So because of the recent news of the prequel book(s?) coming out in the next few months, and especially given the chosen subject of those books, I wanted to revisit the series again and since every library still has 100 copies of each of them, seemed perfectly doable. I, for one, am more interested in the new because she’s chosen to look into Snow as a character more, and explore some of the early days of Panem. For one, from what I recall about the ending of this series setting out (more to come once I get to it) I’ve always felt like this series is a kind of anti-YA book or more so anti-fighting against the dystopia that entraps you and how power vacuums are not generally filled by good actors when they arise. It has a lot of some of the same energy in this way as the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, which forces the characters to actually reckon with ruling the world after liberation.
The Hunger Games
I think I was probably too harsh on the movie when it first came out. I still think Jennifer Lawrence is miscast as Katniss, to the point that she and the actress who played Clove could have switched roles, but I had originally thought Hailee Steinfeld, fresh off of True Grit, should be in the movie. But I always thought the movie was a little bare and searching for tone. But rereading the book I realize that the first book is actually pretty spartan in a lot of ways. There’s not a LOT of character development past Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch (to a small extent), Gale (to a small extent), and Rue, and almost no one else including Cinna, Caesar, Effie, or anyone else who is pretty well fleshed out by the movie. The seeds of the later novels are present here, however, especially in the end section. But all in all I like this because the first book needs to focus heavily on the games itself because the whole series feels to me like it’s pulling the rug out from the audience in terms of expectations on dystopian YA fiction. The trauma, the despair, the unfairness, and ultimately the futility of beating the regime is all here in the early stages. I think partly this book helps to both establish and critique the bona fides of this subgenre, but I also think the fact that Collins was incredibly well-established as a writer before this series came out meant she’d spent a lot of time as a writer, as opposed to as a reader in creating the world.
What begins this novel off so well, and really helps it feel fresh is how much of the world of Panem we get, that was merely referenced or hinted at in the first book. What also is great about this is that the tour that Katniss takes as victor through each of the districts is supported narratively, so we get really well implemented exposition, while also reinforcing the motif of the whole book of how segregated and isolated each district is from one another. Having Katniss be in district 11 (Rue’s district/farming) and not understanding initially the cultural differences and how she’s being perceived, and of course not understanding how her behavior will be read through these cultural differences and politically at the same time is a strength of characterization in the series.
I never saw the Mockingjay movies so it wasn’t as fresh in my mind as the other books being reinforced by the movies. But I had certainly forgotten how absolutely brutal this book is. One of the reasons I planned on rereading all the books beyond the new books coming out is a few comments I saw on the Pajiba article about how they “ruined Katniss” with the ending of this book. But then when I was rereading it, she goes through absolute hell, still makes an incredibly brave and dangerous choice in the trial, and is punished in a way that allows her the peace and tranquility she is not only owed, but also craves at the end. I find it incredible to read the ending in different ways from that. I’m also struck by how much the ending reminds me of the end of Crime and Punishment in that way too, though for different motivations.
Anyway, I think the book definitely holds up on a second reading, is more honest about YA violence than so many other books, and really captures the PTSD someone would have to go through, and is this way, the end is a lot like The Lord of the Rings as well.