The Hunger Games

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The movie of The Hunger Games is opening soon and apparently it’s a big, Harry Potterish thing with the preteens. I had never heard of the books until I saw a trailer for the movie recently, even though they’re been on best seller lists for nearly two years.

The Hunger Games, available at Amazon.com, on Kindle and in print

I got the first book in The Hunger Games series when I got my shiny new Kindle for Christmas and the book was a free Amazon Prime borrow. I found the first book compelling, even though there’s nothing the least original in it (but the same could be said, in truth, of Harry Potter). Originality of concept often isn’t as important as the freshness and the vitality of the approach. As the Harry Potter series breathed a vibrant new life into some very old fantasy concepts, The Hunger Games gives a hint of that vitality to the post-apocalyptic survival scenario, at least in the first book.

The main character, Katniss, a teenaged girl, was interesting. She had the whole ‘girl power’ thing going on, but had a decently set-up background that made her feats possible, and enough flaws built in that she wasn’t over-the-top on invincibility. But her very necessary flaws and self-doubts did sometimes read as an author purposely acknowledging that her character, who otherwise would be a “Mary Sue” needed these characteristics.These elements sometimes felt strained in the narrative.

The world scenario had numerous logic problems that kept jumping out at me. The world-building is certainly not comparable to the absolute believability of the Heinlein juveniles, but on the whole, I enjoyed the first book of The Hunger Games series and wanted to read the sequels.

Book 2, whose title didn’t last for me even a minute, had the unfortunate “middle book” syndrome. It had no particular beginning and no particular ending. Worse, the author felt compelled to redo the entire scenario from book one using a rather weak, gimmicky excuse for it. This scenario, which was the point of the first book, had to be repeated but bigger and badder. It was movie sequel syndrome all over again. Special effects and extremes took over in place of plot and character development.

Nothing particular was resolved and there was little forward motion. As it got further into the book more and more of the active portions of the plot were taken out of the main character’s hands and control; she became a character who was acted upon rather than taking action.

Book 3 went completely flat for me. It also totally wraps up the character and scenario so that further sequels are improbable. The main character in this book seemed to spend most of the book unconscious, injured, or otherwise so immobilized she was pretty much not a part of the story. This is quite a feat of unfortunate writing when we’re trapped in first person narrative writing and the interesting story is all taking place out of the main character’s sight!

So Katniss trudges sullenly through the third novel being acted upon, rather than taking action, and sulking rather than taking part in the greater story. Then, in what felt like an editing revision in response to some wise reader/editor’s feedback, Katniss jumped up and took charge of the story and action for a few chapters that read like a video game (a gross, violent, gory video game), only to have this fizzle away into helpless nothingness. Her one big moment of taking control of the story and plot was telegraphed so poorly it came as more a relief after a long wait than as a dynamic surprise. Then, again, after this huge moment of stepping forward and seizing control of the plot and scenario, Katniss again took to her bed, sulking and not following up on her huge moment. The ending was a massive letdown to the entire series.

I might reread book one at some point as it had some very good flavor and characters, but can’t see rereading the entire series. For the movie, I’ll wait for free cable.

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