Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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. 😊

Anne’s Legacy

As Tudorphiles know, today is the 464th anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death. Beheaded on Tower Green for accusations we, like her contemporaries, believe to be false and absurd. She was a woman with ambition, who lived and loved passionately.

Several months ago, my husband and I were doing one of those “100 Questions to Ask Your Partner” things. The question “Which historical figure would your partner most like to have dinner with?” came up, and immediately, Nick said, “Anne Boleyn.”

He’s right.

I’ve read more books, both nonfiction and historical fiction alike, depicting the life of Anne Boleyn than I can possibly count. As far as my reviews here on The Pensive Bookworm go, I’ve reviewed:

I’m currently reading The Scandal of Christendom by Gemma Lawrence as well. I’ve read a number of books about her family, such as Cor Rotto by Adrienne Dillard (see my interview with Dillard here) and The First Elizabeth by Carolly Erickson is in my To Be Read stack right next to my desk.

I’ll never claim to understand Anne Boleyn fully. From what I’ve read, I’m not sure Anne understood herself completely, which is simply another thing that makes her so incredibly relatable.

But what is her legacy?

In the sixteenth century, she was declared a harlot, a sorceress, and incestuous, no matter how few people believed these accusations. During her daughter’s reign, Anne’s narrative was somewhat rewritten by Elizabeth, who couldn’t quite bring herself to condemn her father but nonetheless mourned the mother she hardly recalled. And while I’ve long said that, on principle, I am Team Katherine of Aragon, I can’t deny that Anne was a wondrously complex woman (and I actually just had to correct myself – I typed “Anne is” not “Anne was.)

To me, Anne Boleyn’s legacy is in her passion. She believed in the Reformation, and she believed in knowledge. Some may paint Anne as a victim of circumstance, a poor woman who was pushed into a precarious position by the men in her life. But I don’t believe that for one moment. In Gemma Lawrence’s Above All Others series, Lawrence has depicted Anne as a woman who was drawn to King Henry VIII’s charismatic nature and who learned quickly how to handle his moods and preferences, how to humor him. A strong-willed, intelligent woman who is willing to humor the man in her life, rather than put her own pride above his feelings, is a woman who loves her partner. I believe Anne loved Henry, and eventually, she grew to fear him. She’d seen him cast Katherine aside for her; when Anne couldn’t provide a son, she ironically found herself in the same position as her predecessor. In this sense, Anne’s legacy is a reminder to be humble. She was passionate for her cause, but recklessly so.

As Jonathan Rhys Meyers said as Henry in ShowTime’s The Tudors, “Don’t you know that I can drag you down, as quickly as I raised you?” Whether or not Henry VIII truly said those exact words matters not; this theme was present in the latter years of his romance with Anne, and I believe she knew it.

Anne was a woman who was unafraid to make enemies, at least in her early years at the English Court. She did so boldly, too, as she says in her motto Aisi sera groigne qui groigne, which has helped me in many difficult times, as you can read about here. She made enemies often because she believed in something they didn’t, and she wouldn’t be swayed to please the masses. She made enemies because she was a woman loved someone who she shouldn’t have. She made enemies because she was a woman who spoke her opinion and publicly disagreed with men.

Anne was a woman who endured much of what women have been enduring for all time, and she found a way to thrive in spite of it.

I never knew Anne, of course, and there’s no way I could’ve. If I’d lived in the sixteenth century, I probably would have viewed her as a mistress, a whore for going after another woman’s husband, but there’s no way I could’ve ignored her brilliance. She was so much more than her sexuality or her desires, political, romantic, personal, or religious; she was a leader, a role model, and an inspiration.

As we Tudorphiles look back today, let us not forget to remember the way Anne looked forward, striving to create a better world for Christians, for the People, and for her daughter. She was a politician, yes, but also a mother, and seemingly one who loved her daughter, even though Elizabeth wasn’t the male she needed to bear to save her head.

Anne, may you rest in peace.

Lifetime Reading List: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I bought the Hunger Games trilogy boxed set earlier this year, excited to read these books for the first time.

As it turns out, I’ve already read these books – in high school, like almost every other book on this Lifetime Reading List so far in 2020. So, I suppose it’s safe to say these books didn’t make a lasting impression on me. I think of Harry Potter references and use Rowling’s tales as examples quite often, but when it comes to Panem and Katniss Everdeen, though, I readily recall Josh Hutcherson’s nickname for Jennifer Lawrence during filming (Katpiss Neverclean, by the way, as she reveals in her Unscripted interview) and very little about the books themselves.

But my life now at almost twenty-five is a lot less chaotic than in was a decade ago, so even once I realized I’d already read these books, I found myself invested in a way I don’t recall being last time.

It may not surprise some of my long-term readers that, this time, I read The Hunger Games through the motherhood lens. During the Reaping, as Effie prepared to draw each tribute’s name, I felt myself growing anxious, a feeling which introduces perhaps one of the most profound elements of The Hunger Games.

What happens to children when their parents’ love can’t protect them?

Of course, in regard to Mrs. Everdeen, she’s been emotionally checked out since her husband died when Katniss was eleven. This is one piece of the story I discussed with my fellow author friend, Valerie Storm, who says, “She’s not a huge influence in Katniss’s life, and…you can tell Katniss has more or less emotionally let go of [her]. She’s important, but only because she’s ‘mom.’ Katniss has had to take care of her. Her support would’ve been really nice, but from Katniss’s point-of-view, if she had loved Katniss, I don’t think Katniss would have done half as well as she did. Her lack of love gave her the ability to be a little apathetic when she needed to.”

We started talking about the grief Mrs. Everdeen must’ve felt following her husband’s death, so close to her eldest child’s first Reaping. I believe that Mrs. Everdeen had to emotionally distance herself from Katniss because she couldn’t bear to lose two of her dearest loved ones. However, this emotional chasm is made even more evident in Mrs. Everdeen’s treatment of Prim, who we first meet the morning of the Reaping, where she is literally being cuddled by their mother.

While one daughter is cuddled, another grows stronger. Katniss’s obligation to provide for her mother and sister toughened her while simultaneously protecting Prim, making her soft – Katniss knows Prim will die if she goes to the Games, and so Katniss must be the shield of the family once again.

As Katniss shares with the reader, she’s been busy providing for the family; she hasn’t had time for love or terms of endearment. In the world Suzanne Collins created, as Valerie said, “There’s not much room for love and kindness.”

In order to remind the people of the protection and provision of the Capitol, their children are sacrificed on the altar of image. The Capitol must appear strong so that the citizens appear weak. The Capitol needs the Districts dependent so they can be a savior. And because each citizen is beholden to the governmental machine, with each child’s twelfth birthday comes a blunt reminder that a mother’s (or father’s) love cannot protect their children from every danger – either in the Games, or the world (as evidenced by the starvation within the Districts).

Its my opinion that this quandary – What happens to children when their parents’ love can’t protect them? – is the eternal lesson of The Hunger Games. If parents cannot protect their children from the government, what does that say about life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness? Collins has confirmed that Panem is a futuristic rendition of the United States, but that trinity of inalienable rights applies to each person on the planet. The parent-child relationship is the most basic in biology, in nature, so what happens when something man-made, such as the government, thwarts the natural order?

Parents are supposed to provide for and protect their children. But in Panem, the government takes that role.

I started this blog post with the intention of saying The Hunger Games is a good book, but not necessarily a must-read. However, as Valerie and I spoke and discussed that, in the absence of parental protection and affection, children either “become independent and strong on their own, or they die,” I’ve concluded that The Hunger Games’ central point is an essential question we all must entertain. Perhaps one of the oldest political qualms “How big is too big for a government to be?” is answered in this book.

In the United States, in this election year, in the middle of a pandemic as we face shortages, reading The Hunger Games felt a little too prophetic for my liking. Circumstances in many countries have grown desperate (or, in many cases, have always been dire) and the people have turned to the government for salvation. But what happens when we grow dependent on the government? What happens when charities and churches decide you’re ineligible for aide, no matter how desperate you may be, and the government is all that is left?

What happens when the churches and charities close their doors, and the government is all that is left?

What happens when it becomes too difficult to feed and provide for you own family because of wage disparity with the standard of living? The government steps in somehow.

For years, I’ve believed that we, as a society, as the human race, need to keep the power in the people. We must help one another, the way Katniss and Gale work together to hunt, trap, and gather. We must support one another, the way Katniss and Rue come together for protection. We must provide for one another, the way Peeta snuck Katniss bread when her family was starving.

We must overlook our differences to see that, in the end, we’re really the same. We’re all hungry, for food and love above all else.

In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins certainly exemplifies the most basic of human quests, and for that reason, I agree that The Hunger Games is a must-read book.

Stay tuned for my book review of Catching Fire next week, and make sure to follow Valerie Storm on Twitter by clicking here.

Judging Books by Their Cover

There was a post of r/peopleofwalmart recently, captioned “If coronavirus was a person” and had a picture of someone dressed in exceptionally ill-fitting clothes. At first, the shock value had me giggling, because they looked so ridiculous. But as I scrolled down through the comments, someone had said, “There has to be some sort of mental illness at play here.”

They’re probably right.

I live pretty close to Podunk, USA, and I’ve seen some rather interesting fashion choices, especially at WalMart. I try not to judge; for all I know, what someone is wearing may be their only outfit. I’ve seen some horribly tacky items donated to Goodwill, so maybe they were bargain shopping and didn’t have a lot of fashionable options for their size. Who knows? I don’t.

In a world that is growing increasingly dependent on shock-value humor, often at someone’s expense, I am even more aware of the example I’m setting for my children.

We can’t judge a book by its cover, and we shouldn’t judge a person by their appearance.

This lesson seems so obvious, so simple. But in practice, we know that it isn’t. We gravitate toward people who are like us, either in socio-economic standing, or beliefs, or appearance. And when we encounter someone who is strikingly different, we often pass a snap-judgment.

However, since I’ve grown to be more active in the indie author portion of the Writing Community on Twitter, I’ve noticed a lot of incredible books that have lacking covers. I can think of a couple of my own self-published works that need a face-lift, but then I am quick to say, “But the cover isn’t the important part. It’s the story.”

If I’m that quick to defend my work (and I think we all are), then I need to work even harder to employ the same mindset toward other people.

It isn’t the attire that’s the important part. It’s the person.

Just like I don’t know if the book with the stunning cover will be dreadful to read, or if the book with the lackluster cover will be captivating, I don’t know what goes on in a person’s heart, their mind.

I don’t know their story.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the person in the Reddit post I saw, and I do wonder if the commenter who noted the possibility of a mental illness was right. Neither one of us know. But if it is, we shouldn’t be making jokes about them. And if a mental illness isn’t at play and that person just wanted to rock the bizarre fashion choice, then all I have to say is I aspire to their self-confidence!

Until we start reading, we don’t know if we’re going to like the story.

Until we start talking, we don’t know That Person’s story, either.

It’s our job to take care of one another and do all we can to leave the world a little more beautiful, a little kinder, than we found it. So if we’re willing to give a book with a drab cover a chance, let’s give the people who are different than us the benefit of the doubt, too.

Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

By trade, I’m a book editor. Sometimes a sample from a prospective client will come across my desk, and I’ll wonder how the author thinks it could possibly be close to ready-to-query/self-publish. The story, while it may have an excellent central theme, may not be coherent. In many cases, I’ve found that the author is struggling with a single, relatively simple problem: organizing their thoughts.

Often, I’ll say something like, “I think I see where you’re going, but there’s definitely a gap between what you’ve created in your brain and what I’m gathering from the page.” Usually, I’ll provide a few examples of stronger passages as well as some weaker ones that still need a lot of work.

When this happens, I can’t always finish the manuscript; sometimes I’ll have to quit between 25% and 50% into it because I am so confused about the main plot or struggling to connect with the protagonist that, in its current state, the manuscript is a complete waste of my time.

That’s exactly what happened with 1984 by George Orwell.

After a month of slogging through this mush, I abandoned the book on page 158 out of 266.

My husband would call this book “a stream of consciousness mess.”

Orwell had some thoughts. They were even good thoughts. He wrote them down, but he never organized them. As one of my friends said, Orwell “sometimes transitions scenes in literal mid-paragraph.” This friend also said, “His writing style leaves a lot to be desired, and I don’t believe it’s just because the book is so old.”

My friend hit the nail on the head. I couldn’t connect with Winston, the protagonist, and after over a hundred pages, I really didn’t care about him. The society of Big Brother sounded like an interesting topic, but the words on the page were naught more than rambling about going from place to place and hoping a telescreen or so-called friend wouldn’t catch you committing a Thought Crime. Oh, and he bought a paperweight and got his freak on in the woods with some chick whose name I can’t remember and I found annoying.

This is one of those books where I wish I’d had my husband’s approach. “It’s actually one of my life’s goals to NOT read 1984.

Well, 158 pages later, it’s now one of my life’s goals to never read another page. On paper (ha, puns), I’d like to finish it; I hate abandoning books.

But I want those three hours of my life back, and Orwell will not get another minute of my life.

Lifetime Reading List: 1984 by George Orwell

When I set out on this Lifetime Reading List challenge, I planned on reading every book, no matter how much it sucked, to completion. Then, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride was in my hands, and I quickly abandoned that plan (see here). I figured that out of 100 books, perhaps 3-4 would be ones I couldn’t bring myself to finish.

I just didn’t expect the renowned 1984 by George Orwell would be the next one in my abandoned pile.

From what I understand, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 1984 by George Orwell, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley are three major hot-topic, must-read books. As you can tell from my analysis of Fahrenheit 451, I think Bradbury’s work is phenomenal (review here). My review also sings Bradbury’s praises. I haven’t read Brave New World yet, but Huxley’s book is slated to be read in the fourth and final year of my Lifetime Reading List challenge.

I’ve been trying to force myself to finish 1984 since April 13, 2020. I’m going to backdate this post, but it’s currently May 10 as I try to write this, and I can’t bring myself to read past page 158 out of 266.

I was talking to my husband, Nick, about 1984. He’s never read it, but he recognized its major pop culture references – the Thought Police, Thought Crime, and Big Brother, to name a few. I told him that I’d reached page 100, and at that point, it felt like a big book of nothing.

“If you aren’t working for Big Brother, if you aren’t doing something to better yourself or the government, you aren’t doing anything else. It’s totalitarianism, but so much so that it’s eliminated humanitarianism. There is no element of the protagonist’s humanity left,” I told Nick.

“I think that’s the point,” he said. “There’s nothing left, so what could Orwell write about?” he replied.

My response? Just stop writing!

I know, I know – I’m an author. I’m an editor. I’ve dedicated my professional life to book.

But holy smokes… 1984 is just a bunch of rambling!

From the 158 pages I’ve read, Winston has started a journal, gotten freaky in the woods with a rebel, bought a paperweight, and joined a secret society working to undermine the government.

As an editor, I say this: I did not need nearly 160 pages for all of that to happen!

I’m a very “seize the day” type of person, and I’ve been slogging my way through 1984 for almost a month. Several people – all of whom I respect greatly – have told me that 1984 is a must read. But this book just isn’t bringing me any joy, and I think I’ve already gotten the point of it.

As I said to Nick, in light of totalitarianism, citizens lose their humanity. Of course, 1984 takes this to an extreme, and while I can certainly see some elements of Orwell’s society in today’s America (such as rewriting the past to suit the present’s agenda), the dronish nature of the writing distracts from the potential for me to focus on this central message.

Does 1984 bring some noteworthy topics to the table? Absolutely.

But is the book 1984 a must-read?

For me, I have to say “no.” No way. At all. Just…no.

If you can manage to overlook the monotonous storytelling style, perhaps 1984 is the type of book you should read. But for me, I’ll stick to other dystopian works that eliminate your humanity and discuss those, like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, my book for May 15 and May 22, which I read already in less than one day. But you’ll have to check back for that one. 😊

“Would You Marry a Non-Reader?”

One of the recurrent discussions I’ve seen in the Writing Community on Twitter poses a simple question: Would you (a reader) marry a non-reader?

I want to take some time today to explore my thoughts and answer.

I met Nick just after my nineteenth birthday. At that point in my life, I didn’t have the time to read much – I was in college full-time and working two jobs. Three months after we met, I escaped an abusive home situation, and it’s fair to say chaos ensued. Less than a year later, Nick and I were engaged. We got married a few months shy of my twenty-first birthday.

When I was pregnant with our son, Nick got me a subscription to Kindle Unlimited. This was my first chance to really start reading voraciously again. As college students then newlyweds, the problem shifted from “I don’t have time to read” to “I can’t afford to read.” Thirty dollars for a book that would last me only a few days at most just wasn’t in the budget. In a way, Kindle Unlimited gave me a chance to read again that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

In the years we’d been together, Nick and I had talked about a lot of stories, but not necessarily books. In truth, Nick and I have very little in common in regard to our interests. We have many of the same dreams and views for our life together, but while I’d like to spend a Sunday afternoon reading in a hammock, he’d like to spend that same time wrenching on an engine. (Actually, we’d both like to spend the afternoon at the zoo with our kids, but I’m talking about personal time here, ha.) It was only after I started reading with Kindle Unlimited that I realized how much of a bookworm I really am compared to Nick.

Truthfully, it’s been a bit of a sore spot for us lately. In the four-ish years since I became a Kindle user, my book collection has increased from the few dozen I kept during my homeless escapade to over 200 again. I want to talk about books a lot, and he doesn’t always have the knowledge to have that conversation. It isn’t that he’s apathetic. It isn’t that he ignores what I have to say. It’s simply that he hasn’t had the experience of falling in love with a book (like our son recently has, see this post) the way I have. In regard to academic reading, he was told “Read this. It’s a classic,” and not much else (which introduces a big issue I have with modern literary education, but that’s for another day). He didn’t have opportunities to explore genres of fantasy or science fiction the same way I did, and now, he’s almost thirty, just now reading a book series he really enjoys.

I married Nick before I knew that “Would you marry a non-reader?” was even a question to consider asking, and I married him without hesitation. I married Nick because of his heart, his life outlook, and our shared passions for living a simple life. I didn’t marry him for his interests.

So, I guess the next question someone might ask is what it’s like to be married to someone who has such different interests.

I see a lot of tweets in these Twitter threads of spouses saying their partner doesn’t understand their passion, and thus doesn’t respect it. Nick and I were talking about this very thing a week or two ago, and these are his words from the email he sent me:

I am not a naturally inclined book worm. Fact. However, and that’s a big “however”, I like reading. I like stories. I like tales of adventures, friendship, heartache, up, downs, victories, losses, good VS evil, romance (like PG stuff), and the lessons that stories can teach us.

He went on to explain his history with books and the opportunities he missed that may have hindered him on the path to becoming more of a bookworm by this point in his life. Then, he said this:

I love you with reckless, pit-bull, savage intensity. I love how your face lights up when you get a new book in the mail. I love how your hair falls around your face when you’re “joy reading” and your glasses poke out from your hair like they are holding back a curtain. I love the passion you have for books and I am envious of that passion because I wanna know what’s so awesome about them.

See why I married Nick for his heart?

As a culture, I believe that when we focus on interests for compatibility before the heart of our partner, we run the risk of missing out. When he first bought my Kindle Unlimited subscription, there were many nights we curled up on the couch and he watched Mighty Car Mods or a documentary about Ancient Egypt while I read, and it was wonderful. And now, after several years of living with me and seeing me get actual papercuts from reading so much, he wants to know more and try to experience such a thing with me.

You can’t force someone to be the way you want, and that’s something I think our culture needs to learn, now. You must remember you’re marrying a “who,” a person, not a “what,” a set of interests. Sure, interests and hobbies play into who we all are, but these things shouldn’t define a relationship. I hope that’s something a lot of people are learning during this Coronavirus Lockdown – strip away all the “stuff,” the things to do, and what are you left with?

Each other.

So, to me, the answer is simple.

Would I marry a non-reader?

Dear reader, I married him.