The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games - Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 2009
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I finished reading The Hunger Games yesterday and given my recent habit to avoid writing posts about books right away, and then ending up being at a loss what exactly I wanted to say, I am trying to change that around from now on. But I have to admit, I am nervous about writing this post. Why? Well, I did not love this like so many others. Going through the list of GoodReads friends who have read The Hunger Games, and trust me there are a lot, there are remarkably little below 5-star ratings. While, um, my own is around 3-3,5.

Do I need to tell you the plot of this novel? I doubt anyone does not have a general idea. A dystopian society: the nation of Panem built from what used to be North America. There are 12 districts, in which products are produced for the ruling body located at the “centre”, the Capitol. The districts once rebelled against the Capitol, the Capitol won, obliterated district 13 and sort-of “enslaved” the other 12. Now, every year, each district has to provide one girl and one boy between 12 and 18, “the tributes”, to fight in the Hunger Games. What are the Hunger Games, you may ask? Well, these 24 children fight each other to the death, the last one standing wins, with a lifetime of money to provide for themselves and their family. Katniss Everdeen, the main character of The Hunger Games is the tribute for district 12, together with Peeta.

While I found the first 50 pages awkward to read at times (there was a lot of repeating of events or explanations, lots of insinuated stuff that later on apparently had to be explained word for word to make sure the reader had understood the previous hints), there was a truly addictive quality to this book. I finished it in less than a day. As a reader, you also start to care deeply for Katniss. There is something about her (despite my having some problems with her characterisation, see Renay’s fabulous post) that makes you want to protect her from life, at times, that makes you want to make sure she’ll be okay, she’ll survive.

What didn’t I love? I think it comes down to this: there is so much potential in this story, potential to have the reader reflect on a few issues: The obvious theme of growing up in violence, the intertwinement of politics and economy, violence and the question of when murder becomes murder, the tendency of Katniss and the Capitol to judge districts on names/status, the whole issue of conditioning Katniss to love/kiss Peeta for support.. There is SO MUCH Collins could have done with this story, but to me it fell flat exactly because she never invites the reader “in”. Something about the story was too straightforward to my taste, there is a retelling of events, and that’s it. It is almost as if the issues that could have been raised are just skipped over, which makes the whole portrayal a bit problematic for me, especially the Katniss/Peeta/Haymitch dynamic. There is a hint of reflection on Haymitch’s drunkenness as a coping mechanism for the violence he went through, but this is the only time there’s any sort of reflection in the novel. Do not get me wrong, I do not want an author to shove a message in your face, a dum-dum-dum SEE, here’s my MESSAGE, here’s THE THEME. Actually, I dislike those type of stories. I do not think Collins needs to have a message, even. But, to me, there was something missing in that the story never becomes more than a retelling of events (albeit with having the reader feel sympathy for Katniss). Apart from feeling sympathy, I was never asked to engage with the story.

There is also a question of the world-building in general. I know many have praised Collins for it, but there were moments where I was not convinced.. A little more detail would not have gone amiss, I think. Collins teases that things will become more complex in the future, with the plastic surgery in the Capitol, with the traces of rebellion from Katniss & district 11, with the tension between the meaning of the games for Capitol residents and district residents.. I just hope these things will be explored.

Perhaps it were my high expectations going into this book, but I had just expected something more..  somehow.

[minor spoilers]

Will I read the sequels? Yes, I will. I care enough about Katniss and Prim to want to know what Collins comes up with. I also hope the world-building and discussion of it will improve. There were some strong hints in this novel that district 13 was not destroyed (hello, repeating that it was destroyed 4 times in a row). Supposedly there is a love-triangle in this story. I have seen the whole “team Peeta” and “team Gale” going around online.. I personally felt that it was a bit contrived, and certainly not at the centre of the story. At this point, I don’t think I really care who Katniss ends up with. Actually, I rather enjoyed her “I won’t marry and have children” stance, that’s quite refreshing in a YA heroine, except I’m afraid it is a foreshadowing that she will.

Other Opinions: Lady business, The Parchment Girl, The Wertzone, Books Distilled, Caribousmom, Dear Author, The Reading Zone, Realms of Speculative Fiction, Puss Reboots, Booklover Book Reviews, Opinions of a Wolf, Rebecca Reads, Hey Lady, Watcha Readin’?, Bookshelves of Doom, Eclectic/Eccentric, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Reading Life, Rhapsody in Books, Lesa’s Book Critiques, Literate Housewife, Hope is the Word, The Literary Omnivore, Care’s Online Book Club, A Working Title, There’s a Book, Only the Best Scifi, Bookworm’s Dinner, Child Lit Book Club, Books 4 Breakfast, Books and Movies, Semincolon, Reading Through Life, Reader Rabbit, Gimme More Books, Book-Blog.com, Take Me Away Reading, SciFiGuy, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Chatter, Book Addiction,  I’m Booking It, Devourer of Books, Teacher Girl’s Book Blog, Bibliofreak Blog, Literary Feline, Confessions of a Bibliovore, YA Reads, Nomad Reader, Fyrefly’s Book Blog, One Literature Nut, Sophisticated Dorkiness, And Another Book Read, Vulpes Libris, Classic Vasilly, Book Confessions, Maw Books Blog, Jenny’s Books.
Wow, there are a lot of posts about this one! Did I miss yours? Let me know and I will add your review to the list. 

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32 responses to “The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

  1. One of these days I’ll actually read this and see on which camp I fall :P But in the meantime, I enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    • I’d love to hear your thoughts when you get around to it. Very curious what you think. I have a feeling part of my disappointment has to do with reading Chaos Walking before this series. Perhaps it has spoiled me?

  2. The reason you only gave it a 3/3.5 is probably because it’s a kids’ book (and that’s not being nasty, it’s what I honestly think).

    • I have to disagree, Tony. Young Adult books can be so worthwhile and clever, and I often rate them high (as far as I rate books at all). Also, it seems an unfair sentiment somehow, since so many adult (and much older/wiser than me bloggers!) have loved The Hunger Games, which means you’d assume it’s because they’re more “childish”? I am sorry for my harsh reaction, but I do feel people have a tendency to underappreciate YA lit, or children’s lit, because it is meant for children, while some of the YA/children’s books I have read in the past years have been among the cleverest books I’ve encountered.

      • Perhaps that can be true at times, but your review of this book certainly doesn’t give me that impression (and never confuse older with wiser!). Also, mass popularity/enjoyment does not equal quality – there’s every chance that many people will enjoy a book without it really being any good. My comment was also based more on the fact that you are, by and large, a literary blogger, and I surmised that this book would suffer in comparison with other books you’ve read.

        By the way, although I haven’t read any of these myself, my impression (based on blog/Twitter comments) is that this first book was easily the highlight of the series anyway…

  3. I was surprised to see that you read this book because I didn’t really think this would be for you, and I guess I’m (a bit) right. I loved this book (and the second part, but not part 3), but I didn’t think about it as deeply as you.

    I think the reasons for that are firstly, that I think the story was strong enough to keep me going and I didn’t worry so much about the details, but secondly, actually related to Tony’s point, I think I gave it some slack for being YA and not adult. {ouch!~}

  4. Some have said that this is a dumbed down version of Battle Royale, so you are definitely not the only one that was “meh” about the book. I will tell you that this first installment was the best of the three…

    However I listened to the series on audio with my kids, so I got to enjoy the story through my kids’ eyes which was fun. It was really the last audio that we listened to where they had genuine enthusiasm. There is much excitement over the movie…

  5. GREAT review. I could agree with most of your points, actually. I haven’t decided if I want to read the next book(s). But I *DO* want to see the movie. And I like being able to talk to so many kids about this book since they have required it for school. I like when books are an exciting topic of conversation for 13+ yos.

  6. I loved the book, but I understand your points about it. This is a fantastic book to race through, but as you say, some points are belabored in case the reader doesn’t “get” them the first time Collins brings them up, and many details of the characters and the world aren’t explored as fully as they could be. You might like the next two books more, based on your critiques; the third, especially, gets into these class issues that are glossed over in the first book.

  7. I agree with your comment that she could have done so much more in the book :)

  8. I’m really curious now about these books. I read The knife of never letting go from Patrick Ness recently, after I read your enthousiastic review on your blog.
    Leeswammes commented on my just as enthousiastic review on my own blog, that she liked The Hunger Games more I did not read this trilogy. So now…..I wonder…..

  9. I just felt as if this story has been done before… numerous times. The first book was entertaining enough but I liked each book less as they came out. I’m still going to see the movie though.

  10. You know when I read the book for the first time over a year ago I LOVED it, 5/5, the whole shebang. But it was also my first experience with a dystopia so of course I was smitten with the idea.
    Now that I’m a bit wiser and more well read with dystopias, I don’t know if I would love it as much if (and when) I read it again. I’ve seen how good dystopias can be (Chaos Walking Trilogy) so everything seems to be a bit lackluster in comparison.
    I still think the series are great books to get reluctant (and non-reluctant) readers glued a fun book.

  11. Exactly. There was a lot going on, but I never quite engaged, because some things never quite worked—especially the love triangle, which both infuriates and bores me. I’ve talked to friends who’ve finished the books, and I don’t like the direction they’ve taken. Sigh. Katniss, you’re no Katsa.

    However, I will see the film at some point, because the costume design for the Capitol is outrageously decadent. I love it.

  12. I think some of the issues you mentioned that didn’t get explored fully in this one, particularly the effects of violence/murder and politics and the economy, get explored more in the upcoming books. Mockingjay, in particular, I think delves into this a lot more. Maybe not as much as you might want, but at least enough that I think it starts to address some of those questions. I’m glad you’re going to keep reading, and I hope you like the next couple of books more.

  13. So interesting to read your thoughts on this one. I’ve been tempted to read it, and probably still will, but have been unsure mainly because of its huge popularity (that always give me pause).

  14. I haven’t read this yet but the fact that you didn’t like it so much makes me curious. I think coming to a book that so many loved, quite late, may have an influence. It’s quite possible that i will like it mure just because, after your review, I expect less. :)

  15. I had mixed thoughts on this one too. I so enjoyed the experience of reading it (during a read-a-thon, and I couldn’t put it down.) But when it was over, I didn’t know how it would stay with me. It was good, and a lovely experience of reading, but I wasn’t convinced it was a great novel. The second novel, however, I adored. It dealt with those issues I loved and provided more introspection. The third novel, sadly, was my least favorite and somewhat ruined the series for me. I’ll be curious to see how you feel about the rest.

  16. After having seen a lot of people rave about this book, I’m almost glad someone is saying less positive things about it because I was almost starting to feel guilty about not having read it. The fact is, I don’t feel anything pulling me towards reading The Hunger Games – and I have no idea why, because I do love myself a good dystopia and am trying to rise above my prejudices towards YA. I just somehow can’t bring myself to care…
    Anyway, after that somewhat pointless rant: let us know how you get on with the rest of the series – maybe if you come to like it that’ll get me interested after all ;) .

  17. I liked this book, read it in one setting, and waited impatiently for the other two in the series to arrive from the library. Something happened between book one and two and the story sort of went stale. By the third, I was reading to finish it. I did like them, thought they were interesting, and the story moved fast for me. But I can also agree with everything you say. So, looking back on it, I guess I’m changing the way I view it after some time apart. Happens to me sometimes.

  18. Aw, :( I love these books a lot and I do actually think there’s a lot to reflect on which I suppose is different than being invited in to reflect, but since it’s an immediate first person narrative of a girl who is just beginning to think about things differently I’m not exactly sure how that would work. But, different strokes for different folks!

  19. I felt largely the same as you did. Be aware it’s…it’s kind of a series of diminishing returns. I might reread The Hunger Games at some point, but I doubt I’ll ever reread the sequels. Without wanting to spoil anything, I felt like Suzanne Collins got more caught up in the love triangle in the subsequent books than the story (and Katniss’s character) merited.

  20. I did like this book a lot but I can see how people don’t care for it. On the subject of world building, I liked it but I think that you still needed to have a good suspension of disbelief in order to buy into the whole thing.

  21. You’re not alone in not loving this book. I enjoyed this one, and the others in the series, but I didn’t feel as blown away as most people have been.

    I really like the reasons you gave behind your rating. I completely agree with you about just feeling like you’re being told a story. For some reason, I can’t help but compare this series with the Chaos Walking books, and with those ones? I felt engaged all. the. time. Never endingly. But I didn’t ever feel that sort of connection with the Hunger Games.

    That being said, I am SUPER excited about seeing the movie. Perhaps because I didn’t love the books? And therefore I’m okay if they don’t follow everything to the T? I’m going purely for the entertainment factor.

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  25. Well, I haven’t read the book – and having seen the movie today I’m not sure whether I’ll bother. It was OK but that was about it. In terms of films in seemed like a cross between Tron, Running Man and The Truman Show. Definitely very much a children’s/ teen film – one I would happily have sat through at kids’ club with my daughter but not one for me as an adult.

    • Hmm.. I actually liked the movie a lot. I think it’s one of the best book-to-screen movies I have seen. I actually think I might like the movie better (though it helps for some details to really stick to read the book before seeing the movie). Anyway, if you did not enjoy the movie much, I don’t think the book would be for you.

  26. Pingback: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins | Iris on Books

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