Late to the bandwagon: The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins.  Catching Fire.  New York: Scholastic, 2009.  391 pages.

Suzanne Collins.  Mockingjay.  New York: Scholastic, 2010.  390 pages.

Note:  These books deal seriously with war and oppression, and contain a number of violent, gory, disturbing scenes.  Not recommended for middle-school age and younger readers.

Picture me yesterday morning, butt glued to the armchair as I power through the final 100-page stretch of Mockingjay, coffee buzz heightening the intensity of everything that happens until those final eight words leave me with a dropped jaw and a generally haunted feeling.

Ok, good, that didn’t sound too melodramatic, right?  Seriously, it’s been a while since I’ve had that Woooah feeling at the end of a series.  It’s too soon to say if I’m completely satisfied.  Yesterday morning, it felt right.  Better than the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – more real, less fanfiction-ey

In retrospect (right, a whole day later), and having discussed it with a friend, I can see some possible issues with the end.  For anyone who hasn’t finished the series, if you’d rather not risk getting even the slightest hint of what’s coming, you may want to stop here.

Some might see the pacing as too rushed, but my initial feeling is that it makes sense given Katniss’ mindset after everything that happened.  Of course, I can’t back this up with personal experience, so I may be way off, but I thought Collins gave a realistic picture of shell shock, numbness, and moving forward.

This was something I admired about the series as a whole.  Katniss’ reactions, both immediate and long-term, seemed very believable.  Again, I have no personal experience to judge from, and on the other hand, there is no “standard” way to react in such extreme situations.  All I can say is that Katniss’ behavior and thoughts made sense to me.

In that vein, as I noted in my review of the first book, I appreciate that the romance angle didn’t feel cliche.  Sure, I’ve seen plenty of love-triangle stories, but Collins didn’t include it purely for OMG-drama.  Again – Katniss’ feelings for both guys, her indecisiveness, it all made sense given her character and the circumstances.  And I was satisfied overall with the way that sub-plot ended.

On the other hand, the thing that didn’t work as well (possibly a spoiler) . . .

was the level of Peeta’s fixation on Katniss.  To me, he seemed to have little substance beyond loving Katniss and being a really nice guy.  Katniss seemed to feel much more of a purpose for her life than just being in love.  And I don’t think it’s just a matter of the story being from her point of view, which by definition gives us a much deeper view of her psyche than anyone else’s.  The other love interest doesn’t feel like just a love interest – like Katniss, he has strong interests outside of the romance, and his existence doesn’t seem to hinge as much as Peeta’s does on whether or not Katniss will choose him.

I’d love to discuss the ending in more depth, so I welcome comments on that.  How did you feel about the speed/pacing?  Did the overall outcome of the war seem realistic and believable?

Another thing I’d be interested in discussing, and that I wish Collins had explained at least briefly – what happened to the rest of the world, outside of the former U.S.?  Why didn’t they try to interfere in the things that happened after the Dark Days?  I assume, of course, that the U.N., NATO, and other global organizations no longer exist by that time, or have been weakened…?  From the book’s point of view, it’s as if Panem is the only country left on Earth.

For my thoughts on the first Hunger Games book, see this post.

For notes on my End of the World Reading Challenge progress, see my livejournal blog.

And if you’re looking for a story somewhat similar to The Hunger Games, I recommend Susan Butler’s The Hermit Thrush Sings (Note: the Editorial Reviews contain spoilers). I read this years ago, and from what I remember, it’s nowhere near as intense or dark as The Hunger Games, but there are a few strong parallels:

  • An America re-structured after environmental trauma (in this case, a comet that hit Earth a hundred years before).  The setting – the land of Maynor, once known as the state of Maine – is more medieval here.  Certainly no TVs or camera crews; even cars are a distant memory.  But there’s the same idea of a government that tries to keep separate districts from knowing too much about one another, so they’ll mistrust each other.
  • New, mutated creatures – most important to the story are the birmbas, a cross between a bear and a gorilla.
  • Poisonous berries, also somewhat important to the story.
  • A singing bird that symbolizes a return to peace.  The characters speak of the elusive hermit thrush, whose unbelievably beautiful song they say will only be heard again when the war is over.
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