The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

TheHungerGames

I started reading The Hunger Games in the summer; I was on a bus to Washington DC from New York and it seemed like a good choice to while away the hours of motorway-bound boredom. I was right on that score; the hours whizzed by. I was drawn into the world of Panem from the first page. Suzanne Collins, like J K Rowling, is not a stylist when it comes to her use of language, but she is excellent at understanding how to make a story compelling nonetheless. The prose is repetitive and simplistic, but this doesn’t matter, because the reader’s focus is on the characters and their journey, and you don’t need beautiful imagery in order to engage with Katniss and her plight. She is a tough, world weary teenager, burdened by familial problems and ground down by years of poverty. Life is hard in District 12, and she’s become hard in order to cope with it. She is not your typical heroine, and for that, she is instantly likeable, creating a bond between reader and character that lasts throughout the series.

The joy of The Hunger Games is that it works on several levels. For younger readers, it is a suspenseful and thrilling tale of goodies and baddies; for older readers, it is a chilling satire of our contemporary society, revealing the absurdities of a world obsessed with celebrity and materialism. The unthinking acceptance of the whole concept of a Hunger Games and the way that suffering is treated as entertainment by the citizens of the Capitol is horrific, yet also eerily familiar; for what are TV reality shows but opportunities for us to watch others be humiliated for our pleasure? As the series progresses and the challenges Katniss must face increase in their intensity, so do the parallels between Panem and our own world. Once out of the arena, Katniss realises that the Hunger Games are not a construct, but a whole way of life; the entire population of Panem are subject to the whims of the ruthless President Snow, whose hunger for power and supremacy will never end until he is stopped once and for all.

Katniss’ role as the figurehead of a revolution, which comes into play in the second book of the trilogy, Catching Fire, is the most interesting element of the books, in my opinion. Without intending to, Katniss’ defiance of the Capitol during the Hunger Games has made her an overnight sensation across the Districts, and given the oppressed citizens of Panem a symbol for their burgeoning revolution. She is the ‘mockingjay’, so called because of the badge she wore in the Hunger Games, and she has the power to inspire and rally the people against the dictatorship of President Snow. The people are looking to her to lead them, but Katniss has no desire to be a figurehead for a revolution she never intended to start. However, as the dangers Katniss and those she loves are faced with increase, she realises that she has little choice but to step up to the plate. The last book, Mockingjay, which I just finished, details Katniss’ rise to revolutionary, and the shocks keep on coming until the very end. The finale is incredibly powerful in its bleakness, and a brave way to end a series of books that many people will have wanted to see have a happy ending. Such, unfortunately, is life, I suppose.

Katniss is an interesting heroine because much of what happens to her is uninitiated. She is undoubtedly brave, but most of her actions are carried out with no intention of causing the effect they actually produce. However, rather than being swept along, she takes control and forces the direction of events in the way she wants them to go. Initially, she is a representation of how women are so often reduced to nothing but appearance and marital status; the people of Panem are manipulated into loving her at first because she is dressed beautifully and has a manufactured romance with another Hunger Games competitor for the TV screens. She is exploited by the media and presented as something she is not in order to further the cause, but what makes her stand out is that despite all of this, she remains true to herself and her own beliefs, turning the tables on the gamesmakers in order to become the ultimate victor.

What made me so enjoy the Hunger Games trilogy is its honesty and its willingness to challenge convention. Collins’ portrayal of Katniss goes against the usual presentation of girls/women in teenage and adult fiction. She is not defined by her relationships with men. She is not defined by her relationships to her family members. She is utterly herself, and an inspiration to others by being so. She allows teenagers reading these novels to see that men and women are more than sexual objects, and that women have the intelligence, bravery and skills to do whatever they set their minds to. So often in fiction, women are either hapless victims, dependent on men, or obsessed with appearance, possessions or getting boyfriends. The Hunger Games provides an alternate reality for women, as well as exposing the shortcomings of our media and appearance obsessed world, and demonstrating the truth of how complex life is and how challenging the ¬†concepts of justice, truth and victory really are. I hope that the teenagers reading these novels are able to see beyond the excitement of the plot and look deeper into the messages Collins presents about the world we live in, because if they do, we might just see a revolution ourselves. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

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18 comments

  1. Loved your review! I get impatient with reviews that focus on the lack of complexity in Collins’s prose; I don’t know if Suzanne Collins can write differently, but The Hunger Games is a type of book that is strictly plot-driven, and none the worse for being so. My only complaint about the writing is that I wish some of the major characters – like Prim, for instance – could have used considerably more depth of characterization.

    Also, don’t you think that Katniss’s identity as the Mockingjay is also formed by the backstory of the mockingjay = – the Capitol’s attempt to create a monster, which nature subverts?

    1. Thanks Nancy! Yes, I wish some of the more minor characters could have been fleshed out a little more. That lack of depth however suits the YA genre, I suppose – if the plot were too dense it would be too complex for younger readers, perhaps.

      Yes, though I read it more in that she is is forced to be a mouthpiece for others…like the mockingjay, which can only repeat what it hears from others. Though I like your interpretation!

  2. Your review of The Hunger Games is right on target. I read them over a year ago. I was surprised that I liked the books as much as I did. As I discussed the books with teens, I agree with you that they found a different story than I did. I do hope many of them revisit these books when they are older. Thank you for sharing and Merry Christmas to you.

    1. Thanks Janet! I think that these are books to mull on – and are great to teach as you can bring out the more adult messages for the children and help them to think about the themes with greater depth. Merry Christmas to you too Janet!

  3. I read the first two books last month and I’m looking forward to reading the third. Thank you for your review – I hadn’t fully seen how radical Katniss’s character is before. I think you’re right. Happy Christmas!

  4. This is a great review, I am sending it to my son who has just finished the last book, I hope he will enjoy your review as much as I did. I am even tempted to read the books myself, I like you comments about the writing style of Collins and Rowling, it’s sort of what I have noticed but would never be able to articulate!

    1. You need to read it, Blighty! Glad your son has been a fan – I wasn’t sure at first but I’m glad I gave it a go as it massively surpassed my expectations. The simplistic prose doesn’t seem to matter when the plot is so good!

  5. Insightful review, Rachel, and one I’ve been longing for. As usual, you bring more depth and understanding of the book(s) than I would garnish otherwise.

    I loved this series when I read them earlier this year, so much so that I recommended Hunger Games to our book group, who did not like it and were actually peeved that I recommended it and that kids were reading it. Oh well.

    You’re right. This series works on so many levels and for so many age groups. I would love to discuss this with the younger set.

    Well done.

    1. Thanks Penny! Glad you enjoyed it :) I think it is a book that some people won’t manage to get on with, but for me, the plot is so gripping that I couldn’t help myself from getting drawn in!

  6. On the strength of your review I went and read an excerpt of Hunger Games. I found the prose exceedingly clunky (several grades below Rowling, to me). I love children’s and YA lit, but perhaps I’ve had my fill of dystopic YA novels, or perhaps this might work better for me as an audiobook.

  7. Fantastic review, you’ve managed to capture the themes and issues from the books so eloquently. I think I loved The Hunger Games so much because of the emotional intensity and the social commentary; at times it’s genuinely tragic and that is what stayed with me after I finished reading. Definitely the sort of books that can be read on so many levels!

    1. Thanks Amy! It certainly stayed with me a long time after reading, too – there is a profundity to it that’s quite unexpected, as you think it’s just going to be a trashy teen read but it is much more than that.

  8. I have yet to read the books, although I have loved the two movies so far. Your review makes me want to dive into them straight away – they’ll have to take their turn, but I hope to read them sooner rather than later.

  9. I enjoyed the first book, but frankly, was hugely disappointed with Catching Fire & Mockingjay. Nothing to do with wriitng style, unless plot disasters count–Collins could have done so much with this story, but Catching Fire was just a repeat on Hunger Ganes, only less plausible and far less interesting because – um – we’ve read it already, As for Mockingjay, it was ludicrous and overblown from frst to last–the politics and military strategy unbelievable, and the final ‘dungeon crawl” was pointless, serving only to dish up more monsters and gore for… shock value? It certainly didn’t add anything else to the story. And the denouement, that Katniss could do what she did and get away with it (no spoilers) – if my disbelief had not been unsuspended long since, that would definitely have done it. My advice: read the first one and spare yourself the let down of the other two.

    1. I do agree that Mockingjay was a bit of a disappointment – it took AAAAGES to get going and then so much happened so quickly that the emotional engagement was compromised. For me Catching Fire was the standout though – more emotional/character development than The Hunger Games and a lot of action, which got the blend just right as far as I was concerned. I know a lot of people who didn’t enjoy Mockingjay but I haven’t heard much criticism of Catching Fire. It’s interesting to see how other people view the sequels. I must say I do think they could have been one long book, if edited well. But teenagers like their trilogies…as do film producers!

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