, she did not strike me as vengeful. Even in killing the boy who had killed Rue–that much was also self-defense. But for as disturbed as she was by the double-bombs delivered to the children–even before Prim was caught up in it–it felt out of character for her to condone more children dying, senselessly killing each other the same way she and so many others had to, or to condone killing everyone in the Capitol, when she had stuck up for her prep team because–like children–they simply didn’t know any better than to behave the way they had been brought up to. So this decision seemed very out of character to me. And then I expected Haymitch to bring her to her senses, and he didn’t. I wanted her to shine in this moment, maybe point out that it would be no different than what had been done to the Districts, take a REAL stand. But…I think also that she was too destroyed by this point to even have it in her, and that the most she could hope for is that in killing Coin, the idea would die as well.

All in all, I found this entire trilogy beautifully well-written. My own prose pales in comparison, but this certainly gives me something to aspire to. As for the overall message Collins hoped we would take away from it…I’m not sure I know, unless it boils down to the atrocity human beings have the propensity for perpetrating against one another and the way in which violence begets only violence. Perhaps our best bet is to teach our children history the way in which Peeta and Katniss intend to and pray that for once, one generation may finally GET what each one before has been trying to tell us. And that maybe they can finally rise above the mistakes of the past.

View all my reviews

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~ by MamaWolf on April 27, 2012.

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