The Hunger Games (Review)

I just finished The Hunger Games…and it gave me indigestion.

This review will likely make me unpopular among many of my peers, but I couldn’t resist the urge to say a few things about this novel. Any time a creative work tops the charts for this long, I want to know what the fuss is about. Plus, I’d like to make literary analysis something of a routine around these parts, so stay tuned for equally forthright vantage points in the future.

After finishing the first work in this particular series, I have a lot to say.

First, I want to praise the author for penning a book that is written entirely in first-person. This is a daunting task and should not be ignored – Stephen King was correct in that respect. Her craft style wins her points; unfortunately, that’s about where I have to stop handing out accolades. Upon completing the work, I really didn’t think this one had been worth my time. There wasn’t enough to keep me going, aside from my desire to see it to completion so I could say that I read it.

It’s a nicely woven (though highly predictable) tale, placed in a setting that we can identify as similar to the history of our own nation. The inspiration for her work is founded in our own Great Depression, for starters. There are “districts” that function much like our early colonies, each with their specializations and flaws based on their location or trade. This is not a nation of people seeking new life in a new land, however; the common thread here is much more…personal.

Each section is full of hungry people. Each year these hungry people must send two of their children to fight in an arena to earn food for the people of that district. This is not a voluntary or particularly noble mission, but one of forced-submission by a ruling class that holds all the cards. “Reaping Day” is sort of their version of the Super Bowl, except sponsor dollars go toward medical supplies for wounded “tributes” instead of Doritos and David Beckham.

I couldn’t really get into the pacing of this work from the start. I found the narrative easy to follow, even engaging at times, but the action felt like I was already watching the highly-anticipated film. Kudos to Collins for her show and tell, but I mentioned on Twitter that I felt like I should have kept a log of memorable “shots” that would certainly be shown on screen. I decided not to waste time or money on the movie, however, so I guess I’ll never know how much I got right on that front.

Part of me wants to like this book, especially with the recent exposure and sustained popularity spotlight. There are many books that I read to understand their readership (see also: Twilight) and some I find to be quite interesting because of their style or craft expertise. However, in The Hunger Games, I find only a kids-that-would-be-kings competition that becomes a simple fight for love and honor as the book continues. There’s nothing wrong with these elements; actually I admire the basic motivations of the characters.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What about novels like Ender’s Game? Did you dislike that book as well?”

No, not at all; Ender’s Game is one of the few titles that I re-read at least once per year. I find a fundamental difference between these two works; there were adults to do the dirty work in Orson Scott Card’s masterpiece, children were battle-trained only for their fresh ideas. The Hunger Games shows adults working only to preen or provide; children compete in the most popular event of the year, making them more akin to a prized cock fight than genius minds. (Or, I don’t know, children?)

I can’t completely endorse either scenario, but even Ender’s erroneous exploits are easier to stomach than this teenage gladiatorial bloodbath. When we have to watch children rip each other apart at the whim of a government and high society of adults that are too haughty to help starving people all around them…I have to turn my head. On top of that, I detect the arrival of flimsy Twilight-like romance triangles unfolding between Katniss/Bella, Peeta/Jacob, and Gale/Edward. No thanks.

As a Christian, I have to read any work of fiction with both eyes wide open, taking every thought into captivity. This doesn’t mean we can’t consume anything but the Bible, but it does mean that we have to temper our intake with at least an equal balance between the two. I look at books like this though the lens of Scripture and cringe; I just burned a bunch of my balanced-intake-quota on a sub-par title.

There are many books from my past that I never should have read. No, this isn’t one of the worst, nor do I completely regret the careful inspection. That said, every time I pick up a new written work, I have to look harder for messages written between the lines. I feel that there is an intrinsic connection between our acceptance of entertainment countering the Law of God, and drifting further away from a firm standard of what we choose to consume in media. I will have (much) more on this later. For now, I urge my fellow readers to walk/read/watch worthy of your calling (Ephesians 4). There are so many better titles out there than The Hunger Games if you want a good read. Drop me a line and I’ll gladly recommend them.

So I ask you: why is this series still topping the charts? Perhaps this book hits close to home here in America, which is why everyone likes it. Perhaps there is truth to the seemingly distant struggle for survival within the lower class. Perhaps we’d like to ignore our fat-fisted feasting on food and frivolous entertainment, but not in trade for something like The Hunger Games in our own society. We certainly wouldn’t admit that openly, but I fear that our mass-consumption of books like these may say more than we ever could in words.