Sunday, January 8, 2012

Regarding The Hunger Games Trilogy

Horrifically, brutally violent.  Depressing.  Grim.  Dark.  Harsh.  Agonizing.  That is how I would describe the events in Mockingjay, the final book of the Hunger Games trilogy.

I wanted to read these books because of their wild popularity, and while I found the first book surprisingly (shockingly) vicious (it is, after all, a book about adolescents killing each other for the entertainment of a television audience), it was readable and had just enough of a hint of rebellion at the end to border on an optimistic outcome.

The second book borrowed the love triangle aspect of Twilight (but did it better) and followed through with the apocalypse/Chosen One theme of Harry Potter (right down to the fabricated vocabulary).  Together, the first two books set up a world in the distant future in which what remains of humanity is under the tight control of a central and all-powerful government, and where a privileged few live lavish lives at the expense of the rest of the human population.

The third book, then, gives us our epic conclusion.  It is, of course, a book about the war that will decide the fate of our characters.  And while I'm going to bypass specifics in the interest of remaining spoiler-free, I would like to say this:

War is awful.  People do terrible things to each other during even the best of times, and with the fear of death ever present in a war zone, the human capacity for torture and depravity increases exponentially.  Man, like any organism, yearns above all for survival.  These are truths that define us, for it is our comprehension of them that often signals our maturity.

I'm just not sure I wanted these to be the thoughts that I walked away with after reading a futuristic young adult novel.

Nor am I sure that I blistered my way through Mockingjay in a matter of days because it was truly that compelling.  It's possible that, much like the characters' thoughts on the horror of their daily lives, I kinda just wanted it to be over...

Anyone else read this series?  Thoughts?


  1. Oh Becky, where do I start?!

    Well, I guess I could start by saying that I absolutely love these books! I’ve been addicted for quite some time, and I’m seriously stoked about the movie coming out (and remember, you asked for this!!).

    I do agree that the third book is – was I forced to chose one – the weakest one, mainly because it feels rather uneventful to begin with and then suddenly rather rushed. Regarding the love triangle (probably the main reason people keep comparing it to Twilight, a comparison I personally do not see) I recently read that Suzanne Collins originally focused on the war aspects and not so much on the love triangle, but was encouraged to flesh that out by the editor – not very surprising, but in my opinion says quite a lot about what kind of books these are. I also feel that the main purpose of the love triangle is to make the characters more human, for the reader to connect with them better which otherwise could be hard since they are, as you said, kids who kill kids for entertainment (not by their own free will, but still), and I also feel that it serves that purpose quite well. (I also think that the love triangle doesn’t offer much of a surprise when it comes to its conclusion, but that’s another discussion (hardly worth having)).

    And when it comes to the dark nature of the books, like how you questioned whether this is what you want out of a futuristic YA novel, I suppose that depends on your expectations :-) After all, a lot of the story is about survival, and that is a major part of life for plenty young adults around the world (maybe not necessarily in this precise format, but survival none the less). For me, the books’ theme is what makes them so compelling, how they resonate so much with our own world and take the anxieties of our society and excel them to full blown fears (which of course is the basic (and successful) concept of dystopian storytelling). I’ve heard people say that the world of the hunger games is so different than ours, but I’d have to disagree – it’s just that most of us at this side of the globe feel misplaced in the world of District 12 as we are so used to living in the equivalent of the Capitol.
    I also think that as far as YA books go, if there are books that become wildly popular with a broad audience, I'd prefer those books to have a moral and thoughtfulness that makes the audience reflect on how they live their lives and how our choices, freedoms and liberties affect the world and the people in it over those that don’t. Conclusively, the only problem I really have with the Hunger Games trilogy is that I didn’t write it :-)

    Those are my thoughts. I tend to have a few of those every once in a while :-)

    Hope you had a great birthday! Hugs!

  2. Thank you so much for this response, Malin!! Sorry it took me a couple of days to reply; I wanted to make sure I read your comment thoroughly and did it justice in responding. :)

    I'm glad we agree that the third book was the weakest! And I'm afraid the rest of the series was skewed for me in that respect...I allowed myself the luxury of getting emotionally involved in the story, and to have it end on a somewhat disappointing note was...well, somewhat disappointing. I've talked to some other people about these books and a fair number listed the third as their favorite. But like you, I felt the story didn't flow well in the third (I couldn't have said it better about the ending being "rushed"). Not to mention, the staggering number of tragedies was so overwhelming that I became numb to them after a while. I suppose in a way, that's a testament to the realism of the books, as that's exactly what was happening with Katniss. But I guess for my own personal tastes, it was a little more than I was bargaining for in terms of entertainment. :)

    It makes perfect sense that the editor told her to flesh out the love triangle! I never really felt her heart was in that particular storyline, although I was annoyed that Gale himself just seemed to disappear after a while, and that Katniss's decision between him and Peeta seemed to be made almost randomly. Again, I think that was a case of me investing in that aspect and then not being satisfied with the payoff. Although in the grand scheme of things, that was insignificant compared to the larger themes in the book. (Maybe I'm more of a romantic than I think I am! :))

    You bring up a very intriguing point about these books reflecting the modern world, too. I read the last two books in the middle of winter, on dark days, and the last one I consumed entirely while I was sick. Probably not the best atmosphere for such a gritty story! And in the end, maybe my only real complaint is that I hoped for lighter entertainment...

    But at any rate, I'm very glad you enjoyed them and I thank you for your fantastic response!! I'm looking forward to the movie myself. We'll have to have a discussion on how it compared to the book when it comes out! :D

  3. :D

    Becky, I'll have to get back to you on this one (I'm still too far into my obsession to let this discussion go), but THANK YOU for your response! I love a good book discussion :)

  4. ^^^ Me, too!! And we can talk more about this whenever. You and I seem to be quite good at keeping conversations going regardless of time between responses! :D

  5. Haha, true :) Which is great, cause life has an unfortunate tendency to get in the way of things needing to be discussed.

    I did start a response already, but tonight I'm too knackered to get my own thoughts, so maybe tomorrow ;)

  6. OK, so the tomorrow-thing didn’t quite happen, but at least I’m within a week frame on this, right? :) Anyways, like you pointed out, time passing really don’t seem to be an issue when it comes to our conversations, so here we go…

    I totally get what you mean when you say that the whole feel of the books got skewed by the ending of the third one (or, by the whole third book as might be the case). I felt exactly the same thing when I first read them. The thing was, I read the first a couple of years back, when the third had not yet come out, and the first got me instantly hooked. I got the second as soon as I could, but had to wait MONTHS for the conclusion – I literally thought I might die from the suspense! And then I read it and it was... meh… and had a weird ending that felt like the last 50 pages of the book had fallen out or something. I felt that way for the longest time, but then I decided to read them all again, and that helped.

    Now I’ve read them all more times than I care to admit, but I have to say I feel them improve with every reading, even the last one (although I still don’t read that one as often as the other two). I still have a fair number of problems with it, like you mentioned all the tragedies that are so overwhelming that they almost make you numb. And again, like you said, it has its element of realism, but as a reader I feel that it makes you lose some of the connection to the story and the characters.

    Regarding the love triangle, I in no way meant that I wasn’t invested in it, but rather that it’s getting too hyped up in a way I don’t agree with. I just don’t see it as a romance novel, but I do think that story line add some dimension to the books at the same time I appreciate that it’s kept in the background. I think the conclusion to it could have been done better, like you said, Gale basically just disappears, but I love the sentence where we find out what’s happened to him, how Katniss says he has some fancy job and his lips are kissing someone else, as it hints to us that she still thinks about his lips :) For me personally though, I could never really imagine her ending up with Gale, I felt that relationship too conflicted while I felt that she actually did love Peeta all along, there was just too much confusion and pressure around that relationship for her to figure it out. I kind of felt the options where either Peeta or neither of them. Also, I think it’s somewhat realistic that her choice doesn’t seem like a really conscious one, I feel that a lot of times in life, life kind of choose for you because there are so many circumstances that make you take the path you do. Anyways, the main problem I have with the love triangle is that it opens up for all the Twilight comparisons, and I just do not see it.

    Wow, for me saying the focus isn't the love traingle I really go on about it, don't I? Haha, I honestly have nothing against it and I quite enjoyed it, I just don't want the books (or the films for that matter) to be dumbed down to a romance thing when there are so many more important aspects to bring up.

    And speaking of that, what do you think of the marketing of the film that makes you feel like you're actually a inhabitant of the Capitol? With the nail polish and strategy games and the merchandise and what not. Kind of cool, but also kind of scary, since again I can't help but see the connections to our present reality and how we get so overly excited about something fictitious when other people starve. In a way it's clever, but in a way it also threathen to mask the elements of critique the books hold. However, I do love the tagline "The world will be watching" - AWESOME! I sure will :) (as beneath all the appearance of social awareness and consciousness I'm as shallow as the next person...)

  7. Oh, so that got too long for the comment section, haha! I didn't think that could happen :D

    Here's the rest of my (neverending) thoughts that didn't make it in the last comment section...

    So, I could probably go on forever about this, as obsessions go I tend to be quite the obsessed, I these books just strike a nerve with me. Had only the last one been a bit more developed I think I'd call them perfection. I just hope the movie(s) can live up to that! From what I've seen so far, my expectations are ridiculously high. I think I'll go watch the trailers now :) (I love the last one when she says "don't let them starve" it gives me chills! Not to mention the reaping (just the word REAPING! Serious chills!))

    Thanks for letting me blabber on about this :)

  8. Malin! You uncovered that there is a word limit on Blogger comments!! I never knew this... :D

    I don't think I'm going to match you in length - and what can I really add since that was such an amazing comment? - but I would like to say that I agree with you pretty much through and through.

    And I should have said in my previous comment that I agree completely on the "love triangle" aspect being utterly oversold as a "comparison" to Twilight. Those are two ENTIRELY different love triangles!! And the whole basis for the stories surrounding them couldn't possibly be any different (despite what Stephenie Meyer may *think*, there was no actual war or even realism in the conflicts she wrote about).

    What you were saying about having to wait really rang true for me as a Harry Potter fan especially. I know a lot of people who read that whole series only after the seventh book was out, and I often thought about how that experience was different than mine. I think similarly when people tell me they're watching Buffy on Netflix, and they go through a whole season in a matter of days. The agony of waiting for the next installment, whether it's over the summer for a new episode or months (or even years) for a new book, completely changes your perspective on things. (Although in this case, we both came out of the Hunger Games feeling the third was the weakest book...I would imagine, though, I would have been more inclined to really let the last book sink in and possibly give it another read right away, as I did with the last three Harry Potters, had I been made to wait for it).

    As for the marketing, I didn't even know that much about it! But WOW, you are so right about the strange almost-creepiness of using elements of the Capitol to reflect back on us our current society. That was one of the things I enjoyed most about the trilogy: the way that world so clearly mimicked our own. True, most everything had been taken to extremes, but it was just believable enough that you could see it happening. There are eras in history in which people watching children fight each other to the death for entertainment isn't a stretch at all. And if mankind was that cruel in the past (the argument could be made we are just as cruel in other ways today), could we get back to that level of barbarism again? Pretty heavy things to come out of a YA series, and probably largely overlooked by the majority of those whom the marketing is targeting!

    And here I said this was going to be short. Um, not even remotely. :) Thanks for such a thoughtful and well-written response, Malin!! With your level of interest higher than mine in this particular case, you've gotten me to think about things a lot deeper than I would have otherwise. I might have to re-read the series here again sometime and see what comes out of it the second time around... :D

  9. I know! Awesome, who knew, right?!

    And I feel so honored to have made you think a bit more about this wonderful story, that's an amazing compliment :) I definitely recommend you to re-read them if you have the chance, they keep improving!

    Thank you for a wonderful discussion, and Happy Valentine's Day! Hugs and hearts!! ;)