The Hunger Games – Don’t bash it until you understand it.
I’ve held off writing a post about The Hunger Games for a good reason, which I’ll get to in a moment, but it was Limebirdmike from Lime Bird Writers with his naive and irritating article Young Adult fiction and “The Hunger Games” – did I miss something? that prompted me to write this.
I’d seen The Hunger Games in book shops but never took much notice of it. The cover didn’t inspire me enough I guess, and yes, I’m well aware of the saying but we all do it so let’s move on.
It wasn’t until the movie came out that I took an interest, and as yet I still haven’t seen it.
Books first. Movie second.
That’s the rule I prefer to live by whenever possible.
I finished Mockingjay last week and felt inspired to write about it within minutes of turning the last page. Problem was I didn’t really know what to say that hasn’t already been said.
Popular stories generate lots of comments, reviews, analysis, comparison to the movie version and so on. And my two cents worth would seem nothing more than another fan-boy raving about the heroic Katniss, the awesome visuals of the games, the characters, the action, the suspense, thrills, spills, romance, death, gore and everything in between.
And so, because of the overly dramatic review by Limebirdmike, I offer a counter argument, do it please ya, dear blog reader.
Jumping off the Band Wagon.
It’s often easy to get wrapped up in a sensation like The Hunger Games, Twilight or Harry Potter simply because everyone else has been swept into the wonderful warm glow of its popularity. However, in order to turn a few heads and buck the trend it’s also very easy to go against the grain and say something negative and outlandish.
All of a sudden you’ll see the heads nodding along, like sheep traipsing after one another because one of them has a vague idea to try something different. I find it most amusing to watch people jumping off one band wagon and right onto another going in the other direction.
No! Bad sheep. Find your own Band Wagon!
If you’ve read The Hunger Games trilogy I suggest you read the article by Limebirdmike (link at the top) and see if you agree. You’re welcome to of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, if it makes sense. Personally I don’t agree and even as I read some of the sheep induced comments I was shaking my head. Have people actually read these books without bias or preconception? Do they understand the world Young Adults live in? Are they so out of touch?
So when I got to the comment by “CJ” I smiled and thought: “Yeah, good for you matey.” You saw the story with better eyes than Limebirdmike. Rather than post a comment I thought I’d combine my thoughts with a different point of view to that of LBM, sorry, I can’t keep writing Limebirdmike over and over!
Let’s dive in and see what shakes loose!
The characters are annoying at best and rarely are they developed sufficiently.
First of all we should remember The Hunger Games is YA (Young Adult) fiction. I’m not 100% clued up on what that means but I assume it’s aimed at an audience between 14 – 21 tears of age, give or take a year or two. At that age kids/teenagers aren’t going to read page after page of character creation/building. I’ve read plenty of YA books – The Dead and the sequels by Charlie Higson, Hunger and the sequels by Michael Grant, Harry Potter, Twilight, you get the idea. Rarely have I seen the author go to great lengths to create huge character depth compared to books aimed at adults. There are exceptions, obviously, I’m generalised here though I can’t be far from the bullseye with my assumptions.
It’s about attention. Teenagers are bombarded with so much information in our modern world so when it comes to writing engaging stories an author must strive to maintain a balance between compelling twists and turns, believable characters and a plot that doesn’t bore them to death. Whilst I agree that a few of the characters in The Hunger Games are sidelined, Finnick for one, and some not fully explored, they are there to serve a purpose.
To drive the story.
The plot doesn’t require each and every character to have a mountain of back story, reasons for their actions, deep thoughts and sub plots of their own. As a writer myself I tend to read a story with a different pair of eyes. One enjoys the ride. The other hangs back and watches for more subtle things like snippets of character enhancement and plot gears grinding – yes, there were a few gears that crunch in order to yank the plot in the right direction – the rescue at the end of Catching Fire was a bit rushed as it needed to set up the final book.
Yes, Peeta was way too nice and perfect. But what’s wrong with that? He was believable enough. Perhaps his scenes on the TV with President Snow could have been better written or explored a little more but it wasn’t necessary to get the point across that he was being tortured. And that’s my point, YA fiction can’t hang around explaining every last detail and going into too much depth because, like TV shows/internet/texting/music etc, teenagers won’t hang around for the boring stuff.
As for character quality, CJ put it very well in her comment:
With the exception of Peeta who tended to be a little too perfect for my taste, I felt all of the characters were wonderfully written! In these days of perfect Hermione who always had all the answers and Mary -Sue ..I mean Bella Swan, it is so refreshing to see a main female character who is full of faults, makes horrible mistakes and sometimes just doesn’t know what to do.
At times Katniss is awash with doubts, and she knows she isn’t perfect. Gale has compassion, even love for her but he has a hard time showing it, and often fails to be the friend she really wants or needs. Haymitch, whilst spending most of his time in an angry drunken stupor, does show he cares for Katniss and Peeta. His tender side barely gets through his tough exterior, which he wears due to demons haunting him from being a tribute in The Hunger Games.
There are signs that the characters develop, that they’re not one-dimensional slugs used to oil the plot gears. I’m glad I read these books with no preconceived notions that they were going to suck from the first paragraph to the last.
“The content is – and I don’t use this term lightly – horrific.”
At first I thought he meant the writing itself was horrific, the language, style etc. But he goes on to say:
Why, for all that is good in the world, are the atrocities depicted in the Hunger Games allowed to go to print? Why do we package these things up in brightly coloured books aimed at impressionable youngsters, and sell it as something that is both acceptable and (dare I say it) ‘fun’?
This made me wonder if LBM, or indeed anyone who asks this question, is 92 years old and only watches movies and TV if they’re in black and white, only listens to Glenn Miller and reads romance novels in large print.
Brightly coloured books? I agree they’re eye-catching but no more than any other book. In fact the black cover with mockingjay motif is somewhat understated compared to other YA titles I see in a book shop. My argument here is that one book about murder, death or brutality is not going to turn a teenager into a killer. Not when they’re surrounded by violence everywhere they look, TV, movies, internet, video games, even the news no longer holds back with a mere warning: “The following report contains images you might find upsetting – so keep watching!”
As for horrific, seriously?
Charlie Higgins wrote some deeply nasty stuff in The Enemy and The Dead, books about teenagers and KIDS killing zombies and each other, and even then it wasn’t over the top with blood and gore. The Hunger Games was quite tame. It mentioned blood. Yes. But it’s not like any of the characters rolled around in their victims entrails then wore their heads as trophies is it? On the whole the gore aspect was well-balanced to show the violent society they lived in.
Oh no! Not mutants!!
President Snow brings the atrocities from the hunger games onto the city streets. These include genetically engineered mutants, death beams, choking smogs and all sorts of other horrible evils. At one point someone even dies by having their flesh melt from their body.
Really? Mutants. Death beams. Horrible evils. This sort of imagery is everywhere. From the Power Puff Girls to Dr Who and Scooby Doo. Not to mention the horrible stuff that afflicts Harry and his chums in the Hogwarts saga. In fact take a look at any action packed children’s TV cartoon show and you’ll see violence, mutants, death beams and all manner of deadly stuff going on. And then think about video games, even tame stuff like Sonic or Spyro the Dragon have a gruesome element to them.
Nothing that happens in The Hunger Games is all that shocking. And no, before anyone says it, I’m not desensitized to violence. At no point did the level of violence climb above an unacceptable threshold. Suzanne Collins didn’t relish in the gore. She used it as a tool to show the brutality of the Panem society.
Consequences and moral lessons.
What gets me the most is the fact that to make this stuff suitable for children there is barely any effort made to dwell on what’s happened. This is a world without consequences; a text where the reader is actively encouraged to ignore both the human and the practical implications of what has happened. It’s the literary equivalent of the Michael Bay movie – lots of explosions and people dying and getting hurled about, but with no real attempt to engage with the audience.
Katniss dwells on this an awful lot. She understands the consequences right from the start, as do the others in District 12. On the second page of book one Katniss tells how she tried to drown her sister’s cat, Buttercup. She realised the consequences, had she succeeded, would be upsetting her sister and losing a pet who could kill mice.
I’d go so far as to say all the tributes are aware of the consequences of their actions. The problem is that a lot of the population of Panem, mainly those in the Capitol, have a blasé attitude toward the games because it’s considered the norm. That’s why it’s such a hideous concept. Society has arrived at a point where the games are the only way to keep the economy ticking along.
Most things in life look normal given enough time. And the last bit about Michael Bay. No. Sorry. That’s wrong. The audience is engaged. The audience is rooting for a hero. The audience is there with Katniss when she nurses Peeta in the cave. She endures pain, physically, mentally and emotionally in order to survive.
The audience sees the anguish in Katniss when Snow makes his threats, when she makes her mistakes that could lead to the death of her family. The audience sees that Katniss is flawed, that she is pulled in different directions at every turn. The audience want to see her fight her way out of the grip Snow has on her, and stop the games forever.
The story works well because there’s struggle and conflict more or less on every page and every scene.
Conceding a point.
As I finished the third book in The Hunger Games series I couldn’t help but think it could have been so much more.
I agree with Limebirdmike. I thought the last 1/4 of the Mockingjay felt a little rushed, or offered too vague/weak conclusion, as if Suzanne Collins couldn’t quite get to grips with how to wrap it up the right way. You can’t please everyone all the time, but if you can please some of the readers some of the time, well maybe that’s better than not trying to tell your story.
I read that the author didn’t set out to write a trilogy with the first book, and a lot of plot mechanics had to be quickly gathered together in the second two books in order to make them work. I would never blame an author for that. And I doubt the majority of YA readers even noticed, or cared.
I would have liked to have seen a little more of the world, maybe from a different character view-point. The present tense took a few pages to get used to (2-3 at the most) but after a while I got used to it. I liked it because if it had been written in the past tense I would be aware that Katniss was telling the story having survived, and that would have reduced the suspense somewhat.
“I said.” = I’m telling you this after it has happened. Relax. I survived to tell you this story.
“I say.” = You’re right next to me, right now. Hold on because neither of us know what might happen next.
The last couple of chapters did feel a bit hollow. I expected a lot more action and big revelations. However, I’m not upset by it. I like endings that challenge my expectations. And who knows, Suzanne Collins may yet revisit the world of Panem.
Lord of the What?
Young Adults may well ask this of any adult who tries to belittle their current YA action packed book their friends have been raving about on Twitter or Facebook. These day social media helps drives what is or isn’t popular, and that includes books. Kids, teenagers, young adults probably won’t read Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm because they’re not trending in any social group. They don’t have a blaze of publicity around them.
Okay, sure, there will always be those who read beyond what social media tells them to, that’s a given, but I’d rather see someone reading and enjoying a book than forcing them to read one because someone says:
Its a much more powerful, much more effective work than the Hunger Games, without anywhere near as many fatalities, and without anywhere near so much gore.
Somehow I doubt that hum-drum pitch would appeal to a YA audience.
I thought The Hunger Games was a solid read, if sightly lacking in places. Every now and then, when my critical eye leant forward, I reminded myself that it’s a story written for Young Adults, most of which haven’t spent years reading big grown up books. Most adults don’t find wonder and excitement in a stack of LEGO bricks or a sand pit, but kids and teenagers do because they haven’t been tainted by the world yet.
The story of each book moved forward with a good pace, there was enough conflict to keep me interested and I felt invested in the characters. The concepts were decent enough whilst not entirely original (are they ever?) and although it didn’t have the ending I expected, the fact that I enjoyed the journey was worth the investment of my leisure time.
I’ll leave you with a quote from kford2007′s comments, which I think sums up my feelings about why The Hunger Games is perfectly suitable for the YA market.
Kids view life as a game. Survival of the fittest. The fact that it’s kids that are being offered up as a sacrifice in the Hunger Games makes the story even more compelling. For parents, adults, we find it difficult to imagine a world where our kids are the victims, the pawns, yet every day kids deal with this issue on a very personal level. Many kids are abused verbally, mentally, sexually and many are literally murdered because parents and adults ‘rule’. The Hunger Games allows kids, on a literary level, to take back their lives, to stop the atrocity from occurring any longer. They are given the power to fight back and destroy evil.
And if you haven’t read The Hunger Games, I recommend you do. It’s easy reading, and if you can get past the first person present tense I think you’ll enjoy it for what is it, a pretty decent adventure story.