I just finished reading the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I blazed through all three books in a matter of weeks, so I highly recommend them as an easy read, even if you don’t typically have time to be the reading type. Clearly, the books are published by Scholastic, and therefore pushed into the “Young Adult” and “Sci-Fi” genres very quickly…which I think may have been a mistake on both counts. However, I’m going to review the books one at a time and you’ll see why I think that as you read on.
In the course of about 3 months from August-ish to October-ish, I had four different people tell me “you just HAVE to read this book!”. When I say four different people, I don’t just mean that they are different people; that’s obvious. I mean they are REALLY different from each other in their entertainment preferences, religious and political beliefs and moral boundaries. I have to give the most credit to a good friend of mine who is a middle school teacher. When she first told me about it, I’d never heard of it. By the time that the fourth person told me that I HAD to read the book, I had to resist the urge to yell, “OKAY ALREADY! I’ll read the damn book!” Not that I dislike reading at all; I’ve just been VERY busy lately…but I digress.
EPIC SPOILER ALERT. I’m going to talk about the book. A lot. Who dies, who lives, the ending, the imagery, the whole deal. Click elsewhere now if you don’t want to know!
Book One: The Hunger Games
I bought the book feeling a little childish. Of course I’ve read all the Twilight books and all of the Harry Potter series, but this book didn’t have clout of a pop culture status symbol behind it. I began reading it that night before bedtime. Mistake. I didn’t put it down until around 1am – I was halfway through the book. I turned pages so quickly I got papercuts. The end of every single chapter is a cliffhanger, or at least something that piques your interest to the point that you can’t put the book down without flipping a page ahead and reading the first few lines. As expected, the book reads like a young adult novel. Although it’s subject matter is a little grotesque at times, I don’t think it’s anything that our youth can’t handle. Trust me; today’s kids play Modern Warfare 2 and watch Dexter. They can handle it. I really enjoyed reading this book. It was fun, a little dark, and very exciting. Very worthy of all the praise that surrounds it and I can see why the kids are into it; this makes The Outsiders feel like Willy Wonka (I’m talking about subject matter here; S.E. Hinton was amazing!). As every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, imagine my surprise when the end of the book was another big cliffhanger. I had picked up a book that was part of a trilogy and I didn’t even know it! I had to buy the second one immediately, and when I saw the third one sitting right next to it at the bookstore, I bought them both. In hardcover. Ouch!
Book Two: Catching Fire
Certainly my favorite book in the series. We start to get a little more into the political aspects of the world that the book takes place in, and we find out more and more about how their government is structured. We learn about the history of the hunger games and meet previous winners. It is well balanced with grit and romance and although the characters seem to have grown up a bit, I like them as people and believe in them personally. I begin to guess at the endings to this trilogy and realize that no outcome will be good; but Harry Potter ended in much the same way. We meet my favorite character in this book – Finnick Odair. Sort of a sex symbol, he comes off like a douchebag at first. But he’s a fun douchebag and when we learn that he can be trusted, he is instantly my favorite (a complete cocky bastard is my favorite character. What does that tell you about me?). Some small part of me no longer cares who the female lead picks to spend the rest of her life with because the love story between Finnick and Annie is not only more dynamic and less adolescent, but it’s beautiful in every way and I would love for the author to write a story about their past. The second book is not unlike the second Star Wars (well, okay, episode five technically) in the way that it’s giving you all the information that you need about the politics, the characters and the relationships to get through book three without having the hangups of in-action explanation. I know this as I’m reading it, and I’m getting excited.
Book Three: Mockingjay
When I get to book three I’m reeling. What happened? Where’s Peeta? I need details! The author provides them all in due time, without inundating the reader. I’m reading along soundly when suddenly, about halfway through the book, I realize that I care less about the characters. I’m not even sure why. I’m so torn about how I feel about this book that I am not sure that I can succeed to put it into words – but I’ll try. For one thing, we’ve known all along that Peeta is a bit of a mama’s boy, even though his mom beats him. He’s a baker…for God’s sake he decorates cakes for a living. His idea of rebelling against the government is no fighting, no wars, no casulaties…a complete cease-fire. Sound like any major group we know of? Right…he’s a hippie. I don’t mean that he wears tie-dye and smokes pot all day, I mean that he generally holds a more liberal line of thinking…he’s artistic and affectionate. He’s not necessarily afraid of fighting, but he sucks at it and he doesn’t want to do it at all. He thinks that abstaning from violence will quell the capital’s thirst for blood – but just like in the real world, he’s wrong. Not fighting isn’t going to make them realize that he’s “not just a piece in their games”. It’s just going to make them kill him and keep moving on. I love Peeta because of his idealism and his simplistic love for Katniss, but let’s think about who really won the war and kept (almost) everyone alive? Gale. Gale did because of his death traps, deadly aim and tactical genius. Katniss was the only pawn in the war – it was up to her to make a decision. Peace or war? Hippies or rednecks? Democrats or Republicans? Come on, Katniss! Well, she didn’t really choose. She kind of got pushed into war and then hated herself for it. Her sister got killed in the mix, which was terribly sad for me (at this point in the book I liked her sister more than I liked Katniss). Somewhere in the mix, we lost Finnick which REALLY made me furious. About 3/4 through the book, I started feeling rushed – the author was coasting to the end without much detail or thought. At the finishline, I felt empty. Unsatisfied. The ending was reasonable enough, very realistic even. It was the lack of detail and the complete breakdown of our hero that I feel displaced about. I cried when Buttercup appeared at Katniss’s house looking for Prim, but I’m not sure why… I think I cried because we lost Prim, who’s life being saved was the only reason for this entire trilogy. But mostly, I cried for Finnick and Annie, and because I never got to hear more of their story.