Discussion with spoilers: The Hunger Games

This post is a discussion with spoilers for The Hunger Games trilogy, including The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay.  Click through to the comments to read my thoughts and then add your own!

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3 comments on “Discussion with spoilers: The Hunger Games

  1. So here are my spoiler-riffic thoughts on The Hunger Games trilogy.  The first book did an incredible job of establishing Katniss as someone we want to root for.  She has some hard edges (reading that she’d once tried to drown her sister’s cat was a first-chapter shocker), but when faced with difficult decisions she is smart, brave, and noble.  She takes charge of her family’s welfare when her father dies, she volunteers to take her sister’s place in the barbaric Games, and when the Games pull their bait-and-switch and declare that either she or Peeta must die, she’s the one who thinks of the way out: mutual suicide by poisoned berries.  The first book also did a great job of making us care about Peeta and establishing him as the series’ moral center.

    Catching Fire got off to a strong start by illustrating the fallout from Katniss and Peeta’s defiance at the end of the first Hunger Games.  I knew the next Hunger Games would figure in Catching Fire‘s story, but I did not see the twist coming at all.  When the Quarter Quell called for previous champions to go back into the Arena I gasped aloud.  This was a great, smart choice on Collins’s part.  It allows her to introduce some fantastic new characters, most notably Finnick Odair, while blunting (somewhat) the horror of the Hunger Games by having Katniss compete against adults. I don’t love cliffhanger book endings (they feel like a narrative cheat to me) but I thought Catching Fire‘s end was pretty well-done.

    Mockingjay, however, was the weakest of the three books.  I admired Collins’s refusal to make Katniss’s choices simple.  I liked that District 13 was not a Capitol-free paradise, that Katniss was still being used as a propaganda tool, and that she has to be just as wary of President Coin as she was of the people surrounding the Hunger Games.  However, unlike its impeccably-paced predecessors, Mockingjay‘s narrative advances in fits and starts.  There isn’t a clear emotional arc to the book until Peeta returns, and the struggle against the Capitol seems to move at a snail’s pace and then erupt in a confusing flurry.  Mockingjay felt like a book that had been rushed to completion and I would have liked to have seen it get one or two more rewrites before hitting the shelves.

    I also had some problems with Katniss’s false mission to assassinate President Snow.  I absolutely believed that Katniss would lie her way into being allowed to go into the Capitol and kill Snow, and I also thought that Finnick and some of the other non-District 13 characters had compelling reasons to follow her.  What I had more trouble buying was the idea that the District 13 team would support her.  In most of Mockingjay Katniss is a propaganda figure.  She earns her place in the District 13 army by getting through the training, but most of the District 13 soliders seem to regard her as half mascot, half recently-enlisted private.  I didn’t believe their sudden decision to follow Katniss as a leader.  I was also frustrated by how pointless that mission turned out in the end — all it did was get Katniss into position to watch Prim be killed.  That pointlessness felt true to wartime experience and to the unflinching tone of Mockingjay, but from a narrative perspective the failed mission just contributed to the pacing problems.

    Some other random thoughts:

    *  Why was the Capitol so angry with Haymitch for using the force field to kill his final opponent?  That didn’t make any sense to me.  Surely the Gamekeepers and the viewers anticipated that combatants would use the terrain to their advantage.  Why would Haymitch’s use of the force field make the Gamekeepers look foolish?

    *  I bawled when Rue died.  Big, drippy tears.

    *  Did anyone else think Cinna was going to come back in Mockingjay?  I know, I know, we saw him beaten bloody in Catching Fire, but I kept hoping.

    *  I liked the way Collins handled Katniss’s conflicted feelings for Gale and Peeta. Catching Fire and then, especially, Mockingjay made it clear that this wasn’t simply a choice between two cute boys — it was a choice about what kind of life Katniss wanted to live and what kind of person she wanted to be.  For most of the trilogy I thought Gale was a better match for Katniss, but like Katniss herself I finally realized that Peeta was the partner who brought out the best in her.  Whatever problems I had with Mockingjay, I loved the ending.

    *  Turning Peeta against Katniss through torture and chemical manipulation was a brilliant, cruel twist.  Peeta is the one character who could always be relied on to do the right thing.  Having him not be himself both contributed to the moral ambiguity of Mockingjay and finally gave the book a strong emotional plot arc.

    What did you guys think of the books?

  2. Bri says:

    One of my coworkers just started the Hunger Games last week and my advice to her was: read the first one; you’ll love it and finish it in a day. The second one is OK. Avoid Mockingjay like the black death (except by then you will be drawn in and figure that you should just finish it).

    The third book was a little too Michael Bay, too obvious that she was building up the explosive Hollywood movie ending. I was fairly disgusted by the time I finished it, especially since I had really been so invested in the 1st book.

    Movie was pretty true to the book btw. That was fairly satisfying!

    • I’m interested that you thought Mockingjay was “too Michael Bay.” In the first half, when Katniss is just wandering around ugly District 13 and doubting herself and the motivations of the people around her, I kept thinking “how in the heck are they going to make a movie out of this?” The Capitol-based portions of the book definitely had a cinematic vibe, though. I predict the first half of the book will be the first 25 minutes of the movie and the rest will be the President Snow mission.

      I agree that it would be darn near impossible to give up the series at the end of Catching Fire if you were at all into the first two books. All the more reason I wish Mockingjay had gotten another rewrite before hitting the shelves.

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