Winning means fame and fortune.
Losing means certain death.
The Hunger Games have begun….
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, the shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before–and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Description taken from Goodreads.
For all the things that were not about The Hunger Games movie, there were quite a few that were. It did a great job of staying true to the book’s plot, character arcs, and heart, and it even managed to add things that only could’ve been accomplished in that format by a movie. Specifically, I loved the moments where we could see rebellion start to brew in the districts when Rue died and Haymitch’s reactions to what happened in the arena.
Forgetting those things and seeing the book alone was much harder to do after that. Even now, flipping back through the pages, I feel as though there’s something visceral to it that’s missing, something about the book that isn’t as real to me. Of course, I have other theories.
The first has to do with the way that the book is written.
I love Katniss’ voice as a narrator and, in some ways, it’s good to be back seeing things from her perspective again. There were plenty of things that I’d forgotten about, like all the reasons she had to be uncertain of Peeta in the weeks following the Reaping and how she struggled to find water after the start of the Games. But what I noticed now that I never noticed before is how much Katniss tells us about the world, about her actions, about what’s going on. In that way, I’d go so far as to say that the world-building in the story isn’t nearly as strong as I once believed it to be. Granted, there’s a huge, more subtle flip side to that because once the fundamentals of the world are told to us, the rest is revealed little by little. I would have to go for another reread to fully determine how strong the world-building is, but as of right now, it’s neither weak nor brilliant.
It’s important to note that the telling also factors into a couple other elements. There’s the present tense of the story, which is more inclined to sound like telling than showing, and there’s Katniss’ voice, which is supposed to sound like it’s coming from a blunt, hardened girl. I’m okay with the telling when I see it from those perspectives, but that’s a completely separate issue from what I feel is missing from the story.
My second theory as to why the novel leaves something lacking for me is that it doesn’t have the seriousness that I loved and admired in the books that come after this one. It had hints of it, yes, but not much to the extent of the rest of the series, and nothing in comparison to the movie.
Following the chronology of the books, Katniss’ trauma started in Catching Fire (assuming I remember things correctly), got really bad before the Quarter Quell, toned down for a while, and hit its peak during certain points in Mockingjay. In the first book, she had the scars and nightmares from the death of her father, but it wasn’t to the extent of what it would later become thanks to the lasting effects of the Games.
Following the chronology of the movies, we see much more of her trauma as it develops, just because of the nature of movies, visuals, and acting. There’s more available material right from the start. The format of a movie is more conducive to mindless action for hours on end than a book is.
What’s my point? The later books of the series, the ones I loved so much that I highlighted both of them individually on Monday Musts 51 and Monday Musts 57, had the most potential to show us what was going on in Katniss’ mind, to feel her pain and experience this world from her perspective. The first book in the trilogy may not have hit me as hard because 85% of the book is her reacting to something so that she won’t get killed. There’s only so many ways that can be written, and I’d say Collins did a pretty great job. What’s more, the truly important parts where Katniss shows kindness and love are never done in the telling format, giving her depth of character, weakening my first theory, and lending a bit more credence to this one. As the overarching plot of the series gains depth and layers, the book stopped feeling as awkward and became more of the way I remembered it.
All that aside, I started this trilogy reread with the hope that one of my favorite YA series as a middle-grader could remain as one of my favorite YA series as a YA reader and as an adult, and The Hunger Games made it through. I was reminded of some moments that the movie didn’t do justice to, most notably when Thresh decides not to kill Katniss out of respect for what she did for Rue. In the movie, that scene’s lost to the panic, fear, and adrenaline rush of almost dying. In the book, while that’s also true, there’s a second of reflection for why Thresh did what he did that makes it so much more.
And who can forget about the love triangle between Peeta, Katniss, and Gale?
Which is strange because it didn’t feel like a love triangle. At least, not in this one. Gale wasn’t around long enough for it to. He was in the back of Katniss’ mind from time to time, but it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as its sometimes made out to be. What really got my attention was how the conflict between Peeta and Katniss revealed both of them as people.
Because of Katniss’ angst and confusion, both of which had just enough for everything to come together perfectly, we see just how complicated things are between them (or how complicated she makes things). She’s stuck in a state of feeling like she owes him, not knowing if she can trust him, and not wanting to get killed by him. What stuck with me long after this series was Katniss learning how to love, and I think this first book showed, maybe more than anything else, how emotionally scarred she was after the loss of her father and the burden of having to care for her family.
And Peeta. Oh, Peeta. Unfortunately, looking at this book alone, I don’t know who Peeta is. All I know of him is all that Katniss knows of him, and she’s not sure what to make of what they went through together or what it means for them. It’s like a twisted version of going to homecoming together. But looking toward the other books, I’m highly anticipating figuring out who Peeta is, particularly who he is in Mockingjay, when he’s not the golden boy that Katniss remembers.
There was only one flaw to Katniss, Peeta, and the Games that stuck out for me, and that was the parachutes that Haymitch sent. The book wouldn’t be the same without them, but they bothered me with how often they came, the messages they were trying to send, and how out-of-place they felt. It wasn’t as bad as breaking the fourth wall, but it was a bit off-putting.
And I could go on about the other characters, but I’ll settle with a note on the supporting cast–they manage to be lovable. Or, at least, in the cases of Cinna, Haymitch, Effie, and Katniss’ prep team, they manage to be lovable. And in the cases of the named tributes who lived and died but didn’t make that big of an impact, they manage to be remembered. Maybe it’s the brutality of the games; maybe it’s the small character count. Whatever the case, the character development was spot-on.
Overall, a solid beginning to the series. It’s simultaneously more and less than what I remember it being, and it was entertaining and thought-provoking enough that I’d read it again. Will continue to think of this one fondly, and looking forward to the second book–my favorite :3