Spring break is already over and I do not, for a second, regret spending some of it reading by the beach, in my car, with the windows rolled down just enough to enjoy the cool lake breeze. I do, however, wish that I had chosen a more fulfilling novel. Instead, as you’ve probably guessed, I had given in to the hype and read The Hunger Games. Btw, SPOILERS BELOW.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I was ever really bored while reading about Katniss struggling through her ordeal. The set-up of Panem and the predicament of the districts are very compelling and there was potential for superb story-telling. Also, Suzanne Collin’s frantic pacing and general style keeps you turning the pages and wondering what’s around the corner. Its just that she somehow manages to disappoint at almost every turn.
The thing is, you know going in that this book is part of a trilogy so there is very little chance that Katniss, the protagonist from whose perspective the story is told, will not survive. So then the source of the suspense becomes the way she will get to the almost inevitable conclusion. I kept waiting on the edge of my seat for something unpredictable and exciting to happen but, for the most part, it just doesn’t.
The first narrative choice that I don’t understand is the lack of dynamic characters. Every single person in The Hunger Games remain exactly the same from beginning to end. Katniss starts out deadly with a bow and confused about her feelings for the boy next to her. After going to and coming back from, for her, an alien world and having survived dangers both natural and unnatural, fire, bees, hounds, and 20+ other tributes out for her blood, she is still deadly with a bow and still very much confused about the boy next to her. Her perspective of the Capital remains unchanged and she feels just as helpless as before against their inhumanity. As for Peeta, his qualities and characteristics are slowly uncovered to the readers but he too remains in exactly the same state. It’s hinted at from the very beginning that he has always been in love with Katniss and this does not change one bit to when he steps off that train back in district 12. Haymitch is the underestimated dark horse. Cinna is the caring father-figure (btw, his character makes no sense). And Effie is the narcissistic b*tch right up to the end. No one goes through a gradual metamorphosis. No one has a spontaneous epiphany. Nobody even seems to learn any sort of lesson going through what I must assume to be the most uprooting experience of their hypothetical lives.
The second bone I have to pick is the character of Katniss. She just doesn’t sit quite right with me. I would even go as far as to call her a coward. Right from the get-go, the Capitol is portrayed as merciless, brutal and inhumane. The readers are told to hate them for putting the districts in their current miserable state, dominated and unable to feed its citizens. Katniss knows the blatant injustice of the Capitol first-hand, when she had her life taken away from her to be forced to kill children from other districts or be slaughtered herself, all for the entertainment of those who she is told to be her unquestionable masters. And yet, the best she can muster up is a mild disdain for these people who gorge themselves and worry about nothing but fashion while the majority of the world suffers and perishes from hunger. And even that is gone by the time she joins them on the train and is offered their food, their clothes, and their way of life. It is almost as if she forgets that she is still just a lamb to the slaughter. This disconcert continues with the people she meets. Cinna, Caesar the interviewer, and even Effie seems like, if not decent people, at least human beings. Where are the monsters that watch the districts starve to death, rob them of their children and laugh as they kill each other with their bare hands?
Even the most horrifying and also brilliant plot twist can’t move Katniss to action. The final scene when Katniss and Peeta realize that the muttations were none other than the dead tributes, horrendously bio-engineered into mindless killing machines, was probably the most emotionally charged moment of the entire novel. This is the moment when the anger and hatred for the people responsible, the people who turned Rue with the bright eyes and innocent face into a flesh eating monster, was supposed to be too much to handle - to bubble over and finally incite the people to rebel. But then it passes. Kitnass does nothing more than shooting a couple of them in the face with her bow and Suzanne does nothing more with the setup. And after the stupid double suicide scene, Katniss immediately goes back to being a obedient lapdog to the people of the Capitol, lying and acting in front of the camera, so fearful of what might happen otherwise. Not once does she consider the possibility that she could give sacrificially, her life or otherwise, to defy the Capitol and their every whim and fancy. Like I said, Katniss - a coward, and the book - disappointment at every turn.
I realize that this is only the first book of an intended trilogy but every individual part should be able to stand on its own. There is no excuse for these missed opportunities which is all the more shame because they were such good opportunities. I will continue to read the series because apparently, the second book is a bit better. This is more in preparation for the movie anyway, which I hear is excellent. In the meantime though, if you are actually looking for a book about an imperiled world and the teenager who comes to its rescue, I strongly recommend Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I guarantee you its infinitely better than what I’ve seen so far from Mrs Suzanne Collins.