On The Hunger Games

I finally get around to reading Hunger Games. (See what I did there?) I think it’s not terrible. It’s a decent action adventure yarn, but it’s not very deep, which I suppose is normal for a young adult book. It has a Dan Brown sort of flavor to it. I would have given it three stars out of five (“I liked it”) on GoodReads, except I did not like the ending, so I went back down to two stars (“it was ok”).

It takes me some time to get used to the first person, present tense writing. It’s not my favorite style. Later I realize there is a certain cadence to the writing. The sentences tend to be the same length. The sentences tend to be constructed the same way. All of the sentences end on a down beat. All of the sentences end with a noun. It hypnotizes the reader into reading more. Every chapter ends in a cliffhanger sentence. The reader is yanked, kicking and screaming, into reading the next chapter almost every time. The book ends on one of those cliffhanger sentences, and it really irritates me because I don’t want to get the second book (unless I see it on sale, as I did the first book). [I borrowed it with Amazon Prime for free!]

In the first third of the book, we are introduced to Katniss Everdeen and this dystopian world of the future, ruled by the Capitol, which I assume we are supposed to think is scarily similar to our own media-obsessed America. While there is a kernel of truth in it, I have a hard time suspending disbelief because I can’t see how this Panem society could ever develop or sustain itself, and we are not told much about the historical details of this place. It would have been much better if Panem existed in an alternate world, instead of trying to explain how it evolved out of modern day America. I surmise that young adults don’t care about that stuff, so I let it go.

The book gets considerably better when we start the actual Hunger Games, where we revert to a straight-up action suspense thriller story, which is pretty cool. Basically they stick Kat and twenty-three other kids (twelve to eighteen) in the wilderness and make them fight to the death. Who doesn’t like stories of people fighting to the death? I can see this part making a good movie. We’re supposed to be horrified about the deaths of these kids, but they don’t act like kids so it’s okay. There are no real surprises here. Kat makes relatively smart decisions (except a few bone-headed ones which she gets away with). Plot obstacles are overcome by helpful items floating down from the sky on parachutes (literally). It gets a little mushy at one point, in a young adult sort of way. What I assume was supposed to be a shocking twist could be seen a mile away. The final confrontation between the last three tributes feels a little weird and contrived and somewhat unsatisfactory, because they really didn’t confront each other.

On reflection, there was a lot of potential for agonizing conflict left on the table in the arena. At no point is Kat faced with having to kill someone that she likes, or even someone who is likable, so she has no moral dilemmas to overcome. The bad guys are clearly bad guys without any souls or personality, so we don’t mind them dying. (Some of them literally have no names.)

After she survives the games (spoiler alert: Kat survives), I want her to lead these districts in overthrowing the Capitol. Because, really, I think 75 years of these games is enough time for someone to figure out how to overthrow this circus of a government, don’t you? At the very least, Kat should grab her family and frickin’ leave town. There’s a bazillion square miles of area in North America to hide in. I assume this kind o thing is what the other two books are about (what else is there to do?), but the prospect of wading through Kat’s feelings about these two dudes to get to that conclusion is a bit revolting. [I read that there is another arena in the second book, so I’m a lot more interested in reading it now.]

So in short, start with The Lottery, add The Running Man and a touch of the obligatory young adult teen love triangle, and you’ve got the pop culture phenomenon known as The Hunger Games.

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