I first heard about The Hunger Games the summer of 2010 when my mum, a librarian, was reading the second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire. She mentioned it to me at the time and told me I’d like it, but I thought it sounded kind of dismal and I wasn’t really keen on reading it at the time. This was actually a stupid reason to discount it, given that so many of my favourite series are quite dark, but at any rate I put it in the back of my mind.
Over the next couple of years more friends recommended it to me, and the book finally made its way onto the (very long) list of books in my head to ‘read when I get around to it’. Then the movie came out. I have a general policy of not watching films before I’ve read the book, and with the amount the book and film were being discussed online I both realised I wanted to read it and had to read it soon before I encountered spoilers, so I placed a hold against it at the local library. At this point I kicked myself for putting this series off for so long, because there were seventy-two holds against it!
Anyway, it finally came in last Tuesday and I read the entire thing that afternoon. There’s simply so much I love about this book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of the trilogy.
The first thing I love is Katniss. For starters, she’s a female protagonist but her gender isn’t important to the story. There aren’t nearly enough stories where this is the case, so it makes me a little warm and fuzzy inside that Suzanne Collins makes her a girl and doesn’t make a big deal about it. More importantly, though, I found her a genuinely likeable character. She has a bit of a smart-ass to her (which I always love), and of course there’s the heroism of sacrificing herself for her sister. Even so, she’s not a perfect hero. She’s arrogant and rude, and while her anger at the Capitol is well-directed, it can get her into trouble and she has a tendency to elevate herself above others.
This brings me to something else I like about the book. There are two characters, Effie and Haymitch, that Katniss hates for most of the book. Haymitch, the only living person from District 12 to have won the Hunger Games, is Katniss and Peeta’s alcoholic mentor. Katniss loathes him for his alcoholism and general attitude, but from the start I found his addiction quite understandable. He survived a harrowing experience as a teenager and has spent the rest of his life training up two kids to do the same, only to watch them die. Katniss eventually realises this near the end of the book and finds him less abhorrent. What I like about Haymitch is that he shows how the Hunger Games destroy people, and how even winning doesn’t necessarily mean you survive.
Effie is Katniss’ chaperone, and seems rather vapid and far too interested in the Hunger Games, like most of the Capitol. At the same time, however, she seems to grow fonder of Katniss and Peeta as the book progresses. This suggests that she’s not entirely heartless, which makes the Hunger Games all the more chilling, because so many of the people involved in it (including many of the tributes from the wealthier districts) see nothing morally wrong with randomly selecting children to die brutally for sport, and yet they’re not wholly full of malice. It shows how easily normal people can be influenced towards terrible things by the society in which they live, and how easily morality is bound up in society, because in this society, what they’re doing isn’t immoral.
I even liked the love triangle storyline. Romance subplots, and especially love triangle ones, are something of a double-edged sword. Done well they can further plot and character development, but done poorly they become tiresome. Even though the basic storyline is somewhat cliché (girl has a best friend she has sort-of feelings for and another boy she also kind of fancies), Collins adds another dimension to it by having Peeta and Katniss play up a relationship for the cameras. While it’s terribly obvious to the reader that Peeta’s feelings for Katniss aren’t entirely fabricated, it’s believable that Katniss doesn’t realise it herself. Thus all their interactions in the Games are coloured by the fact that neither knows if the other’s behaviour is due to genuine feeling or an attempt to attract attention and, therefore, sponsors who can send them food or medicine. In this way I think Collins avoids many of the clichés that tend to arise with a teenage love triangle storyline.
Overall, I was very impressed with this book, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.