Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Thoughts on The Hunger Games

Wow! There is a lot going on in this book - both moving and disturbing. To help me sort my thoughts on it, I'm not going to keep my "review" spoiler-free. So if you haven't yet read the book but you plan to someday, this is my warning that the following post will give away major plot twists. For those of you who have read the book, I'd love to make this a discussion and hear your thoughts on the book, too!

My Thoughts (with spoilers):

I consider myself a rather sensitive person, so The Hunger Games is a bit out of my normal reading fare with its violence and cruelty and other disturbing elements. The book left me with a foggy feeling and numerous ideas swarming around in my mind, forcing me to take the time to try and dissect all those thoughts. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing!

The premise of this book is extremely intriguing, and the writing is very engaging. The heroine is excellent for a story told in first-person, as she is loyal to family, strong, spunky, and yet conflicted - basically, she's "the girl who was on fire" in more ways than one. She's on fire for her family and those she loves. She's on fire for survival and freedom. And she's on fire with emotions and uncertainties that threaten to consume her.

And speaking of "the girl who was on fire," those costume and setting descriptions are fabulous! They sparkle and paint a terrifying and yet irresistible word picture. There is a great balance between the recognizable and the futuristic, especially in the arena. From the tracker jackers to the mockingjays, and from the cameras everywhere to the amazing, super-expensive medicines, there seems to be just the right touch of inventiveness and possible future technology. The whole world of the story is so clever and creative!

That cleverness bleeds into the plot, forcing Katniss to hide her emotions from the unseen cameras even while dealing with extreme pain and duress. In this case survival isn't just about physical endurance and strength - it's about making yourself look like a winner even when you feel like you can't make even one more step. That definitely adds a whole new level to the games...

...not to mention the love story. I'm probably just as confused as Katniss when it comes to Peeta and Gale. Peeta really seems to have a great heart, but appearances are certainly deceiving in this book. I think it's safe to say that he really does care for Katniss, and his loyalty to her is quite endearing. But I can't help but get snagged on the scene with the girl who started the fire not far from where Katniss was sleeping. While it doesn't seem clear who first attempted to kill the girl, it is suggested that Peeta is the one who finishes her off. It is noted that Peeta joined the group to save Katniss in a round-about way, and he is almost killed by Cato later on when he demonstrates his devotion to her. Yet...if he didn't have a crush on Katniss, would Peeta have joined the group anyway? Or would he have gone solo? And would he have as little remorse for killing Katniss as he seems to have for sharing the responsibility in killing that girl? I'd also like to know if he ever gave a second thought to young Rue in the arena. I could ask "What if?" all day, but I guess I'm just curious about this baker's son who shows such tenderness and care to Katniss, as well as jealousy for her feelings toward Gale. I admire him in some ways, and I think he can be very sweet. But he's a puzzle.

While I do really like some of those scenes between Peeta and Katniss, my favorite part of the book is the interaction between Rue and Katniss in the arena. This is the part that really shows that love and beauty remain despite the horrific circumstances. Even though Rue and Katniss are supposed to be enemies, they bond and work together. I suppose a similar argument for Katniss' attachment to Rue in comparison with Peeta's attachment to Katniss can be made, because there's always the question of whether or not Katniss would still care about Rue if Rue didn't remind Katniss of her sister. But there's hope in Rue's innocence, her trust, and her passion for music. That mockingjay pin that Katniss wears is like a symbol of a free spirit that man couldn't destroy - of something beautiful like music coming out of something that was used for evil purposes. The song Katniss sings to Rue...the flowers she surrounds her with in her death...the bread that District 11 gave in gratefulness to Katniss - all of that provides a powerful image. Even the muttations that come in later - probably my least favorite part of the book - couldn't be made of or destroy the souls, only the bodies.

I know The Hunger Games isn't Christian fiction, and I realize that there is more that could be dissected in terms of political and social agendas (perhaps commentary on class divisions or the source of power in a nation). But these are some of the thoughts of a girl who believes that God is more powerful than man and that there is always hope in Him who works for the good of those who love Him. I am deeply thankful that God has not abandoned us, and no matter what the present or the future look like, He will never leave me.

Well, I have Catching Fire and Mockingjay yet to read, so we'll see what I think of the series as a whole! And again, please feel free to share your thoughts here, as well! (Although I'd appreciate it if you don't mention books two or three just yet!)

(Cover image from the author's website.)


Cathy said...

My 15 year old daughter really wanted to read this book, but her being very sensitive, like you and me :), I wasn’t sure if she should. We decide to read it together so we could talk about what was happening throughout the story. Your thoughts here are very similar to ours. We didn’t like the mutations, they creeped us out! And not knowing if Peeta really killed that girl off or just said he did we found really frustrating!

The whole premise of the book, ‘kids pitted to kill each other’ was a bit disturbing but also very thought-provoking. One question we discussed was: 'Why do we think its ok to kill someone who is cruel to us, but it’s not ok to kill someone you like or has been kind to you?' This is something we felt during the games. Some kids we sympathized with and others not so much. This brought up the scripture that says: “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” So how do we do that? And how does this pertain to war? Lots of thought provoking questions!

We just started the next book and finding it a bit depressing but some good discussions are coming out of it. I myself would not recommend this book to teens under 16 without a parent or adult to discuss it with. But that's just this mom's option. :)

Ariel Wilson said...

I definitely liked The Hunger Games the best out of the three. Catching Fire was okay, but I was deeply disappointed with the ending of Mockingjay. I feel like she sets up her readers so much in this first book, drawing them in so you love it. Hoever, I do know people who loved all three, so maybe you will too! :)

Ruth said...

Great review Amber, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I hope to read this one myself before the film releases.

Casey said...

I haven't read the book (don't know if I ever will) but I do appreciate your review. Glad you read it for me. ;)

Hey, love the new background and title photo! :)

Julie said...

This is definitely one of those books that provokes a lot of discussion. I enjoyed the whole series. Yes, they can be a bit depressing, but very thought-provoking and a person becomes very caught up in the characters. I am looking forward to seeing how the book is portrayed in the upcoming movie. I really liked your statement of God not abandoning us. After reading the series a person does have a sense of hopelessness about all the events that happened, but we as Christ followers will never be hopeless and never be abandoned. Good review Amber! As always, very thoughtful.

Kav said...

Wow Amber, this has to be the best critique of the book I've read! I haven't read the 2nd and 3rd books yet and I'm really wondering if the author brought them out of that hopelessness or left the series on a note of despair.

I think it is the absence of a faith element in The Hunger Games that really got to me. It's like they were fumbling to face impossible odds without the most important quality to make the most difference. I read somewhere that teen novels are all about angst and despondency and a feeling of helplessness. Without faith in God, this crazy world has to seem that way for some, don't you think?

I also feel like the book could have had its roots in the gaming world only the author took it to the next level by making the participants living people. The debate about violence in online games and whether they cause players to disengage from reality and numb their ability to be empathetic is really current. It's like Collins took that template and exploded it into something more horrific. I wonder if it was meant to be a social commentary on that subject?

Hope this makes sense -- I'm rambling at work and am about to start my day with a bazillion kids invading my library. There's the bell -- gotta run!

Koala Bear Writer said...

I haven't read this book, but a boy I know is reading it so your post caught my attention. I don't think it's a book that I would pick up... I like fantasy, but just the premise that the kids are fighting each other and fighting to the death sounds like a book that would really bother me.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Excellent review. I adore this book. It evokes such strong emotions.

Amber S. said...

Hello, everyone!

I apologize for the super long delay in any sort of response to your comments! I really appreciate all of you stopping by. :) Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for your encouragement! I'm planning on posting my thoughts on the series as a whole very soon (hopefully Friday) - so be on the lookout!

This is definitely a dark series, but also very thought-provoking, as Julie said. And Cathy, I think it's great that you're willing to read through the books with your daughter and take time to discuss them with her!