Book Review: The Hunger Games trilogy
Summary: The books take place during an unidentified year in a destroyed North America (somewhere close to the Rocky Mountains), now renamed Panem. Panem consists of the Capitol and thirteen surrounding, much poorer districts that service the Capitol’s needs in food, lumber, weaponry, etc. In punishment for an earlier rebellion by one of the districts which ended in its destruction, the remaining districts must each give up one boy and one girl (between the ages of twelve and eighteen) through a lottery to participate in “The Hunger Games.” This is a televised bloodbath in which those boys and girls (called “tributes”) are forced to fight against one another in a dangerous outdoor arena of the Capitol’s creation – complete with vicious, mutated wildlife – until only one of the tributes remain alive. This survivor and his/her district are then rewarded handsomely by the Capitol.
The three books follow sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen from District Twelve who volunteers for the 74th Hunger Games in place of her young sister Prim. Also participating from her district is Peeta Mellark who loves Katniss but has never been able to tell her.
Central Themes: Big brother, personal independence, government control, power and the downfall of that power.
Review: First off, I want to say that this is perhaps one of the best series I have ever read, and that is saying something since most series go downhill after the first book, and the final book never quite lives up to the first in terms of ending, how everything is tied up, and, in some people’s cases, who the female protagonist becomes romantic with. That is not the case here! Suzanne Collins’s style of narration has an urgency and immediacy to it that is completely compelling and hooks you within the first few pages of The Hunger Games, and I can proudly, happily admit that it didn’t let me go until long after I put down Mockingjay. I would have finished the books sooner had it not been for so many interruptions throughout the days!
However, caveat emptor, dear readers! These books are certainly not for the faint of heart or for anyone expecting a complete and total romance from two main protagonists – as is usually the drivel written by young adult authors. While there is a love triangle present (in minimal amounts) throughout the three novels, there are very few moments of physical romance. The characters speak with a good amount of wry humor, but the moments of happiness in these novels are even fewer and far in between. What happiness any of the characters find is fleeting at best. This is a visceral series that has frequent dark and depressing moments, gruesome scenes of death and destruction, loss of family, and loss of self. I can also say – with quite an impressive amount of pride – that no book has made me cry as much or as long as Mockingjay. There were only a handful of moments where tears were not streaming down my face. By the end of this series, you will be drained emotionally and not everyone may be able to handle this.
Having said this, you might then ask why anyone would wish to read a series centered on such a dystopian and gladiatorial society. Suzanne Collins has somehow found a way to weave together these traumatic moments and the thrills to create a perfect series that is both engaging to teenagers and adults alike, opening their eyes to histories of human injustice without feeding them a history lesson. Collins touches on a variety of subjects: a nation of poor with a handful of rich, Big Brother watching every movement you make, the use of fear to govern nations and people, and even our addiction of “reality television.” All of these subjects are touched upon before, but we all know that there is nothing original under the sun anymore. What matters is how the author takes those stories and turns them into something fresh and exciting. Suzanne Collins does just that by impressively creating believable, well-rounded characters that grab at you and a storyline that takes a new spin in a genre that desperately needs more intelligible literary material. What is even more outstanding? The decisions of the characters are understandable and relatable. Katniss Everdeen carries the resiliency of the human spirit on her shoulders, yet she is neither infallible nor invulnerable, and is most definitely not a Mary Sue in relation to another boring, helpless, sparkly-vampire-loving character in another young adult fiction series that shall remain nameless.
The Hunger Games trilogy is well-written, and it will make you think and question a good deal of traditional beliefs on war. You’ll find yourself wondering whether anyone can impose a dichotomy of “us” and “them” during times of war and hold steadily to it. Katniss joins the rebels in hopes of ending the Capitol’s power over the districts yet she finds herself doubting their intentions as well. Collins paints a picture of what it means to volunteer for a war effort, take on the hopes of thousands of people in plight, and yet still be a pawn for both sides. Katniss’s descent into his realization has us all doubting, I think, whether or not she is making the right decision. She never wanted to be their Mockingjay, but she accepts the position for the sake of saving her sister mixed with the belief that she wants revenge for the horrors the Capitol put them through. In the end, Mockingjay will strip aside those feelings of hope and faith the other two novels built because, to be honest, that is what war does. Above all else, this trilogy is a series about war and tragedy. When that war – the personal and the bigger one – is over with, the soldiers are left alone to pick up the pieces of their lives as best as he or she can.
Mockingjay has taken flak from fans for not ending the series in a way that it was anticipated. It does not end in the way you’d imagine it would coming from the young adult fiction genre and surrounded by so many stories of werewolves, vampires, and lust-at-first-sight romances. Some fans must have been caught up in their hopes that the theme of war would become nothing more than a backdrop in this book with budding romance on the horizon; however, Collins has been setting up the revolution since book one! The grim nature of the first two books should have led readers to believe that the last book would follow in a similar vein, and I think that Mockingjay’s direction was natural, especially given the war-like circumstances; to me, it is the only way the series could have ended.
Other fans, I know, are disappointed with the way Katniss acted so seemingly out of character in the last book. What made the whole series so much more believable, so much more realistic, is the way in which Katniss changed as she made her journey through the three books. From book one, she’s been a survivor and that is how she ends in the last book: as a survivor trying to make sense of her life when all is said and done. Katniss will never be the same as she was in The Hunger Games. I believe that once anyone has been to hell and back (as Katniss has, for example) and lost so much along the way, your life, your very self, will never be the same. I believe that is the one of the greatest points Collins is trying to portray. Can one go from living the experience Katniss has, from performing unconscionably horrifying acts, to being essentially reintroduced into society and keep going as before? That is an opinion for you, my readers, to decide for yourself when you reach the end of the series. For me, the way that Katniss managed to find the strength to keep pushing through is fine and admirable, yet infinitely sad and noble.
After you read the books (and I sincerely hope all of you do!), you will realize why the characters are so different from who they were in the beginning. War changes a person. I would have personally been disappointed in Collins if she downplayed the harsh realities for something softer and sweeter, for something the audience would have been expecting. She avoided the predictable ending and gave us a taste of the reality we live in. That is what I want in a series. The ending to The Hunger Games trilogy is poignant and bittersweet. The story she weaved from book one through book three is harsh but genuine. She created a memorable, haunting series that you are not likely to forget in the future! It will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading it.
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Has anyone here read it? (: I’d love to hear your opinions/experiences over the course of the series.