The Hungriest Week of My Life


I am so sick of Katniss Everdeen right now, but it's not her fault. After much debating, I ordered The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins with a birthday gift card and decided, for some, reason to read all three at once. And so now not only am I sick of Katniss, I'm sick of Peeta being such a martyr, creative combat techniques, training, and everyone obsessing about food. I still have a soft spot for Haymitch and Buttercup, though.

I know, I'm not really selling the series. So, let's start over. If you have no idea what they're about, read the synopsis on Amazon. I have faith, you can do it (because I am not).

The Hunger Games Trilogy is not high-brow contemporary literature, nor is it mindless, poorly-written crap. I'd describe it as quality YA lit- the kind of novels I'd like my reluctant-to-read students to have the opportunity to experience (not that I'd lend them my copies). There are definitely elements to applaud, although I do have some issues with other parts. Let's make it simple:

(please note anything that may be considered a spoiler is in purple, so don't read it if you care)

Accolades:
- This isn't a YA novel based on romance, shopping, being popular, vampires, zombies or any other ridiculous or materialistic concepts that many are.
- Love is a topic, but it is done tastefully and there is absolutely no sex; Katniss does get a little hot and bothered in the second and third volumes, but if the kid reading is clueless they won't pick up on it. I'd probably let a mature 5th or 6th grader attempt it.
- Bare with me, the teacher in me is coming out for a second... The novels require quite a bit of inference skills, especially the first and second ones. The reader is expected to pick up on clues and try to hypothesize why things are the way they are. This is a good thing.
- There are important issues being dealt with- friends, family, survival, morality, ethics, and the idea that having "stuff" doesn't mean you truly have a good life or are a good person. It is very violent, but the fighting is not glorified. Emotions and turmoil are attached to the damage caused.
- The story is interesting, although I definitely preferred the first book, when the idea of "The Games" is still a novelty. Not to say the second and third books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, are bad (see below).
- The worlds Collins created in the arenas were fascinating- little biomes of horror.
- These books can be used as a steppingstone into more serious literature; a teenager may discover they're really interested in science fiction and had never known it. Good sci-fi, though, like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451.

Criticism
- First let me just get this out of my system- I felt more than once that Haymitch was a rip of Harry Potter's Hagrid. Big, protective oaf that likes to hang out alone and drink? Yup.
- I thought some things became a bit overused, like Katniss being rescued and then the text bringing the reader to her bedside in recovery. Done at least twice...
- I got really tired of reading about her being prepped for appearances; I didn't care if she was being scrubbed and waxed yet again.
- The writing was quality on the YA level, but at times the syntax bothered me. This, of course, is partially just personal preference.
- I felt, on a plot level, in Mockingjay things got a bit rushed and sloppy.
- The ending was a bit too "full-circle" for me. And I really, really did not like who she ended up with. She absolutely let the Capitol win.
- I often think that series novels are a bit of a cop out; the lazy way to write. I understand that it builds interest and makes money, but a truly good writer can be concise and pack a punch in just one text. Sticking to one story line and set of characters sometimes seems to say "I got nothin' else." I know there are exceptions- Harry Potter, Little House and the Prairie and I think it's John Updike who uses many of the same characters repeatedly. But...

So, do I recommend them? To teenagers, absolutely. To people that are casual readers, or who read purely for entertainment- yup. For those that enjoy more challenging writing, even yes, but maybe sandwiched between something a bit more complex.

And unless you're in love with then, don't do a marathon reading like I did (and I did not love them, not even close).

4 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed the HG series. I agree that it can lead to interest in other books, like 1984 (which I only recently read and loved!). I think HG appeals to non-YA folks. (My 30-year-old yuppie brother even liked the series!)*

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  2. I too have a soft spot for Haymitch and found him to be the more interesting of all the characters. And while I did enjoy the series I had serious issues with Mockingjay, which you pointed out (Katniss injured A LOT and recovering and the rushed ending). I ended up passing on my copies of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire to someone I know will appreciate them more than me.

    I read. They entertained me. But I didn't quite buy into the epic fandom they have produced. I have a feeling, though, I may end up liking the movie more than I did the first book.

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  3. Gotta be honest, I kind of loved them. There were ABSOLUTELY more than one part that infuriated me, but I did really enjoy them and flew through reading them once I finally started (ask my husband, lights were on in our bed very late a few times!)

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  4. John Michael CummingsDecember 16, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    re: book review request by award-winning author

    Dear Bookishly Boisterous:

    I'm an award-winning author with a new YA book out this fall. Ugly To Start With is a series of thirteen interrelated stories about childhood being published by West Virginia University Press.

    Can I interest you in reviewing it?

    If you write me back at johnmcummings@aol.com, I can email you a PDF of my book. If you require a bound copy, please ask, and I will forward your reply to my publisher. Or you can write directly to Abby Freeland at:

    Abby.Freeland@mail.wvu.edu

    My publisher, I should add, can also offer your readers a free excerpt of my book through a link from your blog to my publisher's website:
    http://wvupressonline.com/cummings_ugly_to_start_with_9781935978084

    Here’s what Jacob Appel, celebrated author of
    Dyads and The Vermin Episode, says about my new collection: "In Ugly to Start With, set in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, Cummings tackles the challenges of boyhood adventure and family conflict in a taut, crystalline style that captures the triumphs and tribulations of small-town life. He has a gift for transcending the particular experiences to his characters to capture the universal truths of human affection and suffering--emotional truths that the members of his audience will recognize from their own experiences of childhood and adolescence.”

    My short stories have appeared in more than seventy-five literary journals, including North American Review, The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Chattahoochee Review. Twice I have been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. My short story "The Scratchboard Project" received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007.

    I am also the author of the nationally acclaimed coming-of-age novel The Night I Freed John Brown (Philomel Books, Penguin Group, 2009), winner of The Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers (Grades 7-12) and one of ten books recommended by USA TODAY.

    For more information about me, please visit:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Michael_Cummings

    Thank you very much, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

    Kindly,

    John Michael Cummings

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