I think I might be the last person on the planet to have read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. A lot of people have been on me to read it for a few years now and for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen. Heidi bought it for her Kindle, read it in a night (she reads everything in a night) and then told me that I really should read it, with the caveat that I probably wouldn’t like how it ended.
She was right.
Everybody knows the basic plot of The Hunger Games by now. Each year, the 12 districts of the nation of Panem (formerly North America) are forced to offer up two tributes – one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 – to participate in The Hunger Games. The Games are a fight to the death between the 24 tributes, until only one tribute is left standing. Televised in much the same way that current reality television is, the Games are required viewing amongst the inhabitants of Panem. Katniss Everdeen and her sister, Primrose, live with their mother in District 12, one of the poorest of the districts situated in the area which is the Great Smoky Mountains. Prim is 12 and has only one entry into the lottery that is used to choose the tributes for the Games. In spite of this, it is her name that is drawn as the female tribute. Wanting nothing more than to save her sister, Katniss volunteers to take her place.
I found the book really hard to break into – I wasn’t all that interested in Katniss’ story at first and I nearly abandoned it several times. True to form, what I really wanted to know about was what cataclysmic event caused the breakup of the United States and resulted in the formation of Panem and it’s 13 districts. Unfortunately, that detail is never shared. But once the tributes got to the Capitol and the Hunger Games started up in full force, I had a hard time putting the book down. I felt like Collins did a good job of giving good characterization to the tributes that we get to know, even some of the minor ones that don’t get as much “screen time.” Particularly well drawn is Rue, a young girl from district 11 that saves Katniss from certain death. By contrast, the character of Cato seems a bit more of a caricature than the others. I also enjoyed the bond that Peeta and Katniss formed during the Games, although I was always left wondering about Katniss’ motivation.
I was a big fan of the mutated animals – the mockingjays, the tracker jackers and the wolf mutts. I was especially fond of the tracker jackers, which are genetically modified wasps that track anyone that disrupts them, stinging them mercilessly and usually resulting in their death. The scene with the tracker jackers in the book was one of my favorites. It was a clever way to give some back story about Panem without doing a back story dump or detracting from the action of the story.
But Heidi was right. She’s always right, it seems. The end left me a little bit empty. I realize that it was an ending in the spirit of the end of The Fellowship of the Ring – it was not an end to the story, but rather, an end of a chapter. Still, the hollow feeling that experienced was in such stark contrast to how into the story I was during the middle third of the novel, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down. I told Heidi about it and she proceeded to tell me everything else that happens in the other two books and JESUS GOD am I glad that I didn’t read them. The second book, Catching Fire, seems like nothing more than a lot of Peeta/Katniss love angst in the vein of the Twilight series and Mockingjay, well, I won’t say much about that. When I went and read the Wikipedia entries for both novels, I felt much like I did when I went and spoiled the entire series of Lost after Heidi and I broke up with it at the beginning of Season 3. It was so much nicer to just read a synopsis of what happened, rather than go through with actually reading/watching it.
I am excited to see the movie version of The Hunger Games. I don’t think it’s arrived at the dollar theater yet, but I think that will definitely be a date night for us. There’s a lot of really cool visuals from the novel that I’m eager to see on the big screen.
The Hunger Games probably is a 3.5 to 4 star (on a scale of 1 to 5) book for me. A great middle marred by a slow opening and a disappointing ending.