Sunday, June 19, 2016

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

So if you haven't been keeping up, recently I took it upon myself to read the Hunger Games trilogy for the first time ever.  (I also live-tweeted my entire reading experience, so if you want to read my reaction tweets, head on over to my Twitter or view them all in this post!)  With finishing Mockingjay, then, I decided to gather all of my thoughts that I've had throughout reading this series and compile them into a comprehensive review.   So without further ado, here is my overall review of the Hunger Games trilogy!

The Hunger Games 

The Hunger Games trilogy has become such an exploding franchise, not just with the books, but with an equally action-packed movie series.  I loved the Hunger Games movie, and reading the book proved to be just as good.  I loved everything about this first book in the series.  Even though I'd seen the movie version first-- and so knew everything that would happenI was still hooked until the very end.  I felt completely immersed into this futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, from the government and its different districtsespecially the impoverished and starving mining district that is District 12to the Capitol in all its extravagance and lust for entertainment (even if that means watching the massacre of innocent children).  Then there's the dreaded reaping, the process of preparing for the Gamesthe opening ceremony, interviews, physical training, scoring of tributes, and more.  And of course the Games themselves.  I felt completely immersed in all of these moments as the story continued to escalate.

There were two aspects about the book that I especially loved and that I really wish the movies had gone into.  The first are avoxes, which the movie doesn't mention at all.  Avoxes are people who have been condemned for being rebels against the Capitol and as punishment have their tongues cut out, rendering them mute as they spend the rest of their lives acting as servants for the Capitol.  In the book, Katniss feels immense guilt over a girl she and her friend Gale had spotted in the woods one day.  It is clear that the girl is attempting to escape, but Katniss and Gale do nothing but stay hidden from sight as she gets taken away by the Capitol's hovercraft.  After becoming a tribute for the Games, Katniss reunites with this girl at the Capitol, now an avox, and Katniss's guilt deepens over the outcome of this girl's life and the circumstances under which they meet.  I just found Katniss's connection to the avoxand the concept of avoxes in generalreally impactful, especially the avox girl's ability to communicate to Katniss with the absense of words as she lets Katniss know that she isn't angry with her over that day she was captured.

The other thing I really like in the book is how much more focus is devoted to Katniss's father and his death, which the movie almost completely erases save for one ambiguous scene.  Throughout the novel and arguably the entire series, Katniss reflects on her relationship with her father, the aftermath of his death on her family, and how his loss continues to be a meteor-sized hole in her life.

With all of these things said, The Hunger Games was everything I expected from the movie, plus so much more that added even more depth to the book.

 Catching Fire 

Unfortunately, following The Hunger Games is when the series gradually started losing momentum for me.  Feel free to disagree, but I just didn't quite feel that Catching Fire lived up to the previous book, and here's why:  In Catching Fire, Katniss begins to symbolize rebellion for the other districts with her stunt with the berries at the end of Hunger Games.  President Snow isn't happy with this, and Katniss ends up being reaped back into the 75th Hunger Games, along with many other past Hunger Games victors.  Because of this, the second book felt very repetitive, since we've basically been through all of this before: the pre-Hunger Games interviews, the training, the tribute scoring, etc.  Not to say that I didn't like the book altogether!  As I got further in, it really started to pick up (Basically, I could've more or less flipped past the first hundred pages and gotten right to the Games) I actually loved the arena in Catching Fire so much more than in Hunger Games. There are so many more twists and unexpected dangers in this mysterious new arena, there comes a point where you just ask, What else could possibly happen?!  There are also some characters I really like in this one, including Finnick, Wiress and Beetee, and Mags.  

And it wouldn't be The Hunger Games without other things added in that hit a little too close to reality: female beauty standards (along with Katniss pointing out how sexist it is that she has to get waxed while Peeta doesn't); a liquid manufactured in the Capitol to make the drinker throw up, thus allowing them to eat even more of the abundance of food at the Capitol's lavish parties (Yikes, bulimia within the upper class?); and intense flashbacks and nightmares, along with a trick by the Capitol's Gamemakers to make tributes relive their most painful memoriesall of these adding an essence of post-traumatic stress disorder to this second book in the series.


And now for the final one in the series, which I'll give a bit longer of a response to, since I just recently finished it and have a lot of thoughts on it.  

I don't know what it was about this oneThe absence of the Games?  The lack of "the real Peeta"?but I just wasn't as into this book as the other two.  It started off incredibly chilling, with Katniss returning to what is left of District 12 and seeing all of the remains, the number of bodies, and feeling this deep-seated guilt for all of the lives that she inadvertently caused to be lost.  I was especially struck by this line:  "I killed you, I think as I pass a pile. And you. And you."

But after that point, I didn't feel that this novel was incredibly eventful.  Much of it is spent in District 13, where Katniss and the other refugees from different districts learn to get used to their new home and the ways of life in this new, mysterious district.  A lot of that includes complaining about the food, (which is rationed and mostly made of soup and beans) and not being able to go aboveground.  There are other intense things that happen, of course as the rebellion continues and escalates.  But, I don't know.  It just didn't engage me as much.  I think for me personally, it was because much of it was more or less the same: a bunch of talking amongst each other about what to do next, Katniss being distrustful of President Coin, Peeta not being the same and absolutely hating Katniss... and a lot of  people dying. In this way, this book didn't show a lot of hope, and once I finished, it just left me feeling really... hollow. 

Throughout the book, there's just so much devastation and so many endless casualties.  The most tragic, of course, are Finnick's and Prim's deaths.  And their deaths are so swift and almost careless, you don't really have time to grieve for them.  In a split second, they're just all of a sudden gone and you're simply left feeling empty.  They're given no final moment, no parting words, no... anything.  The ending is so unbearably sad, and Katniss filled with such emptiness, that it doesn't even feel like there's really anything to take away from it or anything to show for what all everyone has gone through.  It's essentially just: My sister's dead, my mom moved away because she's too depressed and grief-stricken to look at me, my best friend who was partly responsible for my sister's death has moved away and has a fancy job, I'm all alone, and what's left of the world is basically a post-apocalyptic wasteland.... But hey, at least there are no more Hunger Games where children are senselessly murdered. True, it's good that the Hunger Games can finally come to an end, but it still felt like a hollow victory and that nothing mattered anymore, with what was left in the war's wake.

I found it extremely sad that, after all this,  everyone in Katniss's life is all of a sudden gone, with really no closure at all.  I especially felt sad about Katniss's mother and how she'll continue to spend  the rest of her life drowning in her own sadness over everyone she's lost while not being able to bear being with the one person she still has left.  If anything, Prim's death should've been all the more reason for them to stay together since they're all the family that each other has.  (Side note I also just found it extremely depressing that after all this time, Haymitch is still a miserable drunk and probably will be for the rest of his life).

True, Katniss still has Peeta, but their falling in love doesn't quite feel the same.  Peeta's still not completely back to his old self and half the time doesn't know what's real and what's not, so it doesn't feel like he truly falls in love with Katniss the same way he used tomore like he has the memory of being in love with her and so tries to initiate that again because it's one more step toward attempting to return to his old self.  And with everything that happens between Katniss and Gale, it feels like Katniss chooses Peeta partly because it's Peeta (even though he's not quite the same) and she feels like she can't completely quit him, and also because he's the lesser of two evils in a way.  Since Gale was partly responsible for Prim's death, Katniss will never truly be able to look at him the same way again without also remembering that fact, so she chooses Peeta because he's the more "right" of the two choices.  But even still, it feels like there's a part of Katniss that's still unhappy that she and Gale couldn't be together, especially with the line, "Several times I close my eyes and count to ten, thinking that when I open them, he will have materialized without a sound as he so often did. I have to remind myself that Gale's in 2 with a fancy job, probably kissing another pair of lips.”  Like, if Gale hadn't had anything to do with Prim's death, Katniss could very well have ended up with Gale instead, so Peeta very much feels like a second choice, which isn't really a happy ending, and it just makes you think, Katniss... are you really happy?

Even the epilogue, though more sentimental, still doesn't quite leave you with a happy ending, knowing everything with Gale, with Katniss's family, with Peeta.  It feels like an obligatory ending that Peeta and Katniss end up together and have children.  So as a result, when I finished this book, I just walked away feeling... numb?  Unsatisfied?  Sad over all of the people in Katniss's life who faded away?  I know not all endings are supposed to be happy, especially in worlds like these, and that you have to live with what you've got.  But this just didn't leave me with a fulfilling ending to the end of the series.  Still, as the last line says: "There are much worse games to play."

So, this concludes my reading and reviewing of the Hunger Games trilogy!  Overall, I did really enjoy it, and between reading it and live-tweeting, this was such a fun experience and I'm so glad I gave this trilogy a chance.  

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