So let's discuss.
I'm having a hard time organizing my thoughts--I've had a hard time with that in general the last few weeks--but I'm going to try to proceed as best I can. Reading all three books in less than twelve hours is a lot to digest as it is. We will use what I posted on Twitter to provide a little structure.
@cleolinda: Done with first book, going on to Catching Fire. I tend to read in marathons anyway.
@cleolinda: Taking a break for crackers. Have run out of beef strips and groosling.
A lot of people had complained that the second and third book don't live up to the first one, but since I was reading them all together, they just seemed like one really long novel to me--a single trajectory. So I actually liked Catching Fire. I really didn't enjoy the third book--who ENJOYS Mockingjay?--and it does have a certain departure of tone, so I can see why it really lost people. I do think it was the natural logical conclusion of the series and, given what it therefore had to be about, well done, but... I can see why people might hate it, particularly after waiting a year for it, and why it would seem like a let-down and a derailment. I think books about saving a good world are able to be joyous even after moments of great tragedy; books about destroying a bad world always have that awful aftertaste, because they want to include the message that every new world ends up being just like the old, that's how dystopias get started in the first place, war is hell and things happen that people don't ever get over. Which is true. When you get into a "war is hell" story, purposefully senseless things start to happen, just to show you how hellish it is. But once you've read the first two books, you will want to follow the story through to the end. I do love Katniss as a character, and I'd love to see these books get made into movies (they're currently being cast, I think).
@cleolinda: I think one of the reasons dystopias upset me is because I would totally be the first one to get shot in the head.
@cleolinda: Well, I can snark on the-- *BLAM!* RT @robynhode: @cleolinda Plus, I know I have no skills to keep me alive once society collapses. :(
The thing I liked about The Hunger Games as a series, though, was that it was incredibly vivid and imaginative and even dryly funny. People who kept recommending the series never seem to mention that--mostly I was just scared off by warnings of how grim and intense and depressing it is. When you're expecting The Road squared, anything seems pleasant in comparison. Really, the first two books are very engaging; it wasn't until the third one that we got to a paramilitary subgenre of dystopian fiction that has just never resonated with me. Basically, I clung to the enjoyably surreal weirdness through the whole marathon.
@cleolinda: "Katniss, the girl who was on fire." #oh #whynot
@cleolinda: "We don't really have any rules to speak of except don't step off your circle and the unspoken rule about not eating one another."
@cleolinda: "They never get up before noon unless there's some sort of national emergency, like my leg hair."
@cleolinda: Glimmer and MARVEL?
@cleolinda: "Haymitch has his own troubles over in the woods, where the fluffy golden squirrels turn out to be carnivorous."
@cleolinda: "He arrives only in time to watch a flock of candy pink birds skewer her through the neck." And somehow, this man became an alcoholic.
@cleolinda: "But what are the livestock keepers from District 10, who are dressed as cows, doing with flaming belts? Broiling themselves?"
@cleolinda: CASHMERE AND GLOSS?
@cleolinda: "Our kitchen table's been full of so many naked men this year."
@cleolinda: A picnic under the blood rain tree, how festive.
@cleolinda: "Remake her to Beauty Base Zero!"
@cleolinda: Someone please tell me there's a Hunger Games fansite called Beauty Base Zero.
@cleolinda: "Oh, no. He frosted under heavy guard."
@cleolinda: "We stop before a grimy storefront filled with mannequins in furry underwear."
@cleolinda: "So this is where stylists go when they've outlived their use. To sad theme underwear shops where they wait for death."
@cleolinda: "We are completely at the mercy of a decrepit tiger-woman." Why did y'all only tell me about the depressing parts and not the AWESOME ones?
@cleolinda: So... that whole... plot resolution thing... was abrupt.
You know, I understand why it's realistic to have the bombing happen in the middle of the Super Sekrit Assassination Mission we just spent umpteen pages on (and honestly, I was losing my will to read, it was so endless and bleak) and Katniss just wakes up after it's all over, but... you just Bella Swanned your heroine, Collins. And you're totally within your rights as an author to cut short what looks like a trajectory towards a hard-earned climax--Katniss finally getting to confront and kill the president--and subvert those expectations with a Purposefully Senseless plot development and have your heroine wake up after other people did the rest of the work. You just can't really expect readers to feel satisfied with it. And maybe Collins wasn't trying to satisfy us; maybe that was the point.
However, the series was incredibly satisfying compared to the last YA Dystopian Romance I read. Matched is a faint echo. Matched is like The Hunger Games if there were no Hunger Games. Matched is like Katniss sitting around a Ray Bradbury-lite world thinking about how Gale makes her feel kind of funny about their crushing dystopia but she's supposed to marry Peeta and this makes her feel kind of bad and oh no! They sent Gale to the front in District 13 to punish her for her disloyal thoughts--she must someday find a way to go after him! THE END. I am serious, that's how clearly it maps. And how little happens. It's not bad. It's bland and leisurely and pleasant. Without having read The Hunger Games, I could tell something was lacking, but I couldn't articulate it any further than "nothing happens" or "this should have been the first fifty pages of a better book." Now that I have read The Hunger Games--what's missing is, yes, things happening, but also the rich frivolous weirdness of the Rome-inspired Capitol society, the surreal "What even made you think of that?" horror of the many muttations, a large cast of vivid characters, a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. But these books also have the emotional, psychological depth of Katniss agonizing over two guys at length (not unreasonably)--and all the other stuff too. So yeah. I could tell Matched was kind of a thin attempt to capitalize on current trends, but I didn't know exactly how watered down it was until I'd read both books. It really is, as advertised, "The Hunger Games for people who liked Twilight."
@cleolinda: As good as these books are, I am getting real tired of two long-suffering guys waiting for the girl to choose between them.
@cleolinda: "Gale makes a sound of exasperation." YEAH HE DOES
Katniss cares about people UNLIKE SOME YA HEROINES I COULD MENTION--in fact, she is obsessive in her caring for other people. How many times does she say, "I don't care what else happens, I'll do whatever I have to do, I don't care if I die, I just want Prim/Peeta/Gale/our families to live"? And yet... she cares for people in general, and it haunts her that she unavoidably causes the deaths of others, and I know that she's got other things on her mind (rebellion, survival, guilt, suffering. You know. That), but it's true--these books are about these two guys in a fundamental way. Maybe what I mean is that the choice between these two guys is part of the cellular makeup of her story, which therefore cannot exist without it--it's not just that she can't choose between two fellow rebels, it's that everything she does is tied up in trying to save someone, and it's often one of these guys helping her save the other. She's trying to save herself and everyone in District 12: she pretends to love Peeta. She can't pretend anymore and she wants to be with Gale, but then she has to go back to Peeta after Gale is tortured. Then she wants to do anything to keep Peeta alive, which is how she gets sucked into the rebellion; she just about claws Haymitch's face off when he's captured; she agitates for the rebels to go rescue him. In fact, until Katniss shifts to focusing on the president's assassination (but not until both guys are safely--"safely"--at her side), the story--even when it's really about other, deeper things--is still functionally tied up in these two guys. It's not as bad as books where there isn't any other driving factor (Prim is obviously her primary concern, which is what makes the third book so awful), but it is a major factor, and it's part of the fabric of the story. And I think the triangle works here; it's tied to the themes of the book, it's about emotional (and political!) connections rather than how totally hot anyone is, it's well done. It's just--man, I would love to read a YA book that didn't include the lines, "But you're still always thinking of him. I wish he would make it easier for me to hate him." I think what the problem really is--it's not that a girl has to choose between two guys who symbolize larger issues in her life and society at large. It's that the two guys both love her and just wait in patient agony for her to decide. And I'm just getting tired of that paradigm--I enjoy romance being part of a part of a genre book's foundation, I don't have a problem with that. It's just--is there no other configuration we could go with? I don't know. You'd probably rather me not make these comparisons, but in the current world of publishing trends, they're there.
@cleolinda: "I look at him and realize that ablaze with fake flames, he is dazzling." #justputtingthatoutthere
@cleolinda: "But just the fact that he was sparkling leads me to doubt everything that happened." At least Katniss ran like hell.
@cleolinda: "Besides I like watching you sleep," said the guy who sparkled.
@cleolinda: I know, I know. But when you spend months recapping a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
I AM WHAT I AM, OKAY. LIKE KATNISS, I WILL NEVER BE FREE OF THE HORROR. THIS IS MY CURSE.
In conclusion, for those who don't want to be spoiled: it's more engaging and quirky than you may have heard, it'll probably be easier going now since you don't have to wait months between books, and I really liked them. I'm just saying, after that third book, I understand why Haymitch drinks, is all.
- So I read the Hunger Games series