[A review from first-time TQP contributor Dave Braak, who is not the same person as regular braak, who is me. — braak]
I just finished reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. As with many stories, some parts were good, and some parts were not so good. I would like to talk about what it was about, and what I think it should have been about; about what it focused on, and what would have made for a more compelling focus. There are some SPOILERS AHEAD, and if you would rather read the book yourself, and would prefer it not to be SPOILED, please do not continue.
I will start with a brief plot synopsis. A girl whose name sounds like Catnip (but it is not) lives under a brutal dictatorship which consists of a Capitol and 13 districts, one of which has been, apparently, destroyed. In retaliation for some past rebellion, the Capitol every year takes 24 twelve-to-fourteen-year-old kids and makes them fight to the death for the entertainment of … well everyone who isn’t chosen I guess. This girl has to fight in the tournament, and she does. The other boy chosen from her district, is in love with our main character, and the two of them manage to convince the people running this game that they should both be allowed to live at the end, because they are in love.
Brief, like I said.
I’m going to start with what I thought was the biggest problem with the book: Every single character was completely boring. Now, the book was written from a first-person perspective, so if the main character is a little dull (a little common perhaps?) that’s not necessarily a huge problem. The advantage a first-person perspective has is that I can simply transpose myself on top of the main character, and thereby make up for any development the author may have, say, forgotten. In this book, I had to do a lot of that. Luckily the character was so incomplete that it seemed like this is what the author actually intended. It’s like one of those poster boards you find at the movies, or the mall, with the face cut out so you can take your picture in it. The girl had some token flaws and token advantages, but was otherwise not compelling at all. Well maybe that’s what the Ms. Collins wanted right? Maybe she just wanted us to pretend it was us in there enjoying her story.
I have a little trouble, though, believing she did it on purpose, because not only was the main character super dull, but all the rest of the characters were boring, underdeveloped, and/or completely static as well. She never really has a long enough conversation with anyone else to give any insight into their motivations or personality. We can figure some things out, sure, but the problem with that is that the girl never seems to figure any of that out for herself. So for instance, we know the other boy (Pete or something) is *actually* in love with her, but she never even entertains that possibility. Is that a thing now? Making characters in stories completely socially inept? As far as I could tell nothing in her past suggested she should develop this way. I mean sure she hunted in the woods alone a lot, but she did also go to school, so why should she not have any friends and no idea how to read people? It’s not that she is an out-and-out bad character, but she is in no way compelling whatsoever. These problems were fairly clear, pretty early on in the book, but as it happens, the premise was interesting enough to keep me glued to the pages for like two days straight.
Premise/plot and its execution
The premise, like I said, was a pretty good one. Kids in the woods murdering each other for the amusement of some brutal dictator. Nice. The problem here was the execution. The story had to, of course, include other elements, since Ms. Collins clearly did not want to write a book about “what happens to you as a person when you’re forced to murder 23 other people when you’re 16.” Well that’s fine of course. The problem is, I don’t think I know what message Ms. Collins wanted to convey with the story she told. Was this a story about what it’s like to murder people at a young age? Was this a story about someone finally deciding to take a stand against a brutal dictatorship? (Or deciding not to, but I’ll come to that later).
Actually, it’s not that I don’t know what the story is about. The problem is that the story is actually about something completely stupid. The story, with all its compelling moments and interesting world, is actually about this girl kind of falling in love with this guy. In the end, it’s just an elaborate fantasy revolving around the volatile love life of a 16 year old (or whatever) girl, and how she just can’t decide if she loves the boy who’s helping her murder in the Hunger Games, or the boy she left back home. The problem with that is I DON’T CARE ABOUT THAT BULL SHIT. Who does care about that bullshit? Why would anyone even write a story about that? The only part of the story that was good or interesting in any way was the “murdering other sixteen-year-olds in the woods” part. Moreover that part *was* good. I found myself audibly suggesting the main character go back for the bow, or drop the wasp nest on those kids’ heads. Too bad there wasn’t just more than that.
Then came the end, the most unfortunate part of the book.
The ending, and how it might have been good
My chief complaint about the book was that it just turned out to be about some bullshit I didn’t care about. Perhaps I’m biased about a premise that doesn’t hold true to the end of a story. This is a perfect example. Part of the whole point of the Hunger Games is “last one standing,” so when both of them survive in the end, I kind of end up feeling the author is just a coward. Aww, Ms. Collins was it hard to kill your bread maker’s son off? Well maybe you should have tried making me give a damn about him, so I would actually care whether or not he died. But when you don’t give me compelling characters, and you do give me a story where the main character is expected to murder them, I kind of have no sympathy for your difficulties.
This whole thing could have been better though. Now I’m no storyteller, but I can tell you, at least from my point of view, what may have gone a long way to making this story more compelling. First of all, decide on what you want it to be about. Preferably something not dumb. I can understand maybe not wanting to write a story about what horrors early on in your life can do to you, how murder can change a person. I can understand that, and that’s fine. So let’s pick something else obvious. The story could have been about the idea of revolution. And you could have had your main character come to some kind of conclusion about something in the end. You could have had people coming up to her the whole time she was in the Capitol and try and convince her to revolt. You could have written inner turmoil in there when she starts to fall for her starry-eyed revolution-minded fellow tribute. (He was not either of those things, but he should have been.) Then she could grow to resent the Capitol as she is forced to murder her fellow tributes again and again, and in the end she finally decides to start a revolution. OR MAYBE NOT?! Maybe she decides a revolution would be too hard and, in a fit of misplaced anger, MURDERS HER FRIEND! Thereby giving you a great place to start from in the next book. Her relationship would have been interesting, and then in the next book when you focus on how she may or may not have loved him, it would have been compelling because SHE’D KILLED HIM.
Whatever I know Suzanne Collins can’t hear me. All in all, there were some good parts of the book. Like I said, I didn’t want to put it down. It really *was* suspenseful, especially for the bulk of the book. But in the end, it just left me with the bitter aftertaste of adolescence in my mouth.