Collected Thoughts on The Hunger Games, Book 1: Team Katniss All The Way

first written 8/4/11,  edited a bunch of times.  technically beta-ed by Alice.

There is so much to talk about regarding The Hunger Games trilogy that this post is no more than a list of several themes that interest me in the first book.  Because July turned into the month of Easy A and I don’t want that to happen again, I am currently planning ONLY ONE other post on this series, at least for now*.  I won’t internet-publish it until I’ve finished rereading the remaining two books, which will take a while.   When the first movie comes out in March 2012 I will absolutely review it here, in sha’allah.

*Or perhaps one review post per book?  Vote in the comments.

This post only focuses on Book 1 because that’s the one I reread most recently, in 4 hours with almost no breaks.  I was really gratified to realize that it’s still an amazing read.  By no means is it the best YA novel out there (for 2009 or of all time), but it’s still really, really good.   Yes, Suzanne Collins jumped aboard the Dystopia bandwagon, but she did it better than most people — arguably, even better than Cormac McCarthy in The Road.   (COME AT ME, BRO.)    Book 1 (also called The Hunger Games, which is annoying) is definitely the best of the three, no question.

I’ll do my best to avoid huge spoilers, but just take a weekend afternoon to read it already.

TEAM KATNISS ALL THE WAY

I love, love, love Katniss.  I believe that Peeta is ultimately the right choice — and who doesn’t have the hots for Gale? — but if Katniss had said ‘fuck ’em’ and fled for other lands, I would have totally supported her.   She rocks, and Suzanne Collins rocks for creating such a character.

Daddy’s paraphrased thoughts after Book 1, two years ago: “she’s an idiot to think she can go back to Gale like nothing’s happened.  Now that she’s SPOILER won the Hunger Games she’s just jumped several [social] classes.  There’s no way he’ll want to take her back/understand her now that she’s really wealthy.” END SPOILER

[note: My dad is almost always right about these things.   See Books 2 and 3 for confirmation.]

Mental health in these books is a huge issue* that is easily overlooked in the first book and willfully misunderstood by most reviewers (that I’ve read) in the third.  Katniss starts off the series scarred and ends the series severely traumatized.  She has PTSD like nobody’s business, and if she didn’t, it would be incredibly unrealistic.  I also can’t wait to reexamine her mother’s character arc.

*This is almost certainly what my other THG post will be about.  I won’t be ready for it for a while.

Race

I didn’t notice Rue was black until Daddy pointed it out.  I completely missed that character description — I probably read it as “brown hair” instead of “brown skin”, which gives her character an entirely different symbolism, especially as a Prim-surrogate.  What is Collins trying to argue happened to race relations at the founding of Panem?  Are we to understand that all the African-Americans are herded into District 11?   Are there non-white people in the Capitol?   Are there other races in Panem?

In terms of progressing white-black relations, Collins did a B+ job, considering she’s a white woman with a white girl’s story to tell.  Any more, and it would have been heavy-handed and false.

I also wish Thresh had a larger role, but it would have been wrong.  There was no reason for them to interact except regarding Rue’s death, but I’d LOVE to read some fan fics from his perspective.  Unfortunately there are probably very few young black fanboys out there (for native accuracy in tone, you guys).

Class

OH MAN, I CAN’T EVEN.   SOOOOO GOOD.   As an activist, my hope would be that after reading the stories of the horrific nature of coal mining, Collins and others would get together to help the Appalachian families start new careers.  Although honestly, I doubt it.  Anyway, the little defensive exchanges between Katniss and Peeta in Book 1 are SPOT ON.  (“you wouldn’t understand, you’re not from the Seam.”)  (“i always thought shopkeepers lived soft lives”  “we ate stale bread every day”)

Violence

[quote: how easy it will be to kill humans]

It is so gross, but so accurate.  Upper-middle-class white America has been incredibly shielded from this kind of violence for so long, except in books and video games.  This shit happens in the third world all the time — always has, and probably always will — just usually not with so much of Big Brother’s control.  In Katniss we have a moral hunter,  a girl who can and will kill ruthlessly when necessary (see the end of Book 1) but who hates what her society has become and what it has forced her to do in order to survive.  Still, she is so wounded by her father’s death and mother’s (mostly overcome) depression, that she isn’t ready to rebel yet.  Gale is, which is one of the reasons they aren’t perfect romantic matches.  He pushes her, but not in the ways she needs to be pushed — at least, for emotional healing’s sake.

Panem (The Dystopian Tyranny)

If you haven’t yet realized that THG directly plagiarizes Roman gladiator culture, please consider this a message from Captain Obvious:  DUH.  The name of District 2’s boy tribute is “Cato”, for crying out loud.   If you’ve received a classical education at ALL, you should kick yourself if you didn’t recognize the theme.  (If you received a liberal arts education without reading the Greeks/Romans, go home and start over.  Email me if you need rec’s.)

Perhaps I just need to take a huge Suspension of Disbelief pill here, but what happened to the rest of the world while the USA imploded on itself?  Didn’t the EU, the UN, and NATO have anything to say about it?  [obligatory pause for a UN joke.]   I’m pretty sure Collins ignores this entirely in Books 2 and 3, probably because this is “young adult fiction” and to do it properly would have tacked on another 400 pages, at least.  But if George RR Martin can write 800-page tomes about nothing fantastical politics (sorry, SB, I did try), so can she.    Maybe after Panem was founded everyone just ignored it, like the way we pretend to do with North Korea?  Except we don’t actually ignore North Korea at all.  Whatever.

The Villains

in this book, they are: Glimmer (girl tribute, District 1), Cato (boy tribute, District 2), Clove (girl tribute, District 2), and the unseen Gamemakers (but only kind of).

Is it Peeta or Gale who has the line about the Capitol trying to prevent the classes from uniting?   Because that’s totally what they do with the Districts as well

quote for Glimmer description — the image in my head for her is now, irrevocably, Rosie Huntington-Whitely (of Victoria’s Secret and Transformers 4 fame), although a less gross/more talented Paris Hilton might work as well.  Girl knows her strengths and is ruthless.  That’s kind of hot.

Cato & Clove — are they brother and sister? childhood friends?  secret lovers?  or simply forged together in the spirit of solidarity?  I’d love to read fan fic from their perspective.  They’re “awful”, but they’ve also been raised to be awful.  And Collins “redeems” them well.   Cato has, hands down, the worst death of the book and I really hope they edit that down in the movies, because I don’t want to watch it.

the Gamemakers — a shadowy presence fit to TERRIFY.  excellent set-up for the next book.

Unreliable Narrator

Because she is.  Not about descriptions of the Capitol, the situation, or the violence, but about her own feelings.   If you leave this book feeling like she’s a cold, heartless bitch who doesn’t deserve Peeta’s love, then you’re right on board with Katniss.  That’s totally how she feels too.   But the girl is effing psychologically WOUNDED, even before the games (in a way Peeta isn’t — well, a little bit), and she’s not ready to love.  Or understand.  Or really be a citizen of humanity.  [Quote on: what would I do with free time? All I know how to do is find food.]

Love

Filial, sibling, romantic, neighborly.   It’s all there.  Not very eloquent, but there.  Good on Collins for including the variety.   Next series, we work on subtlety…

Writing Quality

Oy, so this is the easiest thing to pick on.  Based on this series alone, Collins is by no means a elegant master of the prose.   She’s lightyears ahead of Stephenie Meyer, but then most adults with a liberal arts degree are.   At my kindest, I might argue that Collins consciously picked a narrative voice for Katniss that is short, choppy, and perfunctory, and that this is not representative of her ability to turn a phrase.   That’s a convincing argument so long as we have proof that she actually knows how to charm an audience with form, not content.   I’m not particularly interested in finding this out (by reading her other books; they seem to be animal stories for preteens), so I’d welcome a reader chime-in here.

The Movie Adaptation (plot)

It’s going to be EPIC.   (March 2012, if you’ve forgotten.)  And because Collins has worked as a screenwriter (it shows, no?), the script will hit all the right notes.  Stephen Soderburgh is reportedly the “second director” or whatever that’s called.   Also because the trilogy is complete, they have something coherent to work with, unlike HP, in which Steve Bloody Kloves jettisoned a lot of fascinating subplots,  or Pirates of the Caribbean, which is so obviously just a cash cow for Disney it’s not even funny or interesting. They’ll make it PG-13 if they know what’s good for them, but the book’s violence is so clearly R-rated that I’m very curious (suspicious?) of what they’re going to cut.

I don’t like going to midnight showings anymore, but I’m kind of tempted for this one.  If I were blonde I’d totally consider dressing up as Glimmer.  :-p

The Movie Adaptation (casting)

Thus far, the confirmed casting is as follows:

Katniss — Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, X-Men First Class).   I wanted Hailee Steinfeld for looks and age (Jen is already 21 and looks it), but thank Hollywood Jen can act.   REALLY hope they don’t actually put her in brown-face, like they did for that awful Entertainment Weekly feature.  (find the link yourself, if you’re a srs fan.)

Peeta — Josh Hutchinson (Bridge to Terabithia, The Kids Are All Right).  ALICE HE IS GOING TO BE GREAT, SHUT UP.

Gale — Liam Helmsworth (The Last Song, Miley Cyrus’ boyfriend).   His CV does not inspire confidence, but Gale has a very small role in Book 1.  Here’s hoping he’ll be more than fangirl eye candy.  I also REALLY hope they don’t just shoot him shirtless a la Taylor Lautner, because Gale is so much more interesting than that.

Cinna — Lenny Kravitz.  I don’t think anyone read Cinna as black.  Interesting.  If you’ve been following the casting news and fan reactions, you know that this is interesting on a whole other level, but I really don’t want to get into that here.

President Snow — Donald Sutherland .  PERFECT.  He is the Alan Rickman of Old White Man roles, i.e. HE CAN DO NO WRONG.

Caesar Flickerman — Stanley Tucci.  ALSO PERFECT.  Nothing more to be said.

Fan Fiction

I’ve read only a little for this fandom, mostly because I’m really picky these days about what I read (I avoid FF.N like the plague unless I’m searching for a specific author).   Collins is a B writer with an A universe and A characters, so this is obviously ripe for amazing interpretations, as I mentioned at least twice above.  I’d love links if you have them.  And I am POSITIVE Alice does.

The two fics I do recommend are both NSFW, for both violence and sex.  (Rated R, like the books themselves.)   You need to have finished Book 2 to read either of them, and I wouldn’t suggest them to fan fiction n00bs/literary criticism novices.   They are both AUs, and they will rock your world.   If there’s substantial interest, I’ll include a detailed section in my next post.

Fandom

They appear a bit nuts, as any fandom that involves teenage girls would.  Also because the movie is being released within the same Internet Generation as the trilogy. The names I’ve seen on Hypable include “Hungerjays”, “Tributes”, “Mockingjays”, and “Hunger Gamers”, listed in order of my preference from best to worst.

I strongly disapprove of “Peetaphiles”, but I do like “Peetabears” for the lulz.

As for a better name for “Team Katniss” — well, let’s just say that after this post, I’ll be a Foreverdeen.  😉

Comments comments comments I want them!  Especially since I didn’t bother creating a huge coherent thesis for this book.   What did I miss, what do you love, and what sucked?  Please keep your comments spoiler-free regarding the rest of the series.  You can do it.

Next week I analyze Ke$ha’s “Sleazy”.   This is your second warning.

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17 thoughts on “Collected Thoughts on The Hunger Games, Book 1: Team Katniss All The Way

  1. Cookie Monster says:

    I’m still trying to find time (and a spare copy) to read it, so I don’t have overwhelmingly useful thoughts, except that I sort of love these scattered, idea-filled posts because they tend to have so many interesting bits!

    • LadyG says:

      I love that you comment even when you are unfamiliar with the subject matter. It’s really excellent to know that you’re reading and that you care. You win all the commenting awards!

      Also, next time you’re in [our city], you can definitely borrow my copy. Or maybe get the audiobook for the journey home? Then you can review the voices!

  2. Alice says:

    One post per book 😛 would be nice. And I don’t know if I so much beta’d as read and then was fangirly.

    I hope in the movie they show Thresh/Cato fight.

    I sort of wish I liked Gale more? But by book 3 any sympathy I had for him was gone. And honestly, Peeta is like the most perfect person ever and a puppy. How can you not love a puppy?

    AND PEETA IS MY FAVORITE OKAY? I’m allowed to be a little upset that Josh looks nothing like him. Even if he is supposedly good at acting. WHO NEEDS THAT FOR A MOVIE?

    I am curious about the two fics you are reccing (though I’ve probably read them because let’s face it, I’ve basically read every THG fic on LJ/AO3), and at the same time would like to remind you to read the Finnick fic.

    Team Katpee is where it’s at. At least it’s better than Peenis? Fandom is crazy, but also has a sensible side that sometimes makes a bigger deal about things than they should (obviously everyone who doesn’t like Lenny as Cinna is a racist). But I do agree that I wish the main roles weren’t so white-washed. Despite my love for JLawrence (and hesitant acceptance of her as Katniss), I really wish they cast someone who was Hispanic or even Asian for the role.

    (And OMG you know about Hypable. Would it be geeky for me to say I only know about that via Mugglecast?)

    Sorry this comment got away from me and decided to be long.

    • LadyG says:

      you know all of my feelings at length, so I’m not going to give you a substantial reply.

      If they were going to cast a non-white as Katniss, either Hispanic or mixed-race would have been my vote.

      Yes, you’re incredibly geeky. Did you really need me to confirm that, though? :-p

    • Cranky says:

      Ladies, I am a total latecomer to the fact that LJ beats FF.N hands down. Why didn’t someone clue me in years ago? Also, what’s the smartest way to find what you want on LJ?

      [puts in notification request of follow-up comments via email because this is the most important thing to me at 1AM]

      • LadyG says:

        Alice is more learned on this subject than I, because I only lurk on LJ these days, but here goes:

        The best way to do it is probably to find an LJ community suited to your interests. If you’re into a specific pairing (called a “ship”, short for “relationship”), you can search for LJ comms devoted to that ship, i.e. Katniss/Peeta, Harry/Draco, Kirk/Spock, or Edward/Jacob*. There you should find enough fan art, fan fic, photomanips, and video edits to keep you content for a long, long time. If you’re fanning tv shows, movies or other visual media, search for related tumblrs.

        *I bet this actually exists, and I hope someone out there writes it well. I refuse to wade through the trash to find that fic, though.

        Finally, I prefer AO3 to LJ, because you can sort cross-fandoms very easily and the quality of the writing is much higher. (Not sure what their screening criteria is.) I’m just going to leave this link here:

        http://archiveofourown.org/tags/Pretty_Little_Liars/works

      • Cranky says:

        Why can I reply to my own comment but not reply to your reply to my comment?

        1) Love how you felt the need to explain to me what a “ship” is – seriously?
        2) Laughed out loud while out with my family when I saw your link and had to explain away my mirth
        3) Sadly, there was nothing tagged as such

        Love you

      • LadyG says:

        Sorry the link didn’t work — did you try searching under fandoms? They definitely have PLL stuff (TV, not books).

  3. Liz B. says:

    I think one review per book would be…okay. I feel as though Catching Fire is important but also so much of it is building up to Mockingjay (it’s the second installment of a trilogy, after all) that I think one SUPER POST could probably also take care of it.

    Katniss is one of my favorite female leads of all time. She’s flawed. She’s talented in a way THAT MAKE SENSE. She’s not magic. She’s not beautiful. She’s not saintly. She’s gritty and pragmatic and REAL. God be praised, she’s REAL.

    I agree with your questions and assessments about race and class, particularly class. I thought that was done so, so well. Especially with how what the districts produced essentially defined the citizens with history blended in (Peeta’s and Katniss’ costumes had to involve coal in some way; mining is a blue-collar, low-paying occupation, so District 12 is mostly blue collar, poor people). As for other countries, I just figured they were all too busy with their own chaos to care about what was happening here.

    I’m looking forward to the movie. I almost always look forward to movies made of books I love (not Ella Enchanted. They weren’t the same at all), and I almost always go to see them. I’d be up for a midnight showing, even. As for the casting, I too was rooting for Hailee Steinfeld (you and I agreeing on something? Shocking!). I know Jennifer Lawrence can act, but so can Hailee. Alas. Also, I think Elizabeth Banks is going to be good as Effie, though I totally saw Kristen Chenoweth in my head when I was reading the books. Cinna kind of alternated between Justin Timberlake, Seamus Dever and Chris Colfer in my head when I was reading; take from that what you will.

    Love the post. Love the blog. Looking forward to more from you!

    • LadyG says:

      I see what you’re saying about Catching Fire, although honestly I remember it much better than Mockingjay, which I read so quickly I feel like I missed large chunks of it. And I’ve only read each of those two once. We’ll see what my schedule permits; there is SO MUCH to blog about.

      I wonder if maybe mining puts you below blue-collar? into, like “gray-collar” or something? Because I’ve known my share of blue-collar union guys and the were several tax levels above what I imagine most of Appalachia to be. Sure, the standard of living in our home city is higher, but I wonder…

      OMG Kristen Chenoweth! That would have been PERFECT! Elizabeth Banks will be fine, I guess.

      Also, I recognize that it is heresy to like the Ella Enchanted movie, but I did. A little. What can I say — it had Anne Hathaway, Parminder Nagra, and Cary Elwes in it. I just pretended that it was an entirely new script that coincidentally had the same name as a beloved novel.

      Finally, pls to be commenting all the time. I think it’s delightful that after 5 (6?) years we STILL share all the same tastes.

  4. Tori says:

    First and foremost, I love love love The Hunger Games. It appeals to my love for twisted, tense romantic situations and my love for sickening violence. My id is SO HAPPY. (I agree that Collins’ writing is not high art. But it’s simply fantastic low art.) I am definitely going to the midnight showing of this movie, and you should go with me.

    By the time the movie comes out, the actor who plays Peeta will have turned 18 so I will feel better about lusting after him. Now you can too!

    Jennifer Lawrence vs. Hailee Steinfeld by which I really mean I’m going to devolve into waxing eloquent about how interesting I find Katniss:

    What I like about Jennifer is that she’s sexy in a non-overwhelming way (also not an underwhelming way, maybe just whelming?). Katniss is supposed to be utterly appealing—actually, she’s a flavor of “pretty girl who doesn’t know the world is worse than it may appear because everyone is so nice to her because she’s pretty.” Granted, this just translates to good deals on the black market, but still. I think her physical attractiveness will help me understand why Peeta is so in love with her. Katniss “doesn’t know the effect she has on people.” What I want to see onscreen is both the effect she has on people, on Peeta and on me, AND that she doesn’t know about it. She’s an extremely flawed character, a flawed human being, but the other characters seem to think her good outweighs her bad. She must be sexy without knowing it, wonderful enough to make people forget all her flaws. In short, Jennifer as Katniss can’t be perfect: she somehow has to be both better and worse than perfect. Both appealing and (I use the word lightly) repulsive. So much naivete and hard cynicism wrapped up in one package… an adult and a child at once, really just a wounded, broken child who had to grow up too fast and failed to grow up at all.

    The fact that Jennifer is sexy, and older, COULD just reinforce how Katniss’s mental age is totally inappropriate to her physical age, because she doesn’t think about normal teenager things. It can clarify the disconnect between what people believe, think, and hope of Katniss and what she is, what she reveals herself to be to the readers. That is, if Jennifer can pull off Katniss’s utter stupidityImeannaivete. I am really excited to see how it plays out.

    • LadyG says:

      I’d be happy to go with you to the midnight showing! You should be Katniss. We can squabble over who gets to be Peeta and Gale in person.

      I agree with Alice that I don’t find Josh Hutchinson incredibly attractive, but I am a fan.

      I love your Katniss analysis of sex-intelligence-naivete, but I will point out that Jen Lawrence can look damn fabulous when she wants to. Google her Oscars 2011 dress if you haven’t already, and you will learn the meaning of the fashion trend “body-conscious”, called “body-con” for short. I think Jen can pull off accidentallysexy!Katniss as well, but we shall see.

    • Cranky says:

      I’m trying really hard to think of a sexy actress who could convince us she doesn’t know her effect on people. I’m coming up with Ellen Page and Sasha Alexander? But those are just my personal favorites for whelming attractiveness. How about Natalie Portman? Moreover, is being utterly appealing the same as being sexy? I’m not sure it is. These snippets of her character do make me want to read this book.

  5. Phil says:

    I really like this post and your blog. Can I just recommend my favourite Hunger Games fanfiction though? It’s short but poignant.

    http://www.fanfiction.net/s/6278212/1/Incidentally_Kiddo_Sweet_Dreams

  6. M Marian says:

    This is great! I read most of the comments and had these thoughts:

    I loved your comentary on why the world didn’t do anything when the figurative US imploded, as you probably knew I would. Obligatory jokes were obligatorially submitted.

    I second the request for one post per book, especially since I won’t be able to read them for a while.

    Miss you.

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