BOOKS: The Hunger Games trilogy: Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)

Friends had been recommending this young adult sci-fi trilogy to me for a year before I finally picked up the first book in the series.  Why the hesitation?  I suppose because I’m not typically a big reader of YA novels.  But I also confess the plot didn’t appeal to me all that much at first:  a bunch of teenagers thrown into the woods and forced to kill each other as part of an annual, state-run, nationally televised reality show called “The Hunger Games.”   I feel like I’ve seen that story dozens of times told in as many variants:  Lord of the Flies meets The Running Man meets Battle Royale meets that really bad flick starring Ray Liotta.  Eh, *shrug*.

All I can say now, though, is that I am a fool.  I mean, yes, this series is as predictable overall as I suspected it would be.  The thing is, though I kept turning each page and thinking, “Okay, well, it’s fun and all, but it’s not exactly brilliant or anything,” not only did I end up reading the first book in a day (The Hunger Games), but I bought the other two an hour later, devouring each of them nearly as quickly (Catching Fire, Mockingjay).  That,  my friends, says a lot.

I think I’m not going to bother trying to describe the plot of a three-book series here — I can’t think of a good way to encapsulate the whole thing.  Suffice it to say this series encompassed much more than I expected, including some truly intriguing inventions.  It’s got love and hate, age and youth, war and revolution, spies and mystery, politicos and hippies, good and evil, and a whole heck of a lot of shockingly graphic violence.  So much violence, in fact, I was surprised the series was considered YA.  And yet, had I read these books at age 13, I would’ve been absolutely captivated by them.  Utterly consumed.  They would’ve completely blown my mind.

At age 36, though, while I still enjoyed the bejesus out of the whole shebang, my more critical eye did get in my way from time to time.  For one thing, though the writing is surprisingly solid, the pacing could’ve used some work.  I felt like the third book in particular would’ve benefitted from tighter editing and a little more focus.  Also, a lot of the love/relationship elements struck me as fairly weak.  Childish, really, which was a striking contrast to the very adult violence it sat alongside.  It’s possible that was done for effect:  to help us remember our heroes were, in fact, mere children.  But even thinking about it that way didn’t rescue those sections for me.  The love story(ies) felt almost like afterthoughts at times, tacked on later to help the series better compete with the swoony likes of the Twilight books.

Nevertheless:  riveting!  Reading all three back to back was an absolute blast, however unpolished things felt to me at times.  It’s still a series adults will get a lot out of, which is good because I think if you’re planning on letting your kids give them a shot, you probably ought to read them first yourself to gauge the appropriateness of the violence.

Looking forward to the movie version, which I sincerely hope will not suck.  And before you ask, I’m Team Peeta all the way.  How could I not be?  Damn cute li’l unrequited love underdog!  Diggity.

These would be a great choice for anybody about to get on a long airplane ride.  You’ll be in Australia before you know it.  Recommended!

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16 Responses to “BOOKS: The Hunger Games trilogy: Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)”

  1. Trip Says:

    I may be betraying my own age here, but this reminds me of reading the Tripods trilogy back in the day, which was written for a YA audience but also featured a surprising level of violence and intrigue. Plus ça change and all that…

    Kinda curious now…if you’re up for reading YA novels…what are the chances on reviews for graphic novels?

  2. megwood Says:

    I’ve read and reviewed a couple of graphic novels here, but I have trouble finding ones I think I’ll really enjoy. Open to suggestions!

  3. megwood Says:

    (Please to avoid superheroes.)

  4. Liz Says:

    I’m not voting for graphic novels – because I find them increasingly confusing, and also, they can be hard to read. But sometimes the graphic novels get made into movies (IE. “Watchmen,” “Sin City”), which can be interesting. Youth Fiction – in books and movies – can also be quite interesting and worthwhile (although “Twilight” WAS a bit much!)

    One of my favorite books was a “youth novel,” called “Rifles for Watie,” about a young boy’s experiences on BOTH sides of the Civil War. Stand Watie was a Cherokee who faught for the Confederacy, and had a sort of scouting/raiding unit. I hadn’t even know Native Americans fought in that war!

    I bet I’d like this trilogy you write about, Meg. And I also think I might be “too old” for this sort of literature!

  5. megwood Says:

    I’ve enjoyed the graphic novels I’ve read, though the format took me some time to overcome (you have to pay more attention — conscious attention — to where your eye goes when you read a graphic novel). But Maus completely blew my mind. Absolute genius. I’d love to find more that are that “literary” as well as artistic. I’m less into the superhero stuff, the magic powers stuff, the sci-fi stuff. I did read Watchmen and I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t keen on going any further in that direction, really.

  6. Jo Says:

    Oh, yay! I’m a sucker for YA, and have been wondering about this series since it’s been getting some buzz recently.

    If you’re up for more YA, I recommend Tree by Leaf (Cynthia Voit). Really lovely. And skewed younger, but a charming read, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine.

  7. Trip Says:

    The non-superhero graphic novels that immediately spring to mind are “Persepolis” and “Waltz with Bashir”, both of which were made into movies, both highly acclaimed and rely on the visual format to tell the story in a way plain text can’t (or so I’m led to believe).

  8. megwood Says:

    Sweet — will check both those out ASAP. I heard both the films were brilliant and have been meaning to watch them as well. Double feature! Comin’ up!

  9. Florence Says:

    I am loathe to admit I turned the big 40 this year (sigh) , but I have an 18 yr old daughter with Autism who reads EVERYTHING she can get her hands on-so I try to read a lot of the same books to help in opening up the communication channels-and as a reuslt I find myself reading a lot of YA novels that she picks. I have to say that the first two of this triloogy especially were very Good-extremely entertaining-I was thoroughly engrossed-also did the same thing reading it from cover to cover then going and getting both other novels from Chloe (daughter) and read all 3 at once. Could not put down the first two-again agree #3 needed a bit more work. Still, I realy enjoyed these books.

  10. Alisa Says:

    Heard last night, that Josh Whedon will be putting Graphic Novels based on Doll house. I believe he has Serenity out already.

  11. Melinda Says:

    Trip, LOVED the Tripod books. I have the first one (or is it the prequel?) on my shelves somewhere. Those books totally rocked! You can tell a book is good when 15 or 20 years later you still have residual reading images in your brain that crop up occasionally and unexpectedly.

    Meg, as for graphic novels, I just got partially sucked into a series (my brother’s evil influence) called “The Walking Dead,” which, of course, features zombies. However, and the author is quick to point this out, it’s really more a story about the people, one man in particular, and how they change and react to a completely insane situation. Horror? Check. Flying heads? Check. Commentary on humanity? Check. One warning, though: it DOES start a bit like 28 Days Later – same hospital wake-up thingy, but I forgive them. They get past it fairly quickly.

  12. Liz Says:

    Is that what the new show on … whatever cable channel it is … is based on? I know a TV show called “The Walking Dead” will be starting on Oct. 31st (how appropriate!). I’m such a sucker for zombies, I bought – and loved – “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” and “World War Z.” I’m really looking forward to the show; however, I’m still wary about graphic novels, because I find them so hard to read (I’m pathetic with sub-titles, too).

  13. Kat Says:

    Meg – Suzanne Collins will be at Elliot Bay Books in early November to sign books. On a side note, you did enjoy Stargirl, although I can’t remember if you read the sequel. Great young adult books, by a wonderful author!

    Oh yeah, and my 12 year old niece loved The Hunger Games series! 🙂

  14. Echo Says:

    When I read the Hunger Games, I read it straight through the night, from 1AM til 5AM. Couldn’t stop reading even though I had to pee badly. After I finished it, I was dying for the sequel. DYING!!!! When I found out the ARC would be available in the spring, I bribed everyone I could think of to get me one. And yes, I got it. The day I got it, I couldn’t look at it until 1AM again. This time, I promised myself, I would only look at the first chapter and then put it down. Riiiiight. It was 4:30AM when I finished reading and immediately began plotting to find out when the next book ARC would be available.

    I thought the first one was fantastic. In the back of my mind I felt that the sequel just couldn’t be as good. How could it? Boy was I wrong! It was even better! My heart was racing the whole time I was reading it and I simply couldn’t put it down. I believe Ms. Collins is the MASTER of the pageturner. Every chapter ends with almost a cliffhanger feeling. It compels you to keep reading. It physically traps you into the book so that you just can’t put it down. If you can’t read this book in one sitting, then I urge you not to even look at it until you can. Like the first one, you will not be able to put it down. The house could have been on fire and I doubt I would have noticed.

    Since we got to know Peeta and Katniss so well from the first one, what the sequel does is invest us even more deeply into their emotional well being. I won’t give any other spoilers than what has already been said. So the book starts with Katniss as the face of the rebellion because of her act of defiance in the first book. As rebellion grows, the President sets up his revenge – and when I found out what it was, I literally sat up in bed and shouted “Oh NO! I can’t believe they are doing this to them!!!” Yes I was talking to my book. That’s how deeply this book sucks you into this amazing and disturbing dystopian world. It makes you want to grab up a weapon and join the rebellion.

    One thing I have to say, I was deeply satisfied with the ending of this book. The first book ended in such a way that I was bothered by it and itchy for the next book. With the end of Catching Fire, I felt it was absolutely right and thrilled with the conclusion. But I’m still DYING for the third and final book of this amazing book series.

  15. Meg Says:

    The third/final book in the series has been out since last summer! What’s the hold-up, Echo?

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