Monday, March 05, 2012

The Hunger Games Trilogy

Before I graduated college, I never had much time on my hands for pleasure reading. However, for those of you who don't know me, I also happen to have something of a book addiction, and this has been present almost my entire life. Since I've graduated, I have a lot more time on my hands, and when I'm not doing things like interviewing for better retail jobs, apartment hunting, or studying for the GRE, I am catching up on four years of pleasure reading that I have missed out on, and the mountains of books that I have never read that I've acquired in the process. 
I just finished the Hunger Games Trilogy, and those books have been on my list for over a year and a half now. They proved to be just as delightful, surprising, suspenseful, and, for lack of a better word, rewarding as I was told they were. I definitely give the series five stars, and I would rate the quality of the writing and the cleverness of the plot up there with the Harry Potter series. However, they were much less predictable than the Harry Potter series. 
The Hunger Games welcomes you to a world similar to that of George Orwell's 1984, a dictatorship, where the government has the last say in everything; the way the citizens think, move, speak, and otherwise conduct themselves. Each year, the capitol city hosts The Hunger Games, selecting twenty-four children between the ages of twelve and eighteen. These children are made up, paraded around, and eventually send into a large arena of land to kill each other. The players develop strategies, alliances are formed, and the games continue, with only one victor: the last child alive. 
***SPOILER ALERT*** (Go to the second half of the post if you want to hear about The Sometimes Daughter). 
Except this year. Katniss Everdeen, who volunteered to take her sister's place in the games resigned herself to death when she stepped up on the stage. Leaving behind family and friends, she meets up with someone who had saved her life once before; Peeta, her childhood acquaintance. The two present a united front, when in reality, Katniss suspects Peeta of acting. This is stretched even further when Peeta confesses during his interview that he has always been in love with Katniss. With these words, Peeta wins the hearts of the viewers. Katniss, who does not feel the same way, plays along. When the two are thrust into the ring, their bond quickly drops because Peeta joins up with the children who make training for the games their careers, a group Katniss despises. When a new rule that two competitors can win is introduced, Katniss sets out to find the man who confessed his love for her, determined to keep him alive so the two of them can go home. She plays along with his star-crossed lovers ploy. When it was down to the two of them, the gamemakers changed the rule about two competitors being able to win, so one would have to kill the other. What they didn't know was that the two had stored poisoned berries in the event that an enemy would steal and eat them. These berries are the very thing that Katniss proposed eating so that no one would win. The capitol balked at the idea of not being in control, and allowed both children to live. However, the states that make up the country of Panem (the last remaining country on earth) took this to be an act of rebellion towards the capitol, and it caused an uprising. 
I don't know that I can say for sure that Katniss's actions at the end of the games are what really caused the rebellion amongst the states. While Katniss was trying to preserve a bit of herself, and die on her own terms, I would argue that her actions were taken partially because she and Peeta had become friends. I would also argue that she loved him, if only a little bit, because of the way she described her feelings, and what she felt during several of his kisses. Also the fact that she drugged him so that she could get the medicine needed to save his life speaks volumes about the depth of her emotion. 
The idea that Katniss was trying to play the games on her own terms was illustrated by several parts in the book. The idea was first introduced by Peeta, when on the roof of the training center the night before the games began. He said something along the lines about not wanting to change who he was just to survive. This was a theme that was carried throughout the trilogy. For the most part, she refused to kill anyone unless they had somehow wronged her, or in self defense. She decorated the body of her ally. She refused to kill Peeta. 
I would also argue that Peeta's choice of allies was a smart decision. In choosing the career competitors, he ensured his own safety by promising to lead them to Katniss, and he ensured Katniss's safety by helping her to escape. These actions are what allowed the duo to get out of the arena alive, and into the next book. 
Catching Fire was a bit of a blur to me. President Snow, the dictator, came to visit Katniss, telling her that she had to convince the rest of the country that she really loved Peeta, because apparently she did not do a good enough job during the games, and her male friend from childhood didn't do much to help that image. So he proposes a wedding on the victory tour. But it is too late. The states have already begun to rebel, and no amount of convincing that Katniss does with get the states to realize that rebelling is a dangerous plan. So the president takes drastic measures. He announces that the seventy-fifth annual Hunger Games participants will be selected from past victors. Because she is the only female victor from her state, and there are only two male victors (both her friends), Katniss and Peeta are guaranteed a second round in the ring. Little do they know, they will be rescued by the people leading the rebellion, and whisked away to the state that no one knows exists. This could have been predicted by some savvy readers, but for me, I was completely surprised. I didn't know what to make of Katniss and Peeta's allies protecting the two of them, one of them essentially committing suicide to save them. What we learn later in the novel is that most of the competitors are aware of this plan. Katniss and Peeta are separated because the rescue team was not able to get Peeta. Most of the others were saved, but Peeta, as well as one other rebel were captured by the capitol. So ends book two. 
There were several twists in this plot that I couldn't help but gasp at. I freaked out when it was announced that the competitors would be chosen from past victors. I was very impressed at the way Suzanne Collins paints with words. Katniss's prep team, and especially her designer were fantastic. Each time Katniss appeared in the costume, I could see it burning, which was the goal of Suzanne Collins. Her imagery was so fantastic that even though the technology does not exist, I could picture the costumes so clearly.
In portraying the costumes the way she did, Ms. Collins set the stage for Katniss to be the leader of the revolution. In the first book, Katniss wears a pin given to her from the descendant of a prior competitor of her state, one who had previously died in the ring. The pin is a metal representation of a mutation of a tool that the capitol came up with to record conversations. It comes to stand for freedom, and the communication tool that was literally used in the ring, and figuratively used outside of the ring (I'm referring to the mockingjays that Rue and Katniss used to communicate, and the bread with the imprint of the mockingjay). The irony is that the people of the capitol also wore various mockingjay paraphernalia after Katniss and Peeta had won.
On to book three: Mockingjay. As life progresses in the new state, the capitol tortures Peeta, brainwashing him to believe that Katniss isn't the love of his life, that she is dangerous, and that she should be killed by any means. They also used him for a mouthpiece, instructing him to call for a cease-fire. Katniss has seen the front lines. She has seen what the capitol is doing to the people that provide them with everything they need to survive, and she allows herself to become their mascot on the condition that she gets to kill President Snow, and the safety and pardoning of the other participants in the seventy-fifth games. Peeta is eventually rescued, and the moment he sees Katniss for the first time after his stay in the Capitol, he tries to strangle her. The rebellion continues, the rebels taking each state one at a time, ending with the second state. Katniss sees different parts of the war, but enough to keep the rebels going with her passionate words. When the rebels take the second state, Katniss gets shot. Luckily, nothing was harmed except for a few bruised ribs, and Katniss continues on. The rebels were going to take the Capitol last. During the Capitol raid, half of Katniss's team gets taken out by the Capitol's defense systems, including what they call "mutts" (animals that have been altered and crossbred to make killing monsters). When they finally take the Capitol, the President is caught and held captive for the remainder of the book. He had been about to surrender when bombs were dropped on children surrounding his mansion like a shield. When help rushed in, the bombs exploded a second time, recalling Katniss to a conversation she had with her childhood friend, Gale, about traps. She stumbled into the President's holding cell, and he confirmed that the bombs were sent by the rebel's side, and that her sister who was initially called into the games had died as a result. He also planted in her head a seed of doubt about the way the new republican government was going to be run, and suggested that it wouldn't be any different than the government that they had just overthrown. The new president, Coin, had been a competitor for president with Snow, and had just stepped in to his position. So when the time came for Katniss to publicly assassinate President Snow, she instead fixed her arrow on Coin and killed her. Snow also died that day from poisoning himself slowly over the years. Peeta is eventually healed, and Katniss chooses him over her childhood friend Gale, because he is truly kind, whereas Gale's kindness only extends to the people that were kind to him. 
I thought that the shooting of President Coin was the largest turning point in the trilogy. What had struck Katniss was Snow's last line to her, stating that he thought they had agreed not to lie to each other. I found it interesting that in the end, Snow was kind of an ally to her. He knew he was going to die, I think, because he died on stage at the same time as Coin. I think that he was resigned to his fate, so he himself was able to commit himself to the cause and bring down the government. I think that he was probably thinking that if he couldn't be dictator anymore, then no one could be, and that the people were too stupid to govern themselves and would probably die out eventually. I think that it was also possible that Snow once competed against Coin for the dictatorship, and won, and that convincing Katniss to kill Coin was his last move, and his way of winning the game and beating Coin once and for all. 
When discussing the book with a co-worker, he asked whether I thought that Gale was responsible for Katniss's sister, Prim's death. While some might argue that because he came up with the idea for the bombs, it was his fault that Prim died, I want to bring up a counter example. The atomic bomb. Just because Albert Einstein created the atomic bomb does not make him responsible for every resulting casualty. I would, however, make the argument that the new government/the rebels were responsible for Prim's death, because they were the ones who put their own people in the Capitol during the bombing, while preying on society's instinct to assist the wounded to inflict more casualties. 
Also, while Gale seemed like the right choice for Katniss to end up with, I feel that it was fitting for her to end up with Peeta, the man that she had been through so much with. Just competing in the Hunger Games ruined her relationship with Gale forever, and not just because he had feelings for her and was jealous. She had been through so much trauma that no one could possibly relate to it. I would equate her trauma to that of a war veteran's, or possibly an abused woman. Peeta had experienced some of the same things, and that made the two able to relate to each other, making him the obvious choice.
All in all, I commend Suzanne Collins for writing such a wonderful, unpredictable, and well-woven storyline. The imagery was amazing, and I really admire how much she took from history to make this book. The thirteen states supposedly represent the thirteen original colonies, you can see some of the World War Two references, even the way people looked, and how body types reflected different styles of living (heftier bodies meant wealth in the twelfth state, whereas skinny bodies represented wealth in the Capitol). It was the use of history and the knowledge that history repeats itself that made this book so realistic, and caused it to seem like a real possibility for what the future may hold. For those that enjoyed Orwell's 1984, Zamyatin's We, and Huxley's Brave New World, you will most certainly enjoy this series. It is definitely a mind bender.