This post contains minor spoilers for The Hunger Games series.
The Hunger Games is a series I would not have read if it weren’t for the hype surrounding it. Before picking up the books, I’d heard of the idea behind them – a dystopian future in which children are selected every year to fight to the death – and I’d heard rumblings of the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. I’d also heard how violent the books could be. But to actually read them is something else. What’s so shocking about The Hunger Games is not necessarily the violence but the great disconnect that exists between this violence and the writing style. The Hunger Games is hyped as a young adult series that people of all ages enjoy. But how true is this hype? Ten year olds can read The Hunger Games, but should they?
This is what I found so frustrating about The Hunger Games series: I could not determine who Suzanne Collins thinks her target audience is. With the explicit violent content throughout and the brief sexual references in the later two books, the content seem to me to be for teens at the minimum. The writing style, on the other hand, is only for older children; it’s straightforward, using simple sentences and vocabulary, serviceable for describing the horror of the Games themselves. Collins isn’t Hemingway (and probably would never pretend to be); for all the weight of the content, her heavy-handed exploration of the themes of the books does not develop enough depth to merit the books beyond a surface reading.
But that’s not to say these books – and the story – aren’t good. I understand now that the hype surrounding The Hunger Games is all about the plot and the action. The Hunger Games itself is a rocket of a book, catapulting the reader into a wacky world as it zigzags through various points of terror, told through Katniss’s point of view. Collins knows how to shock her audience through this riveting read. The horror and excitement translates fairly well to the screen, though in order to maintain a PG-13 rating, the movie sanitizes some of the harsher elements. Some of the sense of urgency, however, is lost; a shaky camera cannot replace Katniss’s blunt narration.
The second book, Catching Fire, I enjoyed as much as The Hunger Games, but the third, Mockingjay, is a whole other animal. The slowest and darkest of the series, it reaches what some find to be an unsatisfying finale. I progressed through Mockingjay much more slowly than I did the other two because it didn’t hold my attention as well. And while I was reading it a realization suddenly hit me: I was not attached to any of these characters or their world. Katniss, though a fine character, never really elicited emotion from me; she even frustrated me in the last two books, and since I read the first back in December, it took seeing the first movie to remind me why I liked her. I never found Peeta believable, and no one else but Finnick, Gale, and Cinna stood out to me.
What I did love about The Hunger Games and Catching Fire was Collins’s ability to surprise me – nothing more. Catching Fire closely rivals The Hunger Games with twists; one huge twist sent me reeling, but I saw the final “explanation” twist a mile coming. Mockingjay, however, didn’t have nearly enough surprises until the last 50 or so pages. And when the surprises came, I wished they didn’t. I said I wasn’t too attached to Katniss as a character, and this grew truer as the series progressed. I found a few of her actions at the end of Mockingjay unbelievable – not in the good way. So Collins did surprise me, but it left a sour taste in my mouth.
That said, the epilogue of Mockingjay is probably the best part of the book. Here is a deeper and more coherent rumination on the themes of The Hunger Games than can be found in the rest of the series. It’s dark, but though all may not be rosy at the end, there is a glimmer of hope. For this reason – on top of the excitement and entertainment of the first two books – believe the hype: The Hunger Games series is worth a look. But I still can’t figure out for whom it’s intended.
If you’ve read The Hunger Games, do you find the same disconnect between the style and the content? Who do you think the target audience is? Do you think the books live up to the hype?