(Hungered is an ongoing series.)
As of Sunday evening I’ve started reading The Hunger Games trilogy, which has been highly praised by my family members, roommates, friends and acquaintances for the past couple of years. I never thought I would devote my time to another YA series, but I undertook this series/mini-challenge in preparation for the upcoming film adaptation in March. Which I will be attending by the way. My ticket is pretty much bought already.
Well, by Wednesday night I had finished it. The plan was just to read this first installment but my friend Amy gave me the box set containing all three. Her reasoning? The series is like a can of Pringles. Once you pop you can’t stop. To say the least Amy is pretty smart about these things so of course I believed her.
I then announced my intention to read the books via Twitter:
I heard back from people immediately. The overall message was, “Prepare to be dead to the world for a few days.” The only dissent I heard was from my friend Jason, who warned me against the series. Our @tweets are as follows:
@laudanumat33 dont do it!!
@jp02060 Why not?
@laudanumat33 watch white collar instead!
@jp02060 But I don’t know how my remote control works!
@laudanumat33 so instead youre learning about how teenagers have to fight to the death for family?
@jp02060 Yeah. But I’ve already read “Lord Of The Flies” and watched “Battle Royale” and “Series 7: The Contenders,” so I’m set.
After this the conversation derailed into a discussion about Fahrenheit 451, racism, The Shawshank Redemption and eventually ended with an agreement that the Twilight series is perfect kindling, particularly Breaking Dawn since it has the most pages. That was fun.
But anyway, as fascinating as The Hunger Games has been for the general populace it never really shocked me. When my cousin Liz described the premise I immediately thought, “This has already been done. A lot” (seriously: The Running Man, The Long Walk and- once again- Battle Royale and the excellent Series 7: The Contenders). Then I thought: “Why are YA novels so fucked up?” And then: “Why is everyone reading YA novels instead of literature for their own age group?”
Well, I’m only a third into this series so it’s too early to speculate. I will say this, though: YA novels are easy, quick reading. Suzanne Collins’ prose is no exception. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of her writing but it’s her ideas that take precedence here. What’s all the more fascinating is that these ideas and their circumstances pretty much beg to be translated into visuals (I wasn’t surprised to find out Collins started out as a television writer). Games seems more like a template when I realized this- something you have to build on and fill in, kind of like a mental coloring book. Her style is so straight-forward it’s easy to miss the emotional impact of what you’re reading. It’s only after I read something and thought about it objectively that I felt any effect.
Now, if you think this is a sign I don’t like the series, think again. If you took the box set away from me I would kick you in the shin, really hard. For the moment I’m frustrated but fascinated. I’m also unsure. I haven’t found myself attached to any of the characters yet. Maybe Peeta. God, that poor, poor kid.
But for instance: do I like Katniss Everdeen? (putting hands to my temples, wincing) I don’t… know? I’m on my guard because popular culture seems to be obsessed with girls who are in love triangles or have men constantly protecting and rallying around them. Girls who seem to hate everyone or have the charisma of a potato, who have done nothing to elicit such devotion. I experienced this recently with the Millennium Series, when Lisbeth Salander pushed me to the breaking point. Other examples come to mind that are even worse.
Katniss is no exception to this archetype, but she still has two books to develop as a character. All I know is that she isn’t a lost cause. I really hope she isn’t, that she breaks the mold somehow. At the conclusion of Games I felt like I still didn’t know her. She was too busy being in action, rarely able to hold still. But for now I’m wary of her because she’s a girl reluctantly involved with two guys who are, like, hot and totally in love with her in their individual ways. My first reaction was, “Ugh. Yay for her.”
What I do know is that although I’m not sure about Katniss, I do like Jennifer Lawrence as an actress. I’m looking forward to what she might bring to the character. Whenever I see her get upset in the trailer I’m like, “Damn. All is forgiven for X-Men 4.” In fact, I would argue that the part of Katniss was written for Lawrence specifically. She already mastered this kind of character in Winter’s Bone (2010). In fact, the similarities between Katniss and Bone‘s Ree are impossible to ignore. If you don’t believe me, check out this article at NextMovie. There you go.
In fact, while reading the book I was distracted by its possibilities as a film. I kept thinking, “How are they going to do this?” I mean this in the best possible way. Where Collins excels is creating a world where this kind of madness can take place. Strangely, all of it seems possible, and that’s what makes Games great dystopian literature. I feel protective towards this aspect of the novel and really hope the filmmakers get it right. I also hope they improve on some of the material. For example, if you’re going to feature a 12-year-old character just to sucker punch the audience (which is a dick move, by the way), it better be worth watching and not come across as manipulative.
And the wolf muttations. Shit, are they going to be CG? I can’t take anymore CG wolves on film. Especially ones with “human eyes.” Please… no. In fact, why do successful YA series always have wolf/human hybrids in them at some point? Has anyone noticed that?
Anyway, the arrival of wolf muttations in chapter 25 just about broke me. I really didn’t see it coming and, unfortunately, my co-worker Sha saw my reaction to it in real time.
Me: “What… the hell?”
Sha: “What is it?”
Me: (stunned) “I’m reading The Hunger Games and… you know the premise, right?”
Sha: “I don’t care. Spoil it for me.”
Me: “Most of the contestants are dead but they just came back… as werewolves.”
(Dead silence, we just stare at each other, both really confused. Shortly after I try to read more, then come across the part about Rue as “the littlest werewolf”)
Me: (throws down book) “I’m out. I can’t- I can’t handle it. This is ridiculous. I don’t think I can read anymore. Really? Werewolves? Really?”
(I walk away from book)
Me: “I need a few hours to process this.”
Well, in the end the book totally won that spat. I finished it a few hours later. I will say I was really glad when the wolves went away, though. I hope they never come back.
Since concluding Games I’ve considered that its ending would have been different if I had written it. I would have gone through with the double suicide because it was the ultimate “fuck you” to the Capitol and would have incited instant rebellion. Either that or having Katniss lose the game at some point. There needs to be YA novels there where protagonists aren’t always the winners. These books need to prepare kids for real life.
For now I’ll be moving on to the book’s successors, Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010). However, after this I’m pretty sure I’m going to retire from reading YA novels. I found Harry Potter to be a surprise: unexpectedly involving, complex and at times completely brilliant. On the other hand Twilight was like suffering a series of small, intensely painful strokes then getting hit by a train of dumb.
For now The Hunger Games seems to be a safe middle ground, the perfect way to end things. In fact, I’d be honored to have Katniss Everdeen take me out of the game. I’ll tell people, “I used to read YA novels, then I took an arrow in the knee.”
P.S. Dear filmmakers of The Hunger Games, please please please don’t include the scene with Peeta sparkling in the woods. I’ve seen that kind of thing enough for one lifetime.