The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a book that I’ve seen consistently mentioned in glowing terms in the Amazon Kindle Community Forum ever since I got my Kindle in early 2009. And pardon the tangent so early on, but this is one reason I love being a Kindle owner so much. I’ve been exposed to so many great books since getting mine, books that I never would have given a second thought, or even have heard about, in my paper book days.
Being solidly in my middle-age years I’m not much of a YA Lit reader, but I do very much enjoy a good dystopian tale now and then, and… I will have to sheepishly admit that gladiatorial stuff is appealing to me in a guilty pleasure kind of way. So with all the rave comments I knew I’d eventually want to read it.
I just finished reading all three books in four days, which very well may be a record for me. I’m a voracious reader, but not a particularly fast one compared to most bibliophiles. But once I got going I just could not stop. It is difficult for me to put into words just how much I loved this trilogy, but I’m inspired to at least try.
I already admitted to the gladiatorial aspect as being appealing, along with a dystopian setting. I’ve also always heavily preferred books about girls and women having to find the inner strength to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. The final major aspect that tapped into long-held fictional interests is the emphasis on the out-of-doors and survival skills. This all made for a winning combination, sure to capture my imagination.
But of course, setting and general plot elements are only part of what goes into making an excellent book. It doesn’t matter how great the idea is if the author can’t pull it off in the execution. Despite the fact that I normally dislike present tense narration, Collins captured me on the first page and swept me away, not releasing me again until the very last word was read.
One thing that really worked in my (and the author’s) favor is that, despite the trilogy’s popularity, I had managed to remain ignorant of plot points in all three novels. I was along for the roller coaster ride and I couldn’t see the twists and turns until they were quickly approaching. This was especially true in the second book, which I didn’t think was quite as riveting in the first part. But then BAM! Right before it happened I thought “oh no,” and then the roller coaster was off and racing again, in a very different direction than I first thought we were headed. I know a lot of people did not like the third book nearly as much, but for me it was in no way a disappointment.
I could go into all kinds of detail about why the trilogy worked for me and why they’re the best books I’ve read in quite some time, but I’m just going to touch on two main points. The first is that Collins played my emotions like a violin. I love escapist reading, but escapist reading that also makes me feel strongly is on a whole other level. Especially when it is almost constant throughout the book and not just at a couple key points. I laughed, I cried, I mourned. I felt love. I felt angry, dismayed, and betrayed. Can’t ask for more than that.
The second point is that Katniss is a very real character. She is a teenager, and thinks and acts like one. At times she is self-indulgent, both emotionally and in actions. At times she is able to look beyond herself, and reason on more abstract levels. She’s not super human. (Aside from her accuracy with a bow. If you’ve ever spent any amount of time watching how squirrels move you know it’s unlikely to almost always hit an eye shot!) She reacts to the situations in which she finds herself in a manner that is completely believable, including barfing a few times.
There were only two issues that were slightly problematic for me, and one of them really couldn’t be helped. The first is that the reader is given no historical or global context for the setting. It’s alluded to in the second or third book that wars and environmental disasters are responsible for the current situation, but the reader is left asking all sorts of questions about how far into the future this is, what happened to the USA, and why is nothing mentioned about any other countries existing in the world.
While I was wondering these things frequently all through the three books, I can also say that if Collins had attempted to satisfy my curiosity it would have been a significant, and ultimately pointless, distraction. Such context is normally important to me because I like understanding how the culture got to that point. But in this case providing those details would have bogged things down with exposition that didn’t actually add anything to the story.
The other issue is more of a logic one. It’s obvious that the population of what used to be the US has been decimated by past events and that the districts are much smaller than even the smallest current states. What seems extremely odd to me is that a central government would be able to manage these very few small districts which are so far flung as to be a couple thousand miles away in some cases. Not only manage them, but keep them so securely under its tyrannical thumb. Added to that is how each district is so narrowly focused on one type of production. This still kinda bugs me, but I’m willing to let it pass because the books were just so damn good otherwise.
The only other disappointment is that I read the trilogy so early in the year. The rest of the reading year is going to have a very difficult time trying to live up to the standard that The Hunger Games has set for 2012.