First, a brief overview of the series, and why I was a fan long before I read a single page. [Edit: I review the second book, Catching Fire, here. My review for the final book, Mockingjay, here. Also, for my initial thoughts on this novel, check out my Book Beginnings post here. ]
The Mockingjay series by Suzanne Collins has taken the Young Adult literature world by storm. The film rights were sold before the book appeared in stores, so you can guess the impact this series has had on the YA audience.
The series features a strong female protagonist in Katniss Everdeen, which is admittedly a terrible name. Hearing about this book’s success enthused me; the main character is the polar opposite of Bella in Twilight. I’m not quite the target audience for any of these books or movies, but I appreciate the younger generation having the option of following an intelligent, plucky heroine instead of a faceless girl who relies solely on male figures.
I’ve read so many great reviews from authors and critics I trust, that I gifted this series to many of my female relatives and friends interested in YA fiction, long before I read it for myself*.
After finishing the first novel in a manner of hours, I am happy to report that the book lives up to expectations.
We open to a bleak dystopian landscape. Collins builds a stark, cold world, set sometime in our future, where the new country of Panem (previously land from North America) is split into “districts,” each of which produce a certain kind of good or service.
Collins quickly paints our heroine as a tough, no-nonsense character who provides for her family and is willing to take calculated risks. For some irrational reason, the oppressive government launches the titular games each year. These games are basically Battle Royale (the infamous Japanese horror film). Two contestants from each district battle to the death, everyone watches.
Katniss and one of her two main love interests are entered into the Games. I appreciate the inclusion of a love triangle in this series. It’s probably necessary to draw in today’s post-Twilight youth. The only problem is melding teenage girl love talk with the supposedly cool and collected, unemotional Katniss. Some of the writing gets a bit suspect in the third act, for this reason, but the denouement puts things back in place, in a satisfying way that still builds up anticipation for the next installment.
No book is without faults, and it must be noted that what The Hunger Games really suffers from is a lack of detail. Collins lovingly describes every ounce of food that appears in this novel, including an assortment of odd “future” dishes that mostly seem to be a mixture of meat and fruit.
However, what does Katniss’s district look like? It’s drab and grey, but are the buildings modern? People are hunting with bows and arrows, but there are still working elevators in District 12. What does the game arena actually look like? How large is it? We know that it encompasses a forest and a field, but it can’t be infinite. Where are the boundaries?
Perhaps the next two books fill in some of these gaps. Regardless, I thank Suzanne Collins for her work, and for its impact on today’s young girls. Politics aside, the novel was an enjoyable read. I’m not much for YA, but I liked it for what it is.
*This isn’t something I do, really. I tend to make book recommendations rarely, only after careful consideration of the prospective reader and his or her goals. It’s really something of an occupational hazard.
“Oh, you majored in English? You’re a writer? What books do you recommend?” There really is no good answer. I can, of course, suggest an easily palatable modern book or two, out of the many that are currently gracing the New York Times Bestseller List. However, I prefer directed book recommendations, of the sort you can only really give to friends whose tastes you know well.