There are few books that catch my attention as much as The Hunger Games Trilogy has. They were not particularly well written, nor were their storylines something extraordinary, but as far as being an anti-war manifesto, or political and social critique, this trilogy cakes the rest.
In a three-day period I bought, read, and digested each book. The last one left me hollow. Mockingjay was by far the most gruesome, and the most intellectually and emotionally trying. I have to wonder at the author (Susanne Collins) personal experience with war, PTSD, and drug abuse. The way she details Katniss’s experiences, Peeta’s flashbacks, and Gale’s carelessness at human life are all reflections and sides of war .
The Hunger Games, the first of the trilogy, now being made into a movie debuting March 23rd, introduces us to Katniss Everdeen. She is a sixteen year old girl who subjects herself to the Hunger Games – a bloodbath where twenty-four tributes, a boy and girl each, from twelve districts, compete to the death for the amusement and entertainment of those in the Capital, (and also, as propaganda dictates, to remind everyone what happens when you rise and rebel against the president). She volunteers to replace her sister, the original chosen tribute. I could not help but think about Vietnam and the draft, as the moments are fairly parallel. A young person being unwillingly chosen to put their life at stake for something they don’t understand, something they are not passionate about, and something that will scar them.
We are then brought to the Capital, a place where outrageous fashion and social-climbing, gossiping, and toasting the latest “it” thing sustains the vapid lives of those who live there. Collins takes preoccupation with fashion and feasting to a new extreme by having citizens of the capital dye their skin turquoise, receive golden tattoos, and color their hair a bright orange hue, all for the name of fashion, beauty, and popularity. The ridiculousness of the situation is in stark opposition to the very real tragedy of Kat being thrown, quite literally, to the wolves.
We also see, in these moments of juxtaposition, commentary on the upper echelons of society. When we are first introduced to Katniss, Collins tells her story, giving us an idea of what extreme poverty the tragic hero lives in. Though we, as readers, may not know the hunger pains she talks about, having never had to hunt wild game to sustain ourselves, we connect with her on a basic level as she talks about her family, her love of her sister, her anger with her mother, and the bonds she has with her friend. We find ourselves in her. Because of those ties, we as readers begin to look down on the sugary lives of the Capital citizens. When one district is starving, how can the Capital take tiny pills to induce vomiting so they can cram more food in their mouths?
Throughout the novel we find ourselves cheering for Katniss to overcome her oppressors. And for the sake of youth, beauty, and love, we find ourselves cheering for her to realize her feelings for Peeta, her fellow tribute, and the boy who professes his love to her. (By the way, this book has very little real romance to it. I feel Collin’s used it as a plot device to move the story along for those who like romance, but also as a way to show the human element – we bond with those we fight with, we love through tragic moments, and most of all, we deny ourselves what we want, what we need, for fear of losing it.)
I will not ruin anything for you, because there are three books, by saying that Katniss and Peeta win The Hunger Games. In the act of winning, they anger the Capital, the President, by outsmarting, as well as contradicting, law. Thus begin the real games.
The second book is, in my opinion, the best of the three. Where the first book feels too childish and soft, and the third literally gave me nightmares, the second mixes the right amount of political and social critique without moving too far in one direction or the other. We find ourselves with Katniss after The Games are over, but still maneuvering through a political minefield. She and Peeta become pawns in a game between two opposing forces, and though we do not realize it, they are set down paths that are irrevocable. As are their friends and family.
The third book, Mockingjay, was difficult to read. As stated above, it was gruesome. The writing was sub-par, the storyline a bit drab, and at one part I was unsure whether Collins was being serious or simply writing as if Kat was in a drug induced haze, but the anti-war message, the complete degradation of a human life, of a city, of the mind, was vastly clear, sickening, and hard to read. It was also hard to put down.
These novels, written and intended for youth, introduce readers to the very real, and very disturbing, parts of the human psyche. Among the three main characters we see an anti-war agenda, a pro-war agenda, and a girl caught in the middle, used as a pawn, and completely lost among the chaos.
These novels deserve to be read. They are not the next Twilight series (they are nothing like the Twilight series). Their focus is not romance and teen love. The heart of the series revolves around a very real political and social criticism. By the end, you ache for Katniss, you ache for the life she could have had, and you ache, because when she has officially burned out and is no longer on fire, she tries to pick a life out of the ashes and keep going. Like any solider we know. Like the ones we will know, once they come back from fighting this war.