I think what I want to talk about on this my third reading of The Hunger Games is why I think it was a breakout bestseller, and why all the books that tried to copy it and profit off of YA “dystopia” as a genre in its wake got it wrong. Hint: they went for the surface level and completely ignored what actually makes this book great. Another hint: It’s not actually the fact that it’s a dystopia. Anyone can do that and it doesn’t mean it will be good. In fact it will be mostly be derivative and bad if that’s what you’re going for.
Firstly, I think this book works because Collins didn’t set out to write a dystopian YA novel with a super special heroine. She’s said in interviews that her inspiration came from watching the horrorshow of reality TV in America right alongside images of the Iraq War, and then her mind extrapolated the rest. I feel like that kernel of realness provides a basis for this fictional world that gives it a real depth.
Katniss *isn’t* a super special heroine. That’s mostly what I want to talk about in this review actually. She is so incredibly flawed, and she basically wins the day by having years of knowledge and training under her belt, plus the personality of a fighter, and a willingness to ally herself with people others deem weak. It’s easy to forget about all of the non-pretty parts of Katniss in the wake of her accomplishments.
She basically spends the entire three books being traumatized and re-traumatized and living with PTSD. Even before that she is closed off emotionally, even with the only two people in the world she says she loves (Prim and Gale). She’s in survival mode, and hasn’t managed to make it beyond that to experience other emotions. Her mind is entirely taken up with finding food for her family, and living through life first in District 12, and then the games (and eventually the rebellion). So much of the conversation around these books was stuff that had nothing to do with anything Katniss actually cared about. The Peeta vs. Gale debate was mostly irrelevant, because all it did was show the preferences of the person talking about it. Mostly it didn’t take into account the fact that Katniss openly says and thinks multiple times, in this book alone, that she doesn’t want to get married or be with someone, and that she doesn’t want kids. This is not a story about happily ever after, girl getting boy. This is a story about living with and through trauma, about systems that dehumanize, and the people who willingly participate in those systems, and what it does to you if you refuse.
So anyway I will probably get back on my soapbox tomorrow also after I finish the second book, which I plan to do. I basically did this re-read in about four hours right before bed last night, and when I woke up first thing this morning. I’ll probably finish the series out by Monday.