Author: Suzanne Collins
Type: Fiction, novel
Part of series: The Hunger Games (#1)
I read it: May 2011
Who doesn’t want to love The Hunger Games? I certainly wanted to. It’s a killer premise and a sure page-turner, and it delivered on at least some of the scenes I had sought. But there was something strangely off about the whole endeavor. Was it the frustratingly unoriginal, not to mention unnecessary, sci-fi elements (a gap in the table opens and a perfect meals rises to the top; hovercrafts do hovercraft-ery things)? Was it the forced plot twists (the author practically being the voice of The Capitol and changing the rules of the Games at will)? Was it Katniss being not so much her own character as a cipher for all the wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if situations required for the premise to work?
It could have been, and was, any and all these things. But the disappointing part of The Hunger Games was that it did not pack any emotional punch. Like…at all. There were particular pages when I couldn’t believe that Katniss didn’t have regular human emotions. Just describing kids killing each other is not the same thing as making the reader feel what it’s like for kids to kill each other. It hurts for Katniss to watch others murder and die brutally in front of her eyes, sure. So far so good. But then she actually has to kill somebody herself! Talk about a prime opportunity for some emotional resonance and self-reflection. This is virtually absent from the book. Without the heft, all the bells and whistles of the plot mean little. Really, I got more from a book that only had supposed killers and lunatics, and where the sole gruesome death came via bus accident (that book is Walk Two Moons). It’s the writing that makes these events stick.
Whatever. I’m going to read the whole trilogy. I’m a sucker for this stuff. And I can totally imagine that reading this series as a pre-teen would be thrilling. But I’m not that age and all of us adults can read Battle Royale. Check out the manga and see how it tells the story properly. Or get into the head of a similar contestant with Stephen King’s excellent The Long Walk. I have no problem with these conceits being revived and retried, but I think the hype-machine took control and overblew The Hunger Games in a big way. There’s hope, though: the movie could actually be better than the book. Some fine young actors could inject serious emotion between the lines of Collins’ mechanical words.