The speed read is done! I spent about three hours of my weekend reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and then promptly went to go see the movie. I had read the book as quickly as possible because of a challenge my brother gave me. I will once again inflict my thoughts on something on the world.
This may come as a shock to people who know me, but I didn’t hate either the book or the movie. I was pleasantly surprised with both. But I’m going to make fun of them a bit anyway.
I want to preface all this by saying I read the book on my Kindle Fire and I am wholeheartedly for e-books. While I love paper books I think electronic reading devices are the way of the future and a good way to save space on your book shelf for something you’ll likely only read once. Not to mention it saves trees, water, and a lot of chemicals for more important things. Like agriculture.
Anyway, now that I sound like a hippy, on with the review! Oh and skip to the “Final Thoughts” if this is a bit tl;dr.
As I mentioned I read the book in just over three hours, split across two days. I find this helps me keep things better than reading it four pages at a time over the course of a month and a half.
Collins has a good writing style she weaves pretty tight story. This is a nice change in a lot of the YA fiction I’ve read lately. I found out this is not her first novel, not even her first series and she’s written a lot for TV. So that’s pretty refreshing, an experienced author writing a decent story instead of a first time writer breaking out on the scene.
The story opens up in the country of Panem, a country in North America some time after the United States has fallen. We’re not told exactly what happened, only that a disaster ruined North America and the United States has been destroyed. We aren’t even totally sure what year it is. The fact that the main character, Katniss, is in the dark about this seems to be important. Panem is a very technologically advanced country, at least in the Capitol. What isn’t the Capitol has been divided up into thirteen districts, twelve of which are actually populated. The thirteenth district was destroyed in a failed uprising. This uprising is what started the gladiatorial Hunger Games after which the book is titled.
A pretty good plot summary is posted on Wikipedia. I won’t rehash the plot or anything here past what I mentioned above that it is definitely a post apocalyptic novel.
Overall I thought the book was good, if the plot was a bit recycled. I am not going to read it again or anything. It got a lot of crap by some reviewers for being a near identical rip-off of the Japanese novel “Battle Royale”. I can see that as they both involve children being pitted against one another in a fight to the death with only a single victor remaining. This is all broadcast as a reality television show. Battle Royale does this for population control, where The Hunger Games does this as a way to control the population. After reading it I don’t think she was ripping off Battle Royale as a lot of source material is out there to inspire this kind of story. Some of it fictional (Battle Royale, Gladiator, etc), some of it actual fact (the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome).
One thing that bothered me a lot was the hand waving. The setting is just littered with magic Deus Ex Machina’s. There are genetically engineered chimera all over the place, the Capitol has access to magic super medicine and super technology. When Katniss refers to something “lab grown” you know it’s just going to fix everything. The “natural” plants are also magic. There are magic infection removing plants, magic poison removing plants, and magic unnecessary death plants. I did a quick Google search to see if there were any deadly plants that grew in the area the story was set. A couple of varieties of hemlock actually grow in Appalachia. One particularly poisonous variety called “Water Hemlock” is so poisonous that it’s said children making whistles from the reeds have died just putting the stuff on their lips. The best you can hope for is death, because the lesser symptoms involve uncontrollable seizures and other fun things like projectile vomiting and respiratory failure. Did I mention the main reason people get poisoned from it is because it resembles the perfectly edible water parsnip? Regular Poison Hemlock looks like wild carrots. Certainly the nightlock berries are nicer and more dramatic, but still if you want to go for shocking, she need not have made anything up.
I’ve never tried pot. I don’t intend to, but this book has to be the closest thing to smoking it as exists without the fun euphoria and giggles to go along with it. I was so hungry by chapter seven I had to go get a snack. I had just eaten not an hour before! Marijuana doesn’t need to be legalized, this book is just as effective at inspiring appetite.
“Food Porn” is an apt description of this book. The first chapter alone described three different meals Katniss had eaten. She said she had no romantic feelings for her friend Gale. That’s because all her romantic feelings were directed at soft goat cheese melting into a hearty bread topped with a fresh basil leaf. Every third paragraph from that point on basically talked about lamb stew with dried plums on top of a bed of wild rice, or chickens with oranges and cream sauce. When she’s not trying to keep from getting killed, she’s obsessing over food. It tries to pass this off as food is scarce in the districts, except it isn’t. She’s hunting daily, there’s plenty of stuff to go gather, her mom knows about edible plants. The bakers obviously have supplies. It may not be as high quality but food is available. She’s never shown to be without food for very long actually, even in the Games she gets airdropped food. Even the crappy district food is described as being awesome.
The rest of the book really seems to be a jab at reality television and political totalitarianism. The tributes, the overwhelming thought by the peasants that they can’t do anything about it, the government screwing with people by offering more food to those who put their names in the pot more, and then broadcasting their children’s death and forcing them to watch. Basically the oppressive government is screwing with the formerly treasonous population. The district people are slaves even if they aren’t referred to as such.
Collins mentions a lot of things early in the book that she either doesn’t follow up on or doesn’t always make sense. She refers to a merchant class, we don’t hear about that again, and everything seems to be distributed from the Capitol anyway. I also think how she has her characters react to things is not very realistic. Katniss refers a lot to how horrible it is to be going out to die, but even Peeta doesn’t really react like someone about to die probably would. Like they eat, a lot.
I also like how it’s pointed out repeatedly that the Hunger Games are a show and that all the killing is secondary to that. The tributes are encouraged to get sponsors and be likeable. The pageantry and interviews are as important as the real killing. Katniss is always looking the camera and posing herself dramatically because she knows it’s all a show and pleasing the public is important to her survival. She’s not as good at it as Peeta is though.
So overall if someone asked me if they should read it I would say yes. I would not likely recommend it if someone asked for a book suggestion out of the blue.
The Hunger Games movie starts out about like the book does and follows it fairly closely throughout. There are some differences but most of the major plot points get touched on.
I’ve heard a lot of people who are really into the books don’t like the movie. Personally I thought the movie was better than the book. The storytelling was tighter and the characters were better developed in general. Lenny Kravitz did an awesome job as Cinna, and Woody Harrelson was perfect as Haymitch. Their interpretation of the characters were a lot more likeable than the books. The rest of the cast was really good as well. I think a lot of it was the actors they chose and those actors being good at their job. One thing to remember is that these are in many ways different characters as presented in the book.
I like that they showed Katniss and Peeta losing their appetite, as would be normal in that situation. There was more of the Capitol shown and its people and their reactions. The scene with District 11 rioting was especially well done. The people getting hosed down was a great touch for eliciting emotion. They did a good job showing things from the perspective of Katniss and people on the outside. I particularly liked the scenes where the Gamemaker was talking to President Snow, and directing things in the game. The end scene involving the Game maker was brilliant.
When one of the children died in an especially dramatic fashion, like when Cato broke the booby trap maker kid’s neck, people behind me in the theater actually gasped. When Rue died the same thing happened. Thresher bashing the knife girl on the cornucopia and breaking her instead of crushing her head in with a rock was great.
In some places like the Tracker Jacker scene they made it less horrible, in others they made it much more intense. The knife girl’s death was a lot more dramatic as mentioned above. The dog things at the end were a bit less horrifying.
I enjoyed the book and the movie as a good distraction for a weekend. Dystopian fiction isn’t exactly rare these days, and at least the first book in the series manages to be good. I wish there wasn’t as much hand waving, but it didn’t make it a bad story over all.
I would probably recommend anyone who’s read the book to go see the movie and not get caught up on not being exactly like the book. It must have been a hard thing to make a movie based on a book that takes place entirely inside one teenage girl’s head. Most of the narrative would be hard to replicate visually because a lot of it is Katniss’ thoughts on what is going on in her life. It’s rare for a book written in first person like that to translate well to the big screen, but I think in this case they did it admirably.
Usually I’m not a huge fan of YA fiction that comes out. There is a lot of it and only a few out of the massive deluge are actually any good. This is one of those times where it works. If you haven’t read the book, do that before seeing the movie, trust me it works out better. Here’s some links to the book on Amazon. I’m a big Kindle and e-book fan as I said before so these link to the Kindle versions.