Disclaimer: While I don't particularly like the Hunger Games books, I have no moral problems with them, just idealogical. I don't think they are bad books, I just don't think they are necessarily good either. If you like them, I don't have a problem with that, so don't send me e-mails! These are just my thoughts on them, take it or leave it.
Last year I read the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy, and I wrote a post with my thoughts about it here. I had very mixed feelings about it. After reading the first book, I really wasn't sure I wanted to read any more of the books.
However, I did go see the second movie in December, because I still wanted to find out what happens between Katniss and Peeta! This was the only part of the story that really interested me, and I wanted to know if/how they ended up together.
After seeing the movie I decided to go ahead and just read the other two books in the series to get it over with. The second two books did not really change my mind about anything I said in my first post, but I have a few more thoughts that I just need to get off my chest.
First, what about Peeta and Katniss? Like I said, this was pretty much the only part of the plot I did enjoy, and I did feel like the way it ended with them was good, all plot elements considered. I read a review that said the resolution of things between Peeta and Katniss wasn't very satisfying, and I have to disagree with that. I think Collins wraps up their story nicely, which I am very glad of, because if that hadn't ended well I feel like the whole series would have been a complete waste of time to me.
However, taking the love story out of it, the rest of the story was disturbing to me at best. These are a few reasons why.
First of all, I have to say that while I know Collins says the books were meant as a cautionary tale about out of control government/media, I still didn't get that from the books themselves. People can add meaning to the story in that way if they want to, but in the actual content of the books that point was poorly made, in my opinion. The out of control government and media were necessary plot elements, but no "cautionary" point was clearly stated.
I found this very disappointing, because I know Collins does indeed know how to insert a point in the text when she wants to. She did it twice - once with an inner monologue about how the people that came before Panem must not have cared much about the planet or people who would come after, and once about how something is seriously wrong with a society that sacrifices it's children to settle it's differences. The first point is rather political. The second is obvious, and while I'm glad she said it, it made me wonder why we're spending three whole books on such a society in the first place.
Graphically described violence is prevalent in these books, and the "games" seem to be glamorized - maybe not intentionally by Collins but by the fact that everyone plays to the cameras throughout the books without ever questioning it. It is a parade of horrors, and Collins describes every bit of violence in detail while the characters in the book stand by with a video camera.
I also couldn't help but note the lack of anyone to really look to as a good example in this series. Haymitch is a drunk. Gale is vengeful. Coin is corrupt. Plutarch only cares about the games. Minor characters who might have been good examples are killed off. Katniss is completely self-absorbed through most of the story, with only glimmers of heroism here and there. While this might be understandable considering all the trauma she has endured, it is not very inspiring. The only one who possibly could have been a good example of selflessness throughout the series would be Peeta, but I don't think Collins focused on him nearly enough to make him stand out as a role model.
This is one series where (so far) the movies are far better than the books, in my opinion. In the movies, you can still keep an illusion of heroism and interpret the motives behind people's actions how you want. In the books, you know all the selfish details of Katniss's thoughts. The reasons why characters choose to do certain things are explained. It isn't pretty.
I will give the author one thing - I think she very thoroughly (and probably accurately) represented post-traumatic stress disorder.
The book ends with an intimate encounter between Katniss and Peeta, and while (thankfully!) not described at all, it is not preceded by marriage either. I don't appreciate that in a book that is meant for teenagers.
When I'm not sure what I think about a book or movie, I usually find myself referring back to Philippians 4:8 and going through the list of things we are supposed to be thinking about. Is this book noble? Is it true, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy? I think the answer to that here is a no, as a whole. While someone may be able to argue that certain moments in the book fit with these themes (Katniss taking her sister's place, etc.), those moments are brief. As a whole, Panem is filled with cutthroat, selfish people who will do anything to reach their goals.
If I had to pick one word for the books, I would choose the word "hopeless".
It is an interesting story, and I can appreciate the imaginativeness of it. As I said in the past, I have no problem with stories written purely for entertainment purposes. Not everything has to have a clear takeaway point.
But the hopelessness was disturbing to me.
Even the ending didn't resolve the overall depression, and the only glimmers of hope that were given to us were in two final points in the last chapters. First, that life must go on despite our losses. And second, that you can fight the hopelessness by remembering the acts of goodness that people do. That second point is ironic considering there are precious few examples in these books of anyone doing acts of goodness without ulterior motives, either personal or political.
The bottom line is that when you create a world without God or eternity, where the lines between good and evil are blurred and survival is key, this is what you get. You get Panem. And it is hopeless without Him.
I'm not saying I don't think these books should be read at all. I am saying that I don't think they should necessarily be read by someone who does not already have a firmly established worldview, which I think rules out a large part of the target audience - younger teenagers. Kids that age need hope. And they won't find it in the Hunger Games.