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So I read the Hunger Games series
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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: "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.


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.

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"The problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

Just throwing that out there. Your remarks about love triangles made me think of it. (I wonder if "Casablanca" was a sort of template for some of these love-and-war stories, even now, when most YA readers have never seen "Casablanca"?)

Oh, nice! That kind of works with what I said about love triangles in war in my comment.

"But just the fact that he was sparkling leads me to doubt everything that happened."

I straight-up burst out laughing when I read that line for the first time. My husband looked at me funny.

Oh, thank God, it wasn't just me.

I liked your thoughts on it, particularly: "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. "

I think this was the point, definitely. That no one wins in war, even when things like war and rebellion are necessary, there are lots of losers, even on the winning side.


It was certainly tragic to me, that the thing that Katniss starts off trying to protect and defend (her sister) is the very thing that she loses in the end.

I'm split on her being Bella Swanned at the end. On the one hand, it cuts off all the prep, on the other, maybe it was more realistic? She's not a superhero, she's a girl. And for her to be SuperKatniss and fix everything singlehandedly seems so fiction-y.

I don't like overly bleak books, but I loved these, even as heartbreaking as they were. I thought they were really well written, and they always left me wanting more, nor were they totally predictable.

As for the love triangle, I think in war, you don't have the luxury of choice. I think, really, for Katniss, it became about just getting the people she loved through the war alive, and worry about the rest later. It is possible to love two people, and it's ok for her to love both of them. After the war, well, the choice was easier I guess. I was actually surprised they both made it through, and I was a little relieved that Collins avoided the trope of having one of them die bravely in battle, eliminating the need for a choice.

Oh, and Matched definitely felt like it really wanted to be The Hunger Games, even down to the present tense narration. Which I normally hate, but worked well for The Hunger Games (and I guess for Matched, but it's part of what made it feel like a copy).

On the one hand, it cuts off all the prep, on the other, maybe it was more realistic? She's not a superhero, she's a girl.

This is why I'm okay with it. I definitely wish the ending hadn't come as quickly as it did, but I didn't have a problem with what actually happened because it made a lot of sense. She's a problematic teenager that the people in power only wanted around because she was useful as a symbol, not because she was actually doing much of anything constructive. As soon as they can get her out of the picture, they do, and she gave them a really convenient excuse in doing what she did at the end. (sorry for the vague language, I'm not sure how much spoiling is okay)

Edited at 2011-01-03 07:55 pm (UTC)

I thought Katniss assassinating Coin at the end of Mockingjay was her proactive moment. She didn't attain her goal of reaching Snow, but she didn't really have to. The way the plan was built up, it was kind of impossible for everything to go right, so I didn't have a problem with it cutting short. Actually, I'm one of the few people who loved everything about Mockingjay. I loved that Collins didn't flinch away from anything, and I always felt like she knew what she was doing. Too many criticize MJ for all the senseless deaths, but... isn't that kind of the point of the whole series? As you said, it just felt like the natural end for me, and I loved that the love triangle was resolved based on Katniss' belief that they shouldn't use Machiavellian tactics to win the war. So just because Gale designed the bomb that killed Prim, it was a deal-breaker for her. Gotta admire a heroine who sticks to her guns like that.

I distinctly remember thinking how amazing these books would be as movies when I first read them, and it makes sense, since Collins is originally a screenwriter. She even admits she sometimes has problems with description, but the pacing of that entire series is just flawless. It feels like you're on the edge of your seat watching a movie, which is a difficult thing to accomplish with 300+ page books.

I completely agree - I love everything about MJ, too. I read it late, about a month after it came out. I'd heard that people were disappointed but I hadn't heard any spoilers. So maybe that kept my expectations low, I was prepared to be a bit disappointed. But I loved every moment and wouldn't change a thing!

"They never get up before noon unless there's some sort of national emergency, like my leg hair."

Is this an actual line in the book?

Yep. In the beginning of Catching Fire.

Glad you enjoyed the books. I did like how the love triangle was part of the plot, but not THE WHOLE PLOT. I also liked how Katniss being oblivious to why people found her attractive made sense. Girl doesn't own a mirror and her whole life is wrapped up in making sure her family doesn't starve, she logically doesn't get it, it's not just a pretense or stupid plot weakness.

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I loved him as a character too, but I have to say that goes back to how incredibly realistic Collins was in aspects of war. People disappear like that and you never find out way. Getting past that is one of the things that haunts survivors.

That's part of the reason I like The Demon's Lexicon series by Sarah Rees Brennan so much. There is a love triangle, but it's not the main focus of the overall story. The heroine actually cares about things other than boys! Like her family and finding a place in the world and actually surviving being a teenager, which is hard enough normally but is made especially difficult when you throw magic and death threats in the mix. Plus, since each book of the series is written from a different character's POV, you get to learn a little of everyone's story, which is a nice change from the sometimes claustrophobic viewpoint of a single character.

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I really came to love Finnick, so I had one of my OH, COME ON NOW moments when he died. I mean, I understand why he did, but it seemed like such a Joss Whedon move after the mental suffering and the reunion and the huge wedding.

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It's that the two guys both love her and just wait in patient agony for her to decide.

Have you ever read Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet? That's pretty much my pinnacle of YA fiction with a female lead character. It has the love triangle, but it does it in a very honest way and it happens over the course of several years, and it's also very tied in with the plot and themes and how Alanna grows into a woman. I still read these books on a regular basis and I give a set to every girl I care about when she hits her tweens. Adapting them into a miniseries is on my bucket list.

Edited at 2011-01-03 06:43 pm (UTC)

I will fund this miniseries!

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Yeah, Mockingjay was quite a shock after having spent months waiting for it, and as a reader I still haven't decided whether I like it or not. As I explained to someone a few days ago:

Having taken a class on WWI literature this past semester, though, I feel more of a connection to the book than I did before. I'm not sure I can speak to the structural soundness of the trilogy as a whole themewise, but the theme of MJ is obvious: War sucks. And Collins doesn't just tell us that, she puts her money where her mouth is. People die who shouldn't. People disappear, never to be heard from again. People are royally fucked up by PTSD and everything is most emphatically NOT OKAY by the story's end. I feel like Collins told the story as realistically as she could and I give her total credit for that.

. . . all that said, if I wanted a realistic war story, I'd read a soldier's/officer's/nurse's autobiography. As a book in itself, I think MJ is strong. As part of a trilogy, it's frustrating, and I think Collins could have stood to scale the realism back just a little in favor of something going right every now and then. I don't like contrivedly happy storytelling either, but it's not a black and white issue. There are shades of gray, and Collins pretty much ignored them.

ll that said, if I wanted a realistic war story, I'd read a soldier's/officer's/nurse's autobiography.

But that's why fantasy and science-fiction exist in the first place and have survived as genres -- there is a majority of the poplace that will never, ever pick up an autobiography or other non-fiction work. The only way to reach them is through fiction, and most of them will never even think twice about the realities of war or racism or bigotry or famine or whatever unless they read about it in a made-up world first. Alien races, etc in the mid-century written sci-fi boom were integral to race relations improving all over the world. The infamous interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura would never have been allowed were it not a fictional show set in the future.

Edited at 2011-01-03 06:49 pm (UTC)

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I have yet to read the 3rd book, but I loved the first 2. One of these days I'm going to get all 3 from the library and read them in a weekend. I am looking forward to the movie, even though i'll probably be disappointed with it.

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Yeah... the tragedy and PSTD of the last book is tough. It was hard for me to read the first two books just knowing what was eventually going to happen, for the parts I'd been spoiled for (Cinna and Prim, plus Peeta's brainwashing. I actually thought Haymitch was supposed to die, but I must have heard that wrong).

I think what's so tough about that third book is that it's such a break from the other two. It's not that the transition started midway through the second--it's just BAM! the grimness of District 13, where everything starts to go to shit. I mean, Katniss has a similar meltdown just before the Quarter Quell, but she rallies from that. Mockingjay is just a downward spiral.

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Your tweets are LOLARIOUS. And you're not the only one whose brain shorted out when Katniss's men started sparkling.

I agree with your sentiments re: the "choosing between two guys who are both great and also are both willing to wait around for you and you alone" trope. How often does this happen in real life? In MY real life... never. The idea that I would ever have 2 guys who both loved me and were willing to patiently muck about whilst I took my sweet time toying with both of them is BEYOND HUMOROUS. So why does it happen all the time in fiction? Especially to these PEOPLE? No offense intended to Katniss... and certainly YES offense intended to Bella... but like... really?

I'd say it happens in fiction BECAUSE it never happens in real life.

I don't know who these people are who told you it was all GRIM GRIM DRYNESS LASHING OUT AND DEATH. I would've told you there are magic showers.

EVERYONE! But this was after Mockingjay. I think they would have talked about it differently before that.

(I want a magic shower.)