Well, The Hunger Games is certainly a quick read. It’s the first kids’ book I’ve read in a while, and I liked it well enough. Suzanne Collins isn’t an especially good writer – it’s purely pop fiction like Dan Brown and all those other authors I usually can’t bring myself to read. That said, I was entertained, which I guess, is the point of novels like this.
The Hunger Games is a dystopian novel set in an Oceania of the United States. There was a war between the capitol and thirteen districts after a rebellion, and the capitol won. Each year, to punish the districts, two kids between twelve and eighteen are chosen to compete in the Hunger Games. They’re put into an arena and forced to survive in the wilderness as they kill each other off. The one who kills all the others wins. The two main characters, Katniss and Peeta, both from District 12, survive and fight and all that. It’s violent and gory at times. It ends ambiguously, halfway making me want to pick up the trilogy’s second book immediately to find out what happens.
But I won’t because it’s really not that good of a novel. And I hate novels that end with cliffhangers. I think that one reason I liked the Harry Potter series is that Rowling provides a relatively neat ending – except in the sixth book, and I remember being frustrated because the seventh was a year away. I think Philip Pullman tidies things up a bit more at the ends of the His Dark Materials books, too. And Ursula LeGuin with the Earthsea trilogy. The City of Ember series is a little better about it than The Hunger Games. I consider Lord of the Rings to be one giant novel, so the same standard doesn’t apply. I like what Terry Pratchett does with his Discworld novels: each is on its own, but there are enough recurring characters and places that it’s still a series. But that’s neither here nor there.
I knew The Hunger Games wouldn’t be particularly good early on. Or, at least, not particularly well-written. I tend to judge writing style by how authors describe their characters. If it’s a crappy novel, it might go something like this:
I knew my brother would turn into a panther before he did. As I drove to the remote crossroads community of Hotshot, my brother watched the sunset in silence. Jason was dressed in old clothes, and he had a plastic Wal-Mart bag containing a few things he might need – toothbrush, clean underwear. He hunched inside his bulky camo jacket, looking straight ahead. His face was tense with the need to control his fear and his excitement.
In case you’re wondering, that’s the opening paragraph of Charlaine Harris‘s Dead as a Doornail , one of the books in her Sookie Stackhouse novels and of True Blood fame. I got through maybe ten pages of it and decided I’d be incapable of reading it. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by like-minded friends, and we passed it around, reading random passages aloud. A good time was had by all.
Anyway, good authors tend to do things a little differently. Being a good English major, I should root around and find an example, but being lazy, I’m not going to. Think about Faulkner – or even Rowling: would you ever see a description like that? Of course not. I didn’t have to wait long, though, for Collins to disappoint:
I watch as Gale pulls out his knife and slices the bread. He could be my brother. Straight black hair, olive skin; we even have the same grey eyes. But we’re not related, at least not closely. Most of the families who work the mines resemble one another this way. That’s why my mother and Prim, with their light hair and blue eyes, always look out of place.
Urgh. I will give Collins credit here: her writing gets a bit better as the novel progresses, and I can’t think of another instance when I was that irritated. Descriptions like that make me think of bad romance novels – of which I’ve only read half of two because the writing is so horrid.
To sum things up: The Hunger Games isn’t a terrible novel, though it’s not that good, either. The plot is interesting, but the style is mediocre at best. I might pick up the others, or I might not. I’d put my money on the latter.
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