I posted about this on Facebook the other day (admittedly probably not the appropriate outlet for it) and it created quite the little controversy.
I read the first book of Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy and I was left feeling a bit disappointed. The movie came out last night, and I just read THIS which doesn’t surprise me at all.
What I said on Facebook was, I feel that the book will actually translate better to film than it was as a book. Which would be one of those rare cases where the film is better than the source material. I clearly stated that due to my Harry Potter bias, there are precious few young adult (YA) books that will impress me. With Harry Potter, it wasn’t just the story, or the characters, or the plot, or the themes or the writing style, or how J.K. Rowling literally forced the reader to feel what Harry felt at each stage of his development. It was all of those things, and then some.
There is nothing that bothers me more than when someone says “well, it was just meant to be a fun read, it doesn’t have to be good”. I say, if we don’t hold the things we read and watch to some level of standard, then the things that are offered will continue to be worse and worse. Was the story of Hunger Games interesting, if a bit unoriginal, absolutely. Do books like this get young people reading, yes of course. But in my mind, as Harry Potter proved, just because it is written for young people, doesn’t mean it has to be Twilight.
Speaking of Twilight, unlike my issues with that fetid waste of paper, I didn’t take issue with the message or themes. In Twilight, the reader is subjected to what I consider a disgusting abuse of the notion that young women should be strong, independent decision makers who do not rely on men for their self-image. The second Twilight book has Bella literally considering suicide, because without Edward, her life is meaningless. Edward is the drug that keeps her alive, and without him she becomes a pathetic shell of a person who resembles a heroin addict with no access to their drug. That is not a message I want my daughter to be receiving.
Katniss on the other hand is a strong, independent woman who stands up for what she believes in and even goes so far as to use her powers as a woman to influence the men around her to aid her in her mission. Katniss is princess Leia, Bella is Queen Amedala (or Padme, or whatever her name was). So my issue wasn’t with the plot, or the story, or even the main character. My issue was that the book felt “thin”. There was very little depth to the supporting characters (aside from maybe Peeta) and because the entire narrative is told from Katniss’ perspective, the audience is denied access to many of the most important aspects of the story. Katniss is often thinking about how the viewers at home are perceiving her struggle through the Games, but we never see it. We don’t see what it is like for Gale, or her mother, or the parents and loved ones of the other competitors to have to watch as Katniss and others battle to the death. All of this can and will be shown in the film, and I think it will add tremendous depth to the story.
She states that she is in the Games for about two weeks, but to the reader it feels like 2 or 3 days. Just telling me something took a long time is lazy writing. When Harry, Ron and Hermione are trudging across Great Britain attempting to evade Voldemort’s forces, the reader is brough along on that arduous, often boring journey. That is what life is like, and to just tell the reader “the next few days were tough… etc., etc.” doesn’t force the reader to feel it. I remember getting really frustrated with Harry Potter the character in the beginning of Order of the Phoenix, and thinking he was acting like an idiot. Then it dawned on me that I was feeling exactly what she wanted me to feel. I was feeling like a frustrated 15 year-old. There was none of that in this book. She glazed over the boring or difficult parts so that the reader never experienced it with her.
This to me is the weakness of the book, and the issue I have with the first-person narrative only approach that she chose to use. I didn’t hate the book, but I think the movie will be better. Because of the plot, the emotional high for me was when Katniss volunteered for the Games in place of her sister. It was an emotionally heart-wrenching scene, but it was like the second chapter. When she was in the Games, so much happened so fast there were few moments to really hurt. If the author had let the audience into the minds of the people whose loved ones were fighting for their lives, I think there would have been more of that.
I didn’t mean to offend anyone with what I said on Facebook. For me, just because I am reading something for fun, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be well written. I think after everything I heard about this book, I just expected more. I don’t think it is Twilight, but it is most definitely not Harry Potter.