The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first novel in the popular The Hunger Games series.
“A much more engaging novel than I had imagined.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
As a fan of the Battle Royale movie, and a fan of movie version of this novel, starring Jennifer Lawrence, I was really looking forward to reading The Hunger Games. While the core idea of the novel is somewhat dark, kids killing other kids in an arena for nothing but the enjoyment of the privileged, I was really intrigued as to how the movie version is different from the source material. I’d seen the movie first of course, and so, during the reading, a lot of things jumped out at me because of the differences. And in general, I’d say that while the movie was really, the book is slightly better because of the added context of a lot of the scenes and because the movie had to inevitably skip quite a fair bit of the backstory, especially for characters like Katniss and Peeta.
The novel is all first person, and therefore, we get to see everything from Katniss’ perspective and we get to read her internal monologues and can see what all her insecurities and her fears are, in addition to everything else that makes her what and who she is. Of all the Young Adult novels I’ve read, this one stands out as one where the protagonist is downright ass-kicking worthy, and not just because of her physical attributes or her skills, but also because she can think logically. Sure, there’ve been a few books along those lines that I’ve read before, such as Emilie & The Hollow World or Pantomime for instance, but then neither of those two has what I would call an action heroine. And that’s a major difference. Katniss is a character who holds appeal for both camps of readers: those who want action, and those who want more than just action.
Seeing everything coloured through her perspective means that we never get outside of that “tone” of the narrative and thus cannot see some of the larger events at work, which is one area where the movie definitely trumps up the book, and it made for a really interesting read. In the movie we got to see everything from an omniscient viewer perspective. Not so in the book, and all the details that jump out because of that made The Hunger Games a really fun book. And Suzanne Collins gets the first person perspective down right. She manages to give a full view of the world around Katniss while at the same time also letting us explore the character through her dialogue and her monologues. That balance, as someone who has experimented with it before in my own writing, is not an easy one to achieve, and getting it right is even tougher than that.
Seeing things through Katniss also made me appreciate and understand the world around her much better since we often get mini history lessons from her or cultural background. This was one area where the movie had to skimp on, and seeing all this extra material really brings the world to life. Whether it has something to do with District 12’s mayor’s daughter or Katniss’ thoughts for Gale, her childhood friend, or her comments on the Pan-Am society, it all adds up to create a world that contrasts heavily between two established cultures and really fleshes both of them out in the process.
And in this world are some really interesting characters to match, such as Peeta and Haymitch and Effie and Cinna and Rue and Caesar Flickerman and everyone else. What I really loved was how well-presented Caesar is in the book, when compared to the movie. For starters, he appears as a much more understanding and astute character, given how much Katniss internalizes that he put her to rest during their interviews and how he avoided getting her to do some awkward moments and the like. That kind of stuff was completely missing from the movie. There just wasn’t any space for it. And Caesar comes across as a much more jovial character as well, which just added to his charm.
Then there’s Effie of course, and all her dialogue, which was just superb. In the book we learn how she wants to be assigned to a better District, some place where the Tributes actually care about the Hunger Games and are interested in them on some level, which Katniss just isn’t. And she also wants to be assigned to a District where the Tributes actually have a chance of winning. Once again, all this context was missing from the movie, to its detriment really, even though the format is limited as an adaptation.
It was things like this and others which made me really like the book.
And for that completely silly controversy about how Rue was cast as a black girl in the movie. For heaven’s sake, Suzanne does mention Rue’s skin colour in the book and it is most decidedly NOT white. So to everyone who raged against the movie for this, asking why a young black actress was given the role, you really should have read the book more closely.
Now, as much as I liked the book, it did have a few problems. The first and foremost was the pacing. The first 80 pages or so are really slow, and things don’t really kick off at all until the Hunger Games begin. The pacing really got to me early on and I didn’t really get into the novel until the big event. Mostly because those early pages were all setup and I was a bit impatient to get on with things, but still, there is a lot of backstory packed into those early pages.
Another thing was that given how different the book is from the movie, and is generally better, I didn’t really take to Katniss and Peeta’s romance in the book as much as I did in the movie. Here it came across as a bit cliched and sudden, whereas I think the movie handled it better. And this goes back to everything being from Katniss’ perspective and thus coloured by it. Her thoughts really exposed what she thought about Peeta, especially since she clearly had some fascination for Gale before she took off for Pan-Am with Peeta and Haymitch and Effie. It was an interesting three-point romance, but no outside perspective meant that I couldn’t get into it as much as I wanted to.
With the way that things end here, I certainly will be reading the sequel, Catching Fire, at some point because I’m really interested in both the setting and the characters, and I want to see where things go next. However, as before, I’ll end up seeing the movie before I read the book, since the movie is supposed to come out in about 6 weeks and I won’t be able to read the novel itself until next year at least. It really should be fun either way, and now that I have all this backstory knowledge for a lot of the things that happen in this setting, I’m sure I’ll enjoy the sequel movie all that more. Having context and all that.
In the meantime, if you’ve been dithering on whether or not to read the novel, I would definitely suggest reading it. It is s different novel than most out there, and part of its charm is that relative uniqueness.