After a marathon day of reading last weekend, I finished The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins. I’m not going to write a review of the series, but here are a few thoughts:
First, it was interesting to see how Suzanne expanded the storyline as the books progressed. I purposefully didn’t read the jacket description of the second and third books, so after finishing the first I had no idea where the story was headed. There was the obvious goal of fighting against the Capitol, but I wondered how would that be enough to fill three full books. Did it keep my attention? Oh yes, it surely did. Each chapter seemed to end with an enormous cliffhanger that begged me to keep reading. (Don’t ask me how late I’ve stayed up.) The story ended up being far bigger and more epic than I imagined it could be.
Second, in spite of how grand the story was, its logic was very close to not working for me. By this I mean that it seemed almost too much of a stretch to imagine Katniss being so important to the Rebels and that her actions could have really sparked such a revolution. But Suzanne was able to explain it enough for me to buy it. Katniss is a symbol, got it. It was just enough to get me to believe it.
Third, it’s interesting to look at how the tension is maintained. Sure, there’s the physical danger of people trying to kill you, but a lot of the emotional tension comes from Katniss not knowing the whole story. She is constantly asking herself questions, trying to figure out what this person meant or what that person could be scheming. Often those decisions are wrong, or ones that we know aren’t quite right, but she’s making the best decision she can with the information she has. The need for strategy is, of course, very similar to the Hunger Games themselves; she never really left them.
Another aspect of her decisions is how Katniss acknowledges her own weaknesses. Gale walks out of the room because she’s just insulted him and she knows it and knows she should call him back and apologize, but she can’t or doesn’t want to. She’s always holding her debts to others over her head, always keeping track of how many have died because of her. And then there’s the manipulation by the Capitol and by those around her. She is a broken girl living in a broken world.
This tension also includes the relationship between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. Suzanne never made the relationships sexual, for which I’m very thankful. The best part is, she didn’t need to. Katniss’s affection and love for both Peeta and Gale is perfectly apparent without needing to take today’s typical road and have the characters sleep together. My biggest hope for the films (yes, they are adapted the books into films) is that they maintain this part of the books.
[[ SPOILER ALERT ]]
Fourth, as the story neared its end I wondered what the solution would be. When I read a book, I’m keeping my eye out for how people deal with their problems. That’s what we’re all looking for, right? Even if subconsciously? I may not be thrown into a physical fight to the death like the Hunger Games, but I’m in the middle of an emotional fight with people I work with who don’t think like I do, or with siblings or friends, and ultimately with Satan and the spiritual forces who are turned against God and his children. Seeing how someone deals with their problems helps give me strength and new ideas on how to deal with my own.
At the end of the story, Katniss is left completely empty. She’s lost the ones she loved and she goes home to die. What was her solution? First, she kept going. The doctor said to just keep doing things, and eventually their meaning begins to return. It’s kind of a non-answer in a way. You’re so broken that you have no answer, so you just keep moving and eventually the pain scabs over and you’re able to function again. In other words, don’t give up. Second, and this is what the book ends with, when she feels the nightmares crowding in the despair looming close by, she mentally lists off all of the goodness she sees around her. She makes the choice to focus on the good things people are doing, on the loved ones around her, and she’s able to get out of bed. A tedious game, she admits, “But there are much worse games to play.”
[[ END SPOILER ALERT ]]
In the end, I guess the thing I was wondering is what kind of solution the author would give to today’s youth. The ones reading these books are the ones who will make decisions in the future on how to deal with our problems, and I think as authors we need to be conscious of the mindset we’re giving them. Having read Meghan Cox Gurdon’s article for the Wall Street Journal about the dark, violent themes in young adult novels these day, I was a bit hesitant about the books, but I was glad to see that Suzanne didn’t go that far with her books.
So are these books I will buy, or recommend to others? For the former, yes, I think I will buy them. The writing is superb, the world is fresh and imaginative, and Suzanne’s skill at keeping the tension going makes them worth rereading. For the latter, or more to point, will I let my kids read them some day… I think so. I’m not sure. I don’t know. Will these books matter in eternity? Is that an unfair question to ask? I don’t know. They are entertaining, well written, and inventive—but are they good for my heart, or for the teens reading them? I don’t know….
Well, I won’t make you struggle through that dilemma with me. Those are my thoughts on The Hunger Games.