Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Hunger Games - First book, first thoughts

The thing aboutme is that I have this weird compulsion to resist reading popular books justbecause everyone keeps telling me I should read them. That is, until somethingabout it just gets my curiosity up so much that I cave in and read them anyway. Currently I’m trying to not read the Millenium Triology, which probably meansthat at some point I’ll read them anyway.

It was likethat back in 7th grade when my best friend carried Goblet of Fire around school for weeksand there was one guy in the class who was quite obsessed with the series and kepttalking about it. At that time, the school library also go the four (as wasthen available) books for the first time. Our school library was tiny and quitelimited and I probably was running out of things to read so I just rememberstarring at those four books, thinking, what the heck. I didn’t expect to getso sucked into it, because back then, honestly I was still reading Sweet Valley and Baby Sitters Club. The idea of a book about wizards and boys didn’t’exactly appeal to me. But I digress.

With Twilight, it was a different story.Facebook had come into play by then and too many people I know were havingTwilight-related statuses, but at the same time I’m hearing a fair amount ofcriticism for it.  So I read it just tosee what on earth people were complaining about. And apparently people whocomplain have a point. I’ve probably raged and ranted more about Twilight thanis healthy but I still can’t get over how much I hate Bella Swan. But Idigress, again.

Anyway, thepoint is, I’ve been seeing The HungerGames everywhere lately and people keep saying oh, it’s the next Harry Potter/Twilight and quite frankly,after hearing Twilight being described as “the next Harry Potter” and the dhsappointment that that resulted in, I’mtaking this claim with a fairly large grain of salt. I wasn’t planning to readit, even. It’s dystopian fiction – that much I knew - not my favourite genre,and I was forced into too much of that in school already. Then the movietrailer came out and Josh Hutcherson just looks so good that I ended up reading the first book of the triology.

I’ll saythis much first: it’s addictive and a page-turner which was why I didn’t get tosleep until 1am last night and spent about fifteen minutes contemplatingcalling in sick to work this morning because I was sleep-deprived and (moreimportantly :P) I wanted to keep on reading the second book – Catching Fire. But I didn’t.

I guess youcould call it 1984 for teenagers. I reallylove the world that Suzanne Collins built up, the premise of the Hunger Games,and how it reflects reality TV in the modern world. I don’t watch a whole loadof reality TV shows, because all the drama and backstabbing and crying justseem rather fake to me. I watch American Idol sporadically, only ever managedto get through Junior MasterChef because it’s so much less stress than theadult version and the only cycle of America’s Next Top Model I got through wasarguably the least dramatic – Cycle 13.  TheHunger Games basically just encompasses all that I feel about reality TV – the pointlessness,the drama, the babarism, and sense of so-what – and takes it all up a notch (orseveral notches).

I like that Collinsdoesn’t shy away from the truth of the matter – that the games forces teenagersto kill each other, and while survival instincts allow them to kill, it doesn’tever become ok, that you can be haunted forever. I like the ideas how “allies”can turn against each other when enemies are all eliminated, because it is afight to the death. I like the social commentary on the power of the state,freedom and poverty – which, let’s face it, are timeless themes.

I like theuniverse, the world building and the entire idea of the Hunger Games. It’s realand gritty and makes for an exciting story. The Games both simultaneously makes you want to just keep on reading, feeling disgusted if you think th`t this could happen in the real world, but at the same time you do have to get excited with all the suspense. That’s what was keeping me turningthe pages.

I love the fact that even in this life or death situation where you literally have to kill everyone to survive, Katniss still finds someone to care about - Rue. The relationship between Katniss and Rue is just heart-wrenching because you know it can't last, you know Rue will die, but the manner of death was just heartbreaking. Rue's death coupled with Katniss' first direct kill marks the loss of innocence (if you could even call Katniss innocent in the first place) for the character and it's the best chapter in the book, both in terms of writing and content. 

I’m not inlove with Katniss, the main character yet after a third of the series, but sheis a pretty fleshed out character. She is capable and cunning, and no fuss ismade about that, she’s not expected to lean on anyone to survive just becauseshe’s a girl. She’s got compassion and capable of cowardice, hatred and andguilt, which gives her depth. As far as character, even more, a femalecharacter, go, I don’t have that much to complain about. I just am at a placewhere I don’t really click with her just yet.  

What bugs meabout this book is the love-triangle-that-isn’t.

First off,Gale doesn’t make much of an impression on me, except that he’s a good guy, hecares for his family and he’s friends with Katniss and seems to have a crush onher. I guess, the book goes so straight into the Hunger Games – which Gale isnot a part of – that I don’t really get the idea that I’m supposed to care thatGale likes Katniss and how that’s going to affect her relationship with Peeta.

On the otherhand, Peeta is a saint. He’s kind, he’s caring, he’s patient, he’s wonderfuland totally in love with Katniss, and he’s the kind of guy that I wonder whyanyone would not want.  He’s bordering ona Gary Stu but without the annoying traits. Actually, the lack of bad traits(so far) from Peeta  could be kind ofjarring if I let myself get too into it, but I genuinely want to like Peeta,and the author’s making it so damn easy to like him.  

So I’m readingand wondering, not why Katniss is in a conflict between Peeta and Gale, but whythe author even bothers trying to paint up this love triangle. It’s kind ofobvious that Peeta has the upper hand here: the book is in first person, andKatniss is in the Hunger Games with Peeta while Gale is not. It means thatafter the first three chapters, Gale disappears off the face of the book,except in Katniss’ brief flashbacks, while Peeta is always there. Constantly.She’s supposed to kill Peeta. You get the idea that, after all the backstory andwonderful-boy-too-good-to-be-true  scenariothe author builds up, either he’ll die tragically, or that he won’t die somehowand Katniss and he will end up together.

But I guessit’s not fatal (yet) – I’m just wondering how much this triangle will play upin the second book, and the third, when Gale would probably appear more often.I just hate the idea that the triangle that everyone knows the end of mightsomehow end up shadowing the story, which is good.

The story isgood, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the writing is stellar. And this writingisn’t stellar. It’s not Twilight-quality, certainly, but it can be quite uncomfortableto read. I get the feeling that the author lacks finesse and subtlety,everything is stated out in the open, with comparisons between past and presentevents made too directly. It just feels like a whole load of telling in themost direct way possible. It doesn’t exactly lack poetry, the author can putout nice turns of phrase in certain places, but overall the writing approach isjust heads-on.

Though, now that I think about it, to be totally fair, the choppy, heads-on, blunt style of writing does work better in the Games where things are happening in the moment, people are dying in the moment. I guess Katniss has to be blunt there to get the narration across and it does create the mood for the Games. Still, it can be quite bumpy to read.

Then again,as I said, the story overall is good, so I can say that while I’m not overlyawed by The Hunger Games, I’m not disappointed that I read it. The story drawsyou in enough so that you keep reading despite the occasional bumps with thewriting style. I’m looking forward to getting more into this world with thenext books.