Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Hunger Games

So there's this little trilogy you might have heard of called The Hunger Games? It's only being hailed everywhere like the Second Coming of Young Adult literature or like it's single-handedly created the dystopia/post-apocalyptic YA novel. And I'm not saying it's not good, but I am saying it doesn't live up to its hype. (There are major spoilers for the end of the series, if you haven't read it, skip to the end of the post for other book recommendations.)

Katniss has been touted as this wonderful kick-butt feminist role model, but I disagree. Yes, she is kick-butt for the first two books. However, she's mostly reactive, almost never proactive, except for choosing to go in her sister's place to the Hunger Games. In everything else, she's reacting to situations, events and circumstances everyone else creates for her or around her. Katniss is also manipulative, although I can't necessarily find fault with it, since it's to keep herself and her friends alive; and the boy she manipulates is excessively clingy, as well as entitled for lack of a better word. Although he and Katniss have barely ever spoken to each other in their lives, he announces on TV his love for her, and while a lot of people claim something like that is sweet; someone who makes such a public announcement (especially without finding out even tentatively how the other person feels) is essentially power playing his partner. Trying to play on someone's sympathy or embarrassment to say yes if love isn't strong enough and make sure that she/he won't back out of saying no because it's in such a public arena. That's not sweet, that's just as manipulative as what she does to him (pretending to love in in exchange for gifts from sponsors of the game).
Additionally, after the audience starts (somewhat inexplicably) rooting for Katniss as an icon of rebellion against the Capital, Katniss moans and complains endlessly about it. At first I could understand and even sympathize--I mean I wouldn't want that kind of adulation either, but then in the last book when she finally agrees to be the "Mockingjay" and the mascot of the revolution; I had zero tolerance for her whining and avoiding whatever involvement she could in planning and activities. After you take on a responsibility, that's when you put on your big girl pants and you do the job, no matter how much you hate it.
And finally, Katniss spends the last book either in the hospital (seriously she's in the hospital for at least half or more of the book) or otherwise sidelined for some reason, and misses every single major plot event but one because of her forced inactivity. Why would Collins write her main character out of every major event in the climax of the story? It's just bad story-telling, not to mention it makes Katniss incredibly passive in the last book. Katniss also spends the last book crying, weeping, hiding in closets, and generally angsting about. I get that after going through two Hunger Games with lots of death and having to kill people she'd be suffering from PTSD. But yet, her entire district is bombed and 2/3 of the people die, don't you think that the remaining people in her district are also suffering from some form of PTSD from seeing most of their family and friends bombed to death right in from of them and just barely escaping? And yet the district carries on and they are volunteering as soldiers or helping plan the revolution or whatever else they can do? Or what of Finnick and Johanna, who were not only in two Hunger Games as well like Katniss, but were also tortured for several weeks which was far worse than anything she went through; and it turns out that Finnick at least, as well as other Hunger Game contestants, were used as child prostitutes by the Capital? Again, far worse than Katniss' problems. And although the two of them are obviously messed up, when there is a chance to help, they step up without being asked, even if they may not be emotionally or physically ready for it.
But then there's the epilogue to the final book, that ghastly horrible epilogue. Collins in the last book does that thing that so many YA writers do when they've created a love triangle with two generally suitable love interests and the protagonist. Rather than letting the main character choose between the two love interests as they are, the author turns one of the love interests into a jerk or worse, without any warning or previous evidence to support it, as an easy way to get the protagonist out of the triangle. So anyway, after getting rid of Gale (who was a much better fit for Katniss than Peeta and far far more interesting), Katniss winds up with Peeta even though she doesn't love him, and has never loved him as more than a friend. In the epilogue Katniss settles on Peeta just because he's there, not because she loves him and marries him. Both she and Peeta 20 years later still broken and tortured from their experiences. Katniss never wanted any children throughout the series, but in the epilogue, Peeta pressures her for 15 years and she finally gives in and they have two children. And although she loves her children, she feels fear and pain when she looks at them. Why are YA writers so insistent on hetero-normative endings and making sure that the woman ends paired/married off with babies or engagements or above all making her relationship throughout the book the total sum of her existence (hello Twilight, I'm looking at you and all other YA book obsessive relationships like you)? The love triangle in the Hunger Games isn't necessarily so central to the plot like a lot of these others, but why the need to have a triangle in the first place, and then the forced "happily ever after" with marriage and babies no matter what, even if it goes against what the character feels or wants? A truly revolutionary ending would have been Katniss not just settling for either boy that she didn't truly love or not having children she didn't want, and working out her issues on her own.

So ranting over, here are some books with similar themes that I think are better done than the Hunger Games (sticking mostly with Young Adult novels):

Dystopias and Post-apocalyptic novels:
-Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden--A coalition of nameless countries invades Australia, and a group of teens backpacking in the outback avoid the takeover and internment of their town. Despite such a storyline, Marsden avoids the Red Dawn/patriotic furor territory for the most part. The series follows the group from average rural teens to guerrilla fighters and a realistic view of the psychological effects of such actions on the teens.
-Emergence by David Palmer--After a bio-nuclear plague wipes out most of the world, 11 year old Candy looks for other survivors and learns she is the next step in the evolution of humans.
-The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner--When sun flares made most of the middle section of earth uninhabitable, a group of gifted children are put through a series of sadistic trials by a government group in the hopes of finding leaders among them that will find a solution to the world's problems.
-The Tripods series by John Christopher--possibly one of the earliest YA dystopias. After aliens invade Earth, they control the world's population by putting a cap on each person after they reach puberty which controls their thoughts and emotions. Will and his friends are able to negate the effects of their caps and fight against their oppressors.
Libyrinth by Pearl North--set thousands of years in the future on another planet, there is a kind of war between the Libyrarians who refuse to teach the masses to read, and the Singers who believe written words are evil. Haly, the heroine, is a Libyrarian, but can also "hear" a book without opening it; she is captured by Singers who believe she can help them destroy the Libyrarians.
Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness--Todd lives on a planet where men's and animal's thoughts are audible to everyone around them. He's been told that all the human women on the planet were killed by germ warfare just after he was born, but then he meets a girl his age, and they forced to flee once she's discovered; and Todd struggles to reconcile life on the outside of his town with what he's been taught his whole life.

Kick-butt heroines:
Warrior Princess trilogy by Frewin Jones--Set in Wales during the Saxon invasions, Branwen is chosen by the ancient Gods to lead her people's fight against the Saxons.
The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley--Two different women lead their countries against forces of darkness, fight dragons and learn to control their magical abilities.
Devil's Kiss and Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda--Bilquis is the youngest and only female Knight Templar, in modern day London as the Templars fight against demons, werewolves and other supernatural baddies.
Rampant by Diana Peterfreund--Astrid comes from one of 12 legendary maternal clans that used to hunt unicorns (not the cute cuddly kind, but these unicorns are instead venomous, meat-eating and aggressive). Thought to be extinct for over a hundred years, unicorns suddenly start showing up again in modern day, and Astrid reluctantly joins the newly reopened warrior training academy.
Graceling/Fire by Kristin Cashore--Katsa lives in a world where people are "graced" by certain abilities at birth. Her ability is fighting, and her uncle king uses her as an assassin and bully. To combat the wrong he has her do, she starts a secret council to right wrongs, and in the process tries to save the daughter of a king who can make anyone believe or do anything he says.
Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce--A young woman takes her twin brother's place to train as a knight instead of going into the convent.


  1. Ok I get that Hunger Games wasn't a perfect trilogy but seriously? It's WAY better than The Maze Runner! Come on! I kept reading The Maze Runner thinking that something was going to happen and thinking that maybe one page it would suddenly start getting interesting. Not that it wasn't interesting and wasn't a good book but not the best. And I would personally vote that Hunger Games blew Maze Runner out of the water. Cheers :)

  2. Well, I disagree, the first in the Maze Runner series was a little slow, but the second is better. And the first two books in the Hunger Games weren't terrible, although there were some issues I had with them. But the last book in the series just sent me over the edge it was so full of holes, insulting to the readers, and felt like it was all about churning it out for the sake of making money. I haven't read a book in years that's made me so angry I've wanted to throw it across the room repeatedly.

  3. Ok it wasn't that bad. I wanted to throw Breaking Dawn across the room way more than Mockingjay.

  4. That's because Stephenie Meyer is the devil, and you should have seen the signs long before then and given up while you had a chance.

  5. I had to find out what happened to their mutant baby!