So I read the Hunger Games in a few weeks after I started it. I'd already seen the movie. I thought the book, like the movie, was relatively cute. An interesting 'safe' variant of Battle Royale where the protagonist doesn't really have to kill anyone despite being well-equipped with skills that would make her far deadlier than the average teenager of her world. I appreciated that the book focused more on the psychological trauma of Katniss before the games and how this pre-existing trauma plays into the development of how she experiences all the other traumas the Capital puts her through (and make no mistake, putting someone on-screen like that where they have no say over their own bodies is a whole separate set of shattering experiences, which Collins smartly hides underneath the headline trauma of 'fight to the death'). But I thought the mileau was poorly crafted (if the entire district 12 can fit into a square and this is also true of other districts the population is hopelessly and shockingly small) and the basic premise that the Hunger Games are an effective deterrent of rebellion to be rather fatally flawed, because in any human society, such a set up would be a catalytic accelerant of rebellion. You'd be hard pressed to find a better way to foment rebellion than the Hunger Games.
I think if I hadn't seen the movie I would have been doubtful that there was even a love triangle possible. There's a boy in the book for three pages who is interested in Katniss and then the boy interested in Katniss who is in the book for 300 pages, and she doesn't reciprocate a single positive emotion towards either of them, she merely utilizes memories of Gale as a convenient crutch to not attach herself to Peeta just as she utilizes Peeta to facilitate her (and his) survival to the end of the games. Not much of a love triangle, more like they're tools she can use to either protect her psyche or protect her body. Gale is just a way to convince herself it's okay to build a wall to keep Peeta out. I figured Gale will be unable to relate to how this experience changes her, which will draw her back to Peeta who will probably reject her because that's a bad reason. but again, it's not even a love triangle in this book, I figured it will be in the next book because I've heard about it after the movie came out (and the movie made it really obvious the 3page guy was important.
So psychologically, this book was fascinating. The break point was the combination of the Death of Katniss' Father and the Emotional Withdrawl of Katniss' Mother. Note that how Katniss perceives her mother belies the facts in this book and in the sequels. Katniss thinks of her as a non-functional catatonic, yet if she is fully functional and communicative from the first book onward. Katniss is continually revising her memories of her mother in the later books, but note how Katniss always goes out of her way to make sure to put her mother down, to reinforce the mental image of how unavailable her mother is, even as her mother is doing the opposite of what Katniss perceives, we watch as Katniss rewrites her mother's actions into an image that fits her perception.
Catching Fire I found to be extremely frustrating and seriously dull for the first half. I assumed from the title that this was going to be about launching a rebellion, instead it's a Boxcar Children book, where the same formula is repeated with a slight variation. Collins drops the term Quarter Quell in the first chapter, and I guessed from that mention that either Katniss was going into the games again or Prim was.
The most frustrating part of the book for me was when Gale kisses Katniss and she's confused. Really? Such a kid. But I guess it makes sense if she’s revised Gale into her wall and that revision made her forget she cared about him.
I thought the Quarter Quell was executed pretty amazingly well, it was great to see Katniss in a team rather than on her own, and in all it was a pretty frightening game that Plutarch threw at Katniss. Finnick and Johanna and Mags and Beetee are marvelous new characters. I really distrusted Cinna in this book right up to the point that he gets beaten/killed in front of Katniss, and I was yelling at the book everytime Katniss thought about telling Cinna all her secrets and plans of rebellion etc.
I did think that Katniss’ plans were laughably childish and stupid before the Quarter Quell, I loved that other characters got to tell her that. One refreshing aspect after spending so much of the first book trapped completely in her whiny, selfish, damaged perspective to have some other characters manage to give the reader a little more variety. Which is not to say that Katniss stopped being whiny, selfish or damaged, like the first book she doesn’t really grow—she never grows as a character in any of the books—she just gets more damaged (which is a kind of negative growth I suppose), but it was nice to have more characters in the book that were not Peeta’s bland/lifeless/creepy perfect-nice-guy or Gale’s bland/lifeless nice-guy-bad-boy. I was surprised the Love Triangle received almost no development in this book beyond the previous sentence. I figured Gale would be a major part of this book, like Peeta was a major part of the last book (I figured the book would be about starting a rebellion and Gale would figure in that majorly and Peeta would be sidelined most of the book), so I was kinda surprised that Gale got only 30 pages and Peeta still got his 300 pages. And Katniss still doesn’t emotionally care about either of them as romantic partners, though eventually all the kissing does seem to provoke a small response. It’s a relief that Katniss is aware that she is in a love triangle and ought to make a choice. It’s not surprising that she withdraws further into her shell and plays her ‘I refuse to choose’ game, bleh, what a timewaster she is.
Mockingjay seemed like a genre shift, until it’s revealed late in the book that this is just another Hunger Games Boxcar Children formula, which Civilians included in the game arena this time. I was irritated we lose so much of the introduction to 13. And as soon as Coin was titled President—coupled with all the blatent foreshadowing of 13 being a different sort of government repression—I figured Coin was the actual badguy who would have to be beat. My guess was that if they won, Coin would propose continuing the Hunger Games in some fashion and Katniss would die killing her. I figured Peeta would die at some point in this book and that Gale would probably be badly disfigured/maimed before the final battle. I didn’t really expect the entire love triangle to survive.
Peeta’s indoctrination is a fascinating twist, and in yet another reason to hate first person perspective we completely miss the whole process. Perhaps the best thing about the movies is it gets us out of Katniss’ selfish, perspective-free head and let’s us see a broader take on events. It’s still centered around Katniss, but we’re not limited to just her ‘woe is me’ speculations. I think the movie was better because we’re not limited (and first person perspective is just about always awful, so the book is handicapped in the comparison), and I expect the other movies to be better and show more of the interesting story and cut away as often as they can from “Katniss broods about unfairness” repetition of the second and third books.
It’s much more of a bloodbath taking out the Capitol than it was fighting Voldemort, and I was pleasantly surprised that Katniss didn’t succeed at storming the gates and putting an arrow through Snow. I was surprised at the first bomb/second bomb trap that Gale developed being used on children—that was a brutal stroke by Coin. I wasn’t all that surprised at Katniss’ vote, Collins had to ‘hide’ Katniss’ intentions from us, which is not easy to do in the limitations of first person. I presume what happens here is that Katniss assumes that Coin is basically Snow at this point, and the only way to get out of that meeting alive is to give Snow/Coin what he/she wants, which is his Hunger Games. Katniss reasons she can have the opportunity to kill Coin instead of Snow and put a stop to the games, but simply voting against the games would not prevent the games, only eliminating Coin would prevent the Games. Katniss has already figured out at this point that Snow’s white Rose is a potent poison when inhaled, so she’s already positioned/readied a secondary weapon to kill Snow so she can use her primary weapon to kill Coin.
I find it interesting that Katniss has far fewer qualms about killing anonymous and totally innocent Capital civilians as well as the opposing army of peacekeepers yet spent the first two books being miss-nice-girl that doesn’t really have to do much, if any killing (and if she does kill, it’s just an accident, like the first book). True, she shoots to kill (and fails) in the second book, but her body count is one accidental/reflex kill by the end of the second book, and suddenly in the third book she’s killing people left and right.
I also think it’s ironic that Katniss wakes up at the end of the second book and goes around trying to strangle Peeta to protect him, and the first thing Peeta does when he wakes up in the third book is try to strangle Katniss. Hah. And Peeta is the crazy one.
Quite the double standard.
In terms of the epilogue, I thought it was really well done, and consistent with the psychology and negative growth of Katniss throughout the entire series. I always expected it would be Peeta, and the third book gave me the perfect way to explain that, I always figured it would be Peeta for the same reasons that Finnick and Annie wind up together. There’s just too much that is incomprehensible for another person. Psychologically, these books were wonderful, its too bad the world building is not as accurate/spot-on as the mental side.