Whew. That was an experience. Lotta things broiling around in my skull. Literally just finished the final book of the Hunger Games series (so SPOILER ALERT).
For those of you who don’t know, the Hunger Games series seems to be the latest hot thing. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the centralized government exerts its power over twelve districts of conquered ex-rebels by forcing them to annually pit two children (“tributes”) from each district in a violent arena where there can only be one survivor. These games are televised and hyped up throughout the country. Our heroine is Katniss, a fatherless girl from the smallest and poorest District 12, who wins her Hunger Game and eventually brings about the downfall of the government (referred to as the Capitol because of their single city).
First thing to be said is a comment on the writing. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 0 is your average Tweet, 1 is the Twilight series, 8-9 is the Lord of the Rings et al., and 10 is the Bible, this rates about a 6. Maybe a 5.5. I’ve read worse but not often. The most obvious thing is the distinct lack of separate voices for the characters: cover up the name of the speaker and you’re lost. There are virtually no distinct identities beyond what we’re told. And told we are, about every other paragraph in case you forget.
The whole thing is written in the present simple tense. This is difficult for experienced writers (I have found, if you can do it, you’re pretty good) as it tends to read less like a narrative and more like a list of actions: “He goes over to the desk. He opens the drawer. He pulls out a towel. He puts it back. He dies of boredom. Ad nauseum.” Collins is not nearly good enough to pull this off to any effect.
The storyline is EXTREMELY reminiscent of Running Man. But perhaps most of her target audience can’t be expected to have seen that. But this becomes more obvious in the second book, when she is sent back into the Hunger Games with victors from previous years to kill them for knowing too much. I won’t harp on that too much though. It’s not a bad story to use.
About 60% of the narrative consists of Katniss talking to herself about her feelings and being angry at everyone. Understandable, given the circumstances. But this is a story meant for other people to read. We don’t want to hear you spout about how much life sucks for 400 pages. I have to take into account that this is a female author and female protagonist. As a guy, I’m bored, flipping through all this, because I want to read about some wilderness survival Gladiator bloodbaths, dangit. But at a point, enough is enough. We get it.
Now let’s turn to Katniss’s love interest. She survives her open defiance of the Capitol through exploiting her fellow tribute Peeta. He’s the son of a baker…Peeta…get it?…Never mind. Everyone thinks they’re in love (Peeta is at least…she just pretends), and so they raise incredible sympathy from their rich, pampered audience. But she already has a love interest back home…her fellow poacher Gale. The relationship between the three continues to be weird and awkward because at first, she thinks she doesn’t love either of them. Then she’s not sure. Then she can’t live without one of them, then the other. She ends up with Peeta and that kind of surprised me, but did I mention the characters don’t develop a whole lot? So I can’t be blamed for being blindsided.
So she’s pretty confused about everything. What with having to kill other children and her twisted romantic life and the totalitarian government and all. Also, she can’t take an order to save her life, and it nearly kills her more than once. That makes sense when the dictator state is ordering you around making an example of you…when people who know more than you do are trying to help you, you listen to them. She never ever figures it out (comes close once or twice). She’s a renegade…to everyone. She hates listening to other people. We all know someone like this. That sort of thing is rarely let go without retribution (which she never receives).
In the third book, it turns out that District 13 is alive and functioning. This district was presumed destroyed by the government as an example, but it turns out that they had nukes and negotiated for privacy and being left alone. The people who are inspired by Katniss to rise against the government flee to 13 for safety. Turns out it’s not much better there. The government of 13 is about as totalitarian as they come. It’s an Orwellian dream. Everyone wears the same clothes, eats the same food, and has an assigned job and strict schedule. Oh, and the entire 100-ish story complex is located underground where nukes can’t reach them (not true by the way. We’ve got bunker busters now that can tunnel 2 or 3 miles down and detonate nuclear warheads).
Of course, the time has come for them to march on the Capitol and bring freedom to all the peoples. When asked what they’ll do once they bring it down, someone answers that they’ll set up a government where officials are elected to a representative government. “It worked once,” they say. Yea, and look how that’s turning out for us. Subtle political commentary there, Collins. I’m sure no one noticed.
The weird part is they don’t find it odd to go from an iron-fist Big Brother state (which is what both the Capitol and District 13 run on) straight to a representative republic. “Oh, we’re dictators NOW, but when our ship comes in, we’ll turn nice.” In that situation, they would have no intention of returning to a democracy. Thankfully, Katniss realizes that the current president of 13 is exactly like the President of the Capitol, only with a different hat, as it were. We never find out what exactly happens in terms of government, but we do see a rough last second election. It took the Founding Fathers years to decide how they were going to rule their country, and that’s not counting the complete severance from (not conquest of) Britain.
The most important reason that District 13 is a terrible place to be is that alcohol is illegal. Any government that outlaws the sale and consumption of liquor is untenable. I stand by this position.
I have never heard of a case of survivor’s guilt as bad as this girl’s. Every single death in the entire series she seems to blame on herself, and of course we get to read about it all every five or six pages.
The eventual implicated conclusion, which was actually stated explicitly at least twice, is that human beings are terrible, horrible monsters who need to kill each other off until no one is left. Peeta says it straight out. Katniss agrees with him in her heart of hearts (but who knows? she’s crazy and clearly not very intelligent). Gale…who knows him either? Definitely not Collins.
The event that’s alluded to that occurs before the Hunger Games were established was a nuclear war that wiped out all life on earth except for this small contingent of humans…who are intent to finish each other off. “It’s human nature.”
So??? That makes it right, I guess.
Despite all this, I enjoyed the book. Not immensely, but I don’t regret reading it. I probably will not read them again. Give it a good author, more fighting, better dialogue, character development, and get rid of the complaining about feelings, and you’ve got a not bad piece of work. There are some pretty good moments and scenes and ideas.
Oh what the heck. Just write it again. In other words, it’s ok for a first draft.
Final total complete score: 5.7 / 10