The Hunger Games Trilogy (2008)

Suzanne Collins

Rating: 7/10

Overall: [Spoiler Alert]

I thought the book was well-written and fast-paced; it has been awhile since I had a real page turner and Collins deftly kept the suspense and cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter going strong.  In fact, the main break I had in reading this first book was when my wife absconded with our copy and refused to put it down!

The post-apocalyptic setting is quite dark, with a return to feudalism where the Capitol is the noble and the districts are mere serfs.  The Capitol holds the monopoly on technology and violence, and its gladiatorial games are reminiscent of Rome as it entertains its superficial and apathetic aristocracy (its own citizenry) at the expense of those lower in the social hierarchy (the districts).  Though it’s clearly rotting from the inside out, given Collins’ subtle description I used as the title of this post.

Favoritism amongst the districts was also interesting, especially the juxtaposition of child-soldiers being raised in the more wealthy of districts as opposed to the poorer ones who are barely eking out a living (the opposite of our current global situation).

And the appearance of the mutts was particularly gruesome, especially given their history.


Katniss- her name is derived from an aquatic plant (Sagittaria) which means “belonging to the arrow” (no-brainer there).  Of course, despite Kat being presented as the “fire girl” by her stylists, it’s water that dominates her during the games.  Whether it’s fighting off dehydration or using streams to lose her pursuers, Kat is much more suited to a water symbol than fire—which of course is in direct contradiction to the Capitol, again, befitting her personality.

Cato- well, Cato the Younger was known for his stoicism, so I think we can rule him out.  Collins’ character is much more akin to the Elder whose military record and life of training seems more apropos.  Of course Cato in the Games is apt to lose his cool so doesn’t have that balance of statesman that his namesake, but we don’t want simple parallels, do we?

Gale- a silent hunter, his rages against the Capitol are tempestuous, and I’m guessing he’ll have a more pivotal role to play in upcoming books.

A few problems:

So I had just a few issues throughout the novel (not so bad considering it’s a young adult work).  First, how/why Cato left Peeta alive (despite “that kind of wound”). If he was as well trained and deadly as everyone thought he was, I don’t see why he would not have finished off a severely hampered opponent.

Secondly, I thought the ending was a bit anti-climatic overall, though that may be more of a symptom of setting up the next book.  For such a fast and furious-paced story, it certainly came to a grinding (and somewhat unsatisfactory) halt in the last couple of chapters.

Thirdly, the level of technology is somewhat confusing as far as the Capitol is concerned.  They’re apparently able to terra-form (change the landscape and climate at will), genetically splice new species (including animal/human hybrids), maybe raise dead/dying tissue (the mutts), but unable to save Peeta’s leg?  Picky? Maybe, but rules of the world ought to be consistent, especially if it’s not fantasy.

Finally, having not read the next book, I’m hoping that the story doesn’t devolve into some teenage-angst-filled love triangle that the ending seems to be leaning toward.  That would really kill the series for me, especially if we’re led to believe that Kat is going to lead some sort of revolution against the Capitol oppressors.

On to the next one!

Second and Third Books: (Updated 2/21/12)

After reading the second and third books, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed.  I felt the first book’s ending fizzled, the second book started slow but picked up right into the third book, where the grand finale also fizzled.  It wasn’t as disappointing as say, Harry Potter 7, but I thought Collins could have delivered more.

For example, Gale and Haymitch get woefully short-changed in their ending/wrap-up.  A sentence each determines the fate of these two very important figures in the story, which doesn’t do them justice.  Katniss and Peeta just sort of fumble through recovery, resigned to their fate with each other. Meh.

My take on the series was a source of disagreement between my wife and I, which led to an interesting and enriching conversation, parts of which inform the following character analysis.

Katniss- I can’t say I found her to be a very heroic heroine (though a twist awaits below).  I found her to be quite self-centered and self-absorbed, but then again, so are most teenagers, right? The problem with injecting this normalization into her character is that we were already led to believe that she had grown up fast in District 12 in order to provide for her family.  Kat’s vacillating-obsession over the boys (Gale and Peeta) got old quick (as I predicted), but Gale summoned it up best when he noted: “she’ll pick whoever she can’t survive without.”  By that point, even though Kat was mad at them both (again), she didn’t really argue the point.

Further, even if she did carry some guilt for those she was forced to kill, any possible moral redemption was lost when she agreed to have a Hunger Games for the Capitol children.  Why did she agree to put others through this? Presumably because her little sister Prim died—even though the little girl she was “protecting” died a while ago in the sense that Prim was also forced to grow up fast in the midst of the rebellion.  Yet let’s even say we can see this proverbial straw breaking Kat’s resolve, the problem with her decision is that it’s not even punishing those Kat believed to be responsible at that point! (Recall, she was pretty sure that the new President Coin ordered the hit on the crowd in front of the presidential mansion).  So really, Kat is just punishing the Capitol (and soon Coin herself); not very heroic, but rather petulant which fits nicely with the rest of her portrayal.

Finally, Kat remains an outcast (having so much in common with her mentor Haymitch) after the revolution, having no place in the new society.  (Even Gale fits in after his wrathful vengeance is sated).  So how is this main protagonist a heroic heroine?  Perhaps she’s not meant to be heroic at all.  Maybe she’s a 17 year-old kid who gets used by every faction (think Anakin), and is so damaged that her only recourse is isolation and trying to find joy removed from the very people who have hurt her so badly.  Surely not a Hollywood ending, but a realistic one, and I can respect that.