Book Thoughts: The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic

Release date: October 31, 2008

Goodreads description:

Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don’t live to see the morning?

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.

I decided not to write a review for The Hunger Games for a few reasons. Mainly, though, it’s because I’m so late to the party that everyone – and I mean everyone – but me has read it. And the point of a review is to introduce readers to a book. I wouldn’t be doing that, since I am probably one of the last people on the face of the earth to have read it. But I did want to share my thoughts.

Another reason I didn’t want to write a review is because if I were to wrangle my thoughts into a review format, I don’t think in that format they would adequately express my feelings and thoughts about this book, the characters and the world.

And while I thought about doing a Quickie Review – because writing a synopsis is really pointless as everyone knows who Katniss is and what The Hunger Games is about – I still felt I wouldn’t be able to express myself in quite the right way.

And so a thoughts post it is. But as they’re not random, I’m doing this as a Book Thoughts post.

While I am not reviewing this book, I do have a rating for it. And I gave The Hunger Games 4/5 stars on Goodreads – which for me is a “loved it” review.

There are many, many readers who have stated that this book is the best book they’ve ever read, that they were blown away by it and that they felt a connection to this book like no other. Sadly, for me, I didn’t quite make that same kind of connection or feel that same intensity of emotion.

I wasn’t blown away by The Hunger Games, though I did love it. I think a lot of it had to do with the timing. If I had read it when it was released, or before I had devoured as many YA books as I have, it might have been different. I’m sort of likening it to the Twilight books – though not the quality of the writing – where I absolutely loved them when I read them, but if I were to have discovered them now, I might not feel the same way.

It also might have had to do with the fact that I saw the film before reading the book. I know – HUGE mistake. And because I wasn’t blown away by the movie – which may have been because I hadn’t yet met the characters, but was more likely because I don’t connect with movies like I do with books – it did initially affect my reading experience. I had to set the book aside for a week and start it all over. And that actually helped, so in the end I don’t think the film had much of an effect on my opinion.

And while I wasn’t totally amazed by this first book in The Hunger Games trilogy, I will leave my final judgment about my reading experience until I read the entire series. Because sometimes it takes more than just the one book for me to become so caught up in the characters’ lives that I don’t want to let them go. Or become so submerged in the world that I am devastated to have to say goodbye. It is very likely that will happen, as I found myself immediately picking up the second book the moment I set down the first.

I found that Katniss was a tough one to like. I know she was written that way on purpose and I think the author did a wonderful job with her character, I just didn’t develop any connection with her. And while I sympathized with her plight, I didn’t feel an emotional connection to it or to the fact that she was undergoing it. At least so far in the series. Though, I think that, too, will change. She is starting to show more cracks in her armor and I think the more I am able to connect, the more likable she will be.

The loss of Rue, however, brought me to tears. The way the author described her, I instantly adored her. I immediately felt afraid for her, as I knew right away that she wasn’t going to be among the final contestants. She was just so young and innocent and fragile.

While The Hunger Games didn’t leave me in a daze, with my head spinning, what it did do was make me want to read more. And the longer I sit with the story, the more curious I am about where it’s headed.

There was plenty of action in the story. A quiet sort of action. And I did get caught up in it, but I didn’t feel it was as pulse-pounding as I thought it might be from having heard the chatter. Nor did I feel that sense of heartbreak or devastation for the characters who didn’t make it – aside from Rue – as I thought I would.

I was always hesitant about reading this book because of The Running Man by Stephen King. Their descriptions just sounded so similar – both have a dystopian setting, though King’s book is not YA, and the games themselves have more than a few similarities. Though not as many as I thought there would be. The film versions of both had more in common than the book versions. Especially as regards the televised portions.

And while I also felt the society was similar to that in The Handmaid’s Tale, I found myself making more comparisons with Divergent, which I wouldn’t have, had I read this when it was released. I don’t like to compare books, but in this case I just couldn’t help thinking how much more exciting I found that story and those characters to be.

But what surprised me the most was how often I thought of Stephen King’s The Long Walk, which happens to be one of my favorite books of all time and one that I read once a year. I hadn’t really thought about the parallels until I started reading The Hunger Games.

In both stories the characters were young adults who were put in a pretty horrific situation – they entered a contest in which there could be only one winner and the only way they could win is if all the other entrants died. In both, the families of the contestants were in desperate need of the prize – riches that would allow them and their families to live in comfort.

But where I didn’t feel a connection to twenty-one of the twenty-four contestants in The Hunger Games, I did feel a connection to many of the one hundred in The Long Walk. Their back stories were more fully developed, making them much more sympathetic, making the loss of each one that much more heartbreaking.

Though perhaps it was because this is a young adult story that those other characters weren’t as developed. As this is aimed at a young adult audience, maybe the brutality of the situation had to be softened. Although having been assigned Lord of the Flies to read in grade school, I’m not sure if the age of the audience was the reason here. But I had almost no sympathy for the other contestants who lost their lives. And regardless of how cruel they may have been, I felt that there should have been something in the story that made me feel the loss of their deaths.

Another difference that kept me from becoming as emotionally tied to The Hunger Games as I’d have liked, was that the characters were chosen by lottery whereas in The Long Walk their participation in the event was on a volunteer basis. Which made The Long Walk that much more heartbreaking because the characters didn’t know what they were getting into until it was too late. Their youth, and the invincibility that comes with it, was used against them. Facing the reality that their lives would end based upon their own choices made that story much more devastating.

As mentioned, I don’t typically compare books. If I were to compare the bones of the various books I read, I’m sure I’d find quite a few similarities. But I don’t look at books with that level of specificity. And I never make comparisons if I can read a book and connect with the story or characters without feeling a sense of deja vu while reading.

But there were so many instances in this story where I did find myself thinking about The Long Walk and the fate of the characters in that book. I found myself missing that emotional connection that I had to Ray Garrity and the other Long Walkers. I kept waiting for some kind of depth to the story that either I missed or that just wasn’t there. And where I found myself haunted by The Long Walk, I didn’t have nearly as strong of a reaction to this one. But I did love it.

If I were to write a review for this book, I would judge it solely on what I thought it had to offer and not how it compared to another book. And my rating reflects this.

I thought the writing was gorgeous in The Hunger Games. I found myself intrigued by just what happened prior to the events in this book – with District 13 and how the world got to be the way that it was. I am curious as to just what repercussion Katniss will face in Catching Fire for doing what she did. And I would like to get to know Gale a bit more.

I think Katniss is someone I could grow to like. I already know that she is strong, she is smart and she has a vulnerability that she doesn’t like to show. And I think that now that the series has moved past the arena I can begin to see it as its own story.

I just think I got to this one too late to feel amazed by this book rather than simply being in love with it. But again, I have a feeling the longer I live with these characters, the more deeply I might fall for them. So I am reading Catching Fire and will see just how connected I become.

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