Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yes, [the Gamemakers] have to have a victor

I just finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. First Lord of the Flies, then this. Who knew books that dealt with children killing children would be a theme for my reading this month.

Firstly, yes, I liked it. Yes, I will be reading the other books in the trilogy even though I heard they're not as good. Yes, yes, you were right internet. I was drawn in, I didn't want to put it down, I was annoyed at my commute for not being longer, which is stupid because no I don't want that. See that's what this book did. 

So here's the thing, I know there have been a thousand and one reviews of this book. And I'm sure the majority of those are better than what I would write. Instead I want to focus on where I felt cheated. Now I want to it be clear that these problems come after the fact that I still really liked the book. Also in order for me to talk about my issues, I need to bring up plot points so this will contain spoilers. If you haven't read it yet, go read it (it will take you a couple days, it's a quick read) then come back here and say "Why, yes! I completely agree! What was going on with that?" or "What are you talking about? You have no idea what you're saying". Whatever floats your boat.

My first problem is the love story that they sorta shoehorned in there. I know, people have said it makes more sense in the other books, but it doesn't make a lot of sense in this one. It feels like it was shoved in there last minute and it's hard to have a love triangle when one of the triangle points is only in the book for about 7 pages. The fashion stuff with Cinna also seemed sort of shoved in there. It bothered me less than the beginning of this love triangle, but there still seemed to be more time than made sense dedicated to describing clothes.

Those are small things compared to my major complaint. I felt cheated. We have a story that centers on this messed up government holding a fight to the death among a bunch of children. These are kids that didn't ask for this (I'll get to the Career Tributes in a minute) and are thrown into a literal kill-or-be-killed situation where one's survival is directly related to another's death. And all of this is for the entertainment of the people watching. This has the opportunity for serious moral dilemmas. Not only does it have the opportunity, it sort of requires it. But Katniss hardly killed anyone.

Now I don't mean this as a "I thirst for blood!" kind of way. I mean Katniss is thrown into a arena where her goal is to be the last one surviving and even in this situation she is hardly forced to kill. And the kills she does complete are simple. She never has to deal a difficult death. She (somewhat) indirectly causes the death of a couple unnamed tributes when she drops the tracker jacker nest on them. She shoots another unnamed tribute who had just killed her ally and friend and was about to kill her. She mercy kills Cato after he'd been mauled by the weird muttations*. But she is never in the position where she has to kill someone she cares about, like Rue or Peeta. Hell, she never even has to kill someone she admires, like Thresh or Foxface. Never. What the hell? Again, it's not that I wanted her to have to kill someone she cared for, but that is sort of the whole point of the Games and by having Katniss never have to face this it means we, the reader, never actually face up to what these Games mean. Collins may say it over and over, and have Katniss think about how awful it would be to have to kill Rue or Peeta but she never shows it. You never get the emotional impact from it. What if she had to kill Rue? How would she have dealt with that in the aftermath? Yes, it would have made the book very depressing. But you know what? If you don't want to write a depressing book, don't write a book that centers on a fight to the death among children. It was a cop out and robbed the story of what it could have been.

I also want to talk about the Career Tributes. I didn't have a problem with them and I get why they're portrayed the way they are, since you're seeing things from Katniss's point of view. But when I was thinking of this and about how the kids that are thrown into the Games against their will, there is obviously the argument that the Career Tributes do want to be there. They are blood-thirsty, deranged killers, and they are disgusting. Besides that, these are people from the wealthier districts, that never felt the hunger and pain that someone like Katniss has felt. You're supposed to dislike these kids. They band together to attack the weaker tributes, they hurt Peeta, they kill Rue, etc. But thinking of them as the enemies, almost as bad as the Capitol, is wrong. Every District has to send 2 kids to the games. The names are picked out of a hat but someone can volunteer to take a tribute's place. These Career Tributes train their whole lives for the Games. They volunteer to take the place of other people that are picked. Which means they are saving the lives of other people in their District. The families in these districts know who will be going to the Games. Their kids aren't in danger. The Careers will go. Fine, they're more ruthless than the others. And they're volunteering for something that no one should want to do. But it's not like the Districts can just not send someone, so these kids are sacrificing not only their lives (since the odds are good they won't make it) but also their childhoods, which they are going to spend training to kill other people. I hope the Career Tributes get a little credit in the other books because they have their own heartbreaking stories.

So what do you think? Did you like the love story? Am I wrong about the cheat? Would it have ruined the story if Katniss had to kill someone she cared about? Would that have made it unfit for a YA audience? What about the Career Tributes? 
Spoilers in there

*I cannot say muttations without laughing, which kind of messes up how scary these things are supposed to be.

Title quote from page 344

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008.