Whenever I finish a culturally-favored book (especially several years after its peak popularity), I always struggle to write the review. After all, if the majority of my peers and culture adore it, shouldn’t I? But, as many of my long-term readers know, I tend to go against the grain.
I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in about twenty-four hours. I started it on a Sunday and finished it Monday morning. I was definitely wholly engrossed in the story, even though I realized I had actually read it once already. However, writing this review, I’m struggling to find anything specified that “wow-ed” me about the book.
The world of Panem, where The Hunger Games remind the Districts of their dependency on the Capitol by forcing their children to compete in a lethal battle, is certainly a disturbing dystopian society. In layman’s terms, it’s a world where child murder forces compliance as the government starves its citizens. The shock and awe of The Hunger Games raises the reader’s dopamine levels, encouraging the reader to find out what happens next and crave more of the story.
But when I look at the characters – mainly Katniss and Peeta – I don’t necessarily find myself rooting for either of them.
Katniss volunteered herself as tribute in lieu of her younger sister, Prim, competing. When their father died several years prior, Katniss took on the role of provider for their family. As such, she’s become tough and independent – two qualities she’ll certainly need in The Hunger Games. Her life is on the line if she loses, which is certainly a high-risk situation, but I struggled to find a way to connect with Katniss or care about why she should live and not someone else. Ideally, each contestant would survive, but in Panem, that isn’t the reality. So why do I want Katniss to win? So she can go back to her starving District and continue to take care of her family, even if she has the spoils of winning? It’s an ordinary enough life to return to, but emotionally, I struggled to connect with Katniss. I admire her decision to protect her sister, and in the arena, Rue (a young contestant who reminds her of Prim). I admire that she didn’t set out to murder her fellow contestants, striking only in defense of herself or others (or in mercy). But even after seeing the Games and her District through her eyes, I still can’t find a reason to deeply care or root for Katniss Everdeen.
On the other hand, Peeta enters the first day of The Hunger Games determined not to sacrifice his character or lose his humanity. He’s been raised in an abusive environment, which has made him a very compassionate and gentle young man. He spends the majority of the Games hiding after being wounded, and it seems that everything he does isn’t for himself, but rather the preservation of Katniss. Peeta lacks self-esteem at times and resolves that Katniss’s life is the one worth saving in the end. I admire that he is so determined not to let the Games change him, and I respect the lengths he goes to in order to maintain his scruples.
Between Peeta and Katniss, while Katniss may be the more outrightly cunning, I find that I am significantly more impressed by Peeta’s heart. Of course, together, the two make an incredible team, and only when they start working together do I start to care about Katniss more.
I’ve been thinking about how I’d rate The Hunger Games for several days now, and I’ve decided that I’ll be sticking with the three stars I originally gave the book. I liked it, but if Catching Fire and Mockingjay weren’t also on my Lifetime Reading List, I wouldn’t rush to pick up the sequel.
That said, I’m going to jump into Catching Fire right now to see if Book Two exceeds the expectations I’ve after reading The Hunger Games. I’ll post my review here as soon as I’m done. 😊