Brief synopsis (Goodreads): The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.
When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. , she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.
Rating: Travel companion
Long story short (no spoilers): On the whole I thought this was a very enjoyable read. The premise was equal parts intriguing and horrifying, making me very curious to know more about it. After reading this I’m eager to find out what happens in the next book.
So, let’s get into it!
What I liked:
- A complex female character takes center stage. I always find it refreshing to see a female protagonist be the hero of a book/TV show/movie that would usually fall under the “roles for boys” category. While representation is getting better, there still aren’t very many leading action roles for women, so it’s still an important achievement to celebrate. In particular it’s Katniss’ complexity I like; not only is she a match for her adversaries in the Hunger Games, but she is more than just a “strong female” archetype. She is also resilient, empathetic, lonely, and disillusioned. And that makes for a much interesting protagonist.
- Themes in the book are (sadly) relatable. Voyeurism, materialism, desensitization, wealth inequality, tyrannical oppression…I’d go on, but it’s too depressing.
- Good pacing, good action. The amount of time spent on each stage seemed fitting. The book is divided into two parts: the first comprises Katniss’ introduction, the Reaping, and getting ready for the Hunger Games; the second follows the actual Hunger Games and is almost three times as long as the first part.
What I didn’t like:
- The limited perspective. A minor vexation, but it would have been nice to know how other characters were dealing with their respective circumstances, specifically Peeta, Gale, Prim, and Haymitch. It would have added to their development throughout the book as well as allowed us to get a more complete understanding of Katniss through their eyes.
Keep reading for a spoiler book and movie review!
Long story long (SPOILERS): I ended up re-watching the movie today after finishing the book to see how different the two were. Overall I was impressed by how faithful the movie was to the original source. There were some differences, but those were relatively minor.
What I liked:
- Using Caesar Flickerman and other commentators in the Capitol to give context/background information. In the book we have Katniss’ inner dialogue as a world-building guide, but there’s no equivalent narrative in the movie. Instead it uses other voices, like Caesar Flickerman and at times Haymitch, to give context to characters’ actions, which I feel worked really well.
- They spent time on Katniss and Rue’s relationship, and Rue’s death. In the book Rue’s death was a pivotal moment for Katniss. It’s then that she realizes what Peeta meant when he said, “I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not” (141). She openly grieves for the first time, not just for Rue but for everything that culminated in this moment.
- Romance didn’t play as big a part as I had expected. The biggest criticism I heard from viewers who had read the books was that the romance factor had been dialed up way too much and a lot of the focus was on that instead of more immediate and practical concerns like fighting to survive. However I thought the movie downplayed a lot of the romance. In the book Katniss and Peeta make out a half dozen times and share a more intimate relationship than the movie showed. It was frustrating that Katniss’ motives weren’t as clear to us as they are in the book, and I can see the non-book reading audience missing out there.
What I didn’t like:
- The loss of Katniss’ inner dialogue. I saw the movie when it first came out, before I had read the book, and thought Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss was incredibly bland (limited facial expressions, stunted dialogue). After reading the book and being privy to Katniss’ inner dialogue it became apparent that she was a lot like Lawrence’s character. The lack of an inner dialogue means losing much of the reasoning behind Katniss’ actions and decisions, which was what led me to believe Lawrence’s portrayal wasn’t true to the book.
- The lack of focus on Katniss’ background. The death of her father plays a big role in Katniss’ development, but the movie barely touches on it. It explains how she started hunting, why she’s so good with a bow and arrow, the fierce protectiveness she feels for her sister, and the tense relationship with her mother. I also missed hearing her stories about growing up in District 12: the first time she met Gale, how Peeta’s kindness literally saved her life, the hunting trips she took with her father, how Prim got her goat. These were small but bright moments in the book that were anchors in a sea of chaos and bloody violence, and important to the integrity of Katniss’ character.
Not sure how I feel about it:
- Hints of rebellion and the inner workings of the Capitol/government. I noticed that the film created dialogue between President Snow and the Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane (it’s my understanding that though Crane isn’t mentioned in the first book, his death (as seen in the first movie) is explained in the next book). From the Reaping to the actual Hunger Games, we can infer that the Capitol has a lot of power, but how much and what kind exactly can only be inferred. The few moments between Snow and Crane add another layer of complexity to the plot. In addition, District 11’s rebellion following the death of Rue, which wasn’t mentioned in the book, was a bit startling. It’s likely that this was meant to garner interest in the next Hunger Game movies, giving the audience a hint or taste of what’s to come, but it felt a little out of place in the first film.
Whew, that was a decent amount to unpack! If you’ve read the book and/or seen the movie, what did you think of it?