Do I need to tell you the plot of this novel? I doubt anyone does not have a general idea. A dystopian society: the nation of Panem built from what used to be North America. There are 12 districts, in which products are produced for the ruling body located at the “centre”, the Capitol. The districts once rebelled against the Capitol, the Capitol won, obliterated district 13 and sort-of “enslaved” the other 12. Now, every year, each district has to provide one girl and one boy between 12 and 18, “the tributes”, to fight in the Hunger Games. What are the Hunger Games, you may ask? Well, these 24 children fight each other to the death, the last one standing wins, with a lifetime of money to provide for themselves and their family. Katniss Everdeen, the main character of The Hunger Games is the tribute for district 12, together with Peeta.
While I found the first 50 pages awkward to read at times (there was a lot of repeating of events or explanations, lots of insinuated stuff that later on apparently had to be explained word for word to make sure the reader had understood the previous hints), there was a truly addictive quality to this book. I finished it in less than a day. As a reader, you also start to care deeply for Katniss. There is something about her (despite my having some problems with her characterisation, see Renay’s fabulous post) that makes you want to protect her from life, at times, that makes you want to make sure she’ll be okay, she’ll survive.
What didn’t I love? I think it comes down to this: there is so much potential in this story, potential to have the reader reflect on a few issues: The obvious theme of growing up in violence, the intertwinement of politics and economy, violence and the question of when murder becomes murder, the tendency of Katniss and the Capitol to judge districts on names/status, the whole issue of conditioning Katniss to love/kiss Peeta for support.. There is SO MUCH Collins could have done with this story, but to me it fell flat exactly because she never invites the reader “in”. Something about the story was too straightforward to my taste, there is a retelling of events, and that’s it. It is almost as if the issues that could have been raised are just stepped over, which makes the whole portrayal a bit problematic for me, especially the Katniss/Peeta/Haymitch dynamic. There is a hint of reflection on Haymitch’s drunkenness as a coping mechanism for the violence he went through, but this is the only time there’s any sort of reflection in the novel. Do not get me wrong, I do not want an author to shove a message in your face, a dum-dum-dum SEE, here’s my MESSAGE, here’s THE THEME. Actually, I dislike those type of stories. I do not think Collins needs to have a message, even. But, to me, there was something missing in that the story never becomes more than a retelling of events (albeit with having the reader feel sympathy for Katniss). Apart from feeling sympathy, I was never asked to engage with the story.
There is also a question of the world-building in general. I know many have praised Collins for it, but there were moments where I was not convinced.. A little more detail would not have gone amiss, I think. Collins teases that things will become more complex in the future, with the plastic surgery in the Capitol, with the traces of rebellion from Katniss & district 11, with the tension between the meaning of the games for Capitol residents and district residents.. I just hope these things will be explored.
Perhaps it were my high expectations going into this book, but I had just expected something more.. somehow.
Will I read the sequels? Yes, I will. I care enough about Katniss and Prim to want to know what Collins comes up with. I also hope the world-building and discussion of it will improve. There were some strong hints in this novel that district 13 was not destroyed (hello, repeating that it was destroyed 4 times in a row). Supposedly there is a love-triangle in this story. I have seen the whole “team Peeta” and “team Gale” going around online.. I personally felt that it was a bit contrived, and certainly not at the centre of the story. At this point, I don’t think I really care who Katniss ends up with. Actually, I rather enjoyed her “I won’t marry and have children” stance, that’s quite refreshing in a YA heroine, except I’m afraid it is a foreshadowing that she will.