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The Hunger Games

I’m not even remotely the target audience for this book. I mean, I’m not a teenage girl the last time I checked, though I do tend to like things a teenage girl likes (just in terms of entertainment, not in terms of locking myself in a room and then running away with my boyfriend on a motorcycle). And this book is squarely written for teenage girls.

More specifically, it’s for teenage girls who have read little or no scifi. The Hunger Games is a heady mix of Battle Royale and Twilight, neither of which I like particularly much. The plot follows a predictable arc, the ending isn’t much of a surprise, and most of the twists can be predicted way in advance.

There’s one thing, though, and it’s an important thing: it’s really good.

Specifically, despite ignoring the fact that nearly every element of this story has been written one billion times before, it comes off as fresh and new because Suzanne Collins makes it feel new.

I spent half of the book annoyed, and confused. I was able to get about ten pages in, and plot out the entire novel. But here I was, biting my nails, on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what would happen to Katniss Everdeen. Why was that? The more I tried to figure it out – and couldn’t – the more infuriated I got, until I realized the trick: the book is written in the first person present tense.

It’s a little more than that, of course, but telling the tale of a girl in a post-apocalyptic world forced to battle for her life is one thing – but setting it entirely in her head, and happening right now achieves the goal of making everything feel unbearably tense. This is a good thing, by the way, and bully to Collins for using it effectively. As much as I wanted to know what other characters were thinking, or what was going on outside the arena of The Hunger Games… So does Katniss. It puts you right in there, and it works.

It may be easy to know that Katniss won’t really kill her fellow Tributes unless forced to by circumstances beyond her control a hundred pages before it happens. It’s another thing to experience it.

So bully for effective literary devices, and bully for The Hunger Games. I’ll definitely pick up the next volume.

Notes:

  • Knowing this will be made into a movie, I think there’s two ways of coming at the adaptation, depending on who is directing, and which studio is making it. Given that most of the action and strategy is explained in first person narration, you need some way of getting this across to the audience that isn’t cheesy. Meaning, you can’t actually have a narrator, as that’s annoying. To da maxx. The easy way out is to show us what’s going on outside the arena. This wouldn’t be bad, per say, but it will cut away at the tension. They’ll need to add a subplot about Haymitch (Katniss’ coach) working against the Capitol to secretly secure her supplies, or something. The trickier way is to just cut it all out and have a mostly silent movie. Like an actiony version of Into the Wild for teens. I’m gonna guess we’ll get the former.
  • Okay, look, i know I’ve said I’m no teenage girl, but do they actually act like this? The weakest part of the book is the hoops Katniss has to jump through to explain everyone else’s behavior so she can come around to trusting them in the end. Take Peeta, for example. It’s stunningly obvious he loves her, but it takes the whole book of him quite literally saying, “I love you,” for her to still not quite accept it as true. You can explain that a character has trouble warming to people, and use that as an excuse… But come on.
  • Katniss? Really? Can we stop calling book characters ridiculous things you would never name a baby in real life just to be cute? I think we should make it a law that all characters need to named Michael or Elizabeth, and be done with it.
  • Speaking of ridiculous names like Bella from Twilight, and teenage girls, is this every girls fantasy? To have a slightly darker complexioned best friend who’s good in the woods, and a mysterious, fairer skinned boy who’s always loved her and glitters in the forest fight over her? Really? I’m not making the this up about Peeta glittering in the forest, by the way. Though I was a little disappointed he didn’t get a fang boner.
  • How do you know this is a book for teenaged girls? Because despite being about death games in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, they still found time for three entirely different Princess makeovers.
  • I will give Collins much credit for actually allowing a bit of brutality in the book. Specifically, I expected Katniss to kill for the first time by accident, rather than shooting a dude through the throat. Still, it was in the defense of someone else, but I was glad to be a little surprised. I’ll also give her much credit for having a strong female character who actually uses her brain to solve problems, rather than just moping… Though this is another reason the love triangle is so disappointing.
  • “Here, take this mockingjay pin into the arena and never take it off. Also, mockingjays repeat everything they hear. Well, see you next book!”
  • If we don’t get, in one of the next books, someone saying some variation on the phrase, “But they told us District 13 was a toxic wasteland!” I’m going to think I’ve lost my mojo.
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