Thoughts on the Hunger Games

In my side gig as a science fiction writer I'm trying to suss out the modern market. I grew up reading golden age sci-fi authors like Asimov and Heinlein. The are less than relevant today. When I was a kid YA (Young Adult) scifi/fantasy wasn't really a genre. Now it's dominated by modern blockbusters like Harry Potter and Divergent. So, if I'm to understand the modern market I should actually read some of this stuff. So that's why I read the first Hunger Games novel. Spoiler alert, I didn't like it but I do get it.

Pro: The Hunger Games really pulls you in. It uses a present tense first person narrative centered around Katniss. You immediately feel what she feels, see what she sees, and worry what she worries about. Seriously, it's like being dropped into the brain of a 14 year old girl.

Con: You are dropped into the brain of a 14 year old girl. Katniss is awful. I understand that she lives in a bad state. The whole world is wrecked. But she's so whiny! Sometimes she worries about getting food and taking care of her sister. Legitimate concerns. But other times she worries about whether people will like her. I suppose this is just the nature of the beast.

Pro: Suzanne Collins has done some good world building. I'm intrigued by how the world got to where it is, by the different districts and the one that was punished. Sure, there are some holes, like why does the advanced society of the capital with lots of high tech still force people to dig coal. I'm sure there's a good explanation if it was explored more. (Perhaps the later books cover this?)

Con: Katniss is a completely passive character. Despite the fact that she's the protagonist and manages to win, she depends almost entirely on luck and other people. Her whole journey to and from the games is just a list of things being done to her. She doesn't actively do anything. In the games themselves she hides away and almost never attacks anyone. The incident with the wasps was Rue's idea, she just did the cutting. She killed a boy with a spear to avenge Rue's death, but he would have come after her in a second so it was really self defense. She is the victor of the games entirely by luck. Everyone else is killed off by others or by the Game makers. She surives via luck and presents sent to her. She only showed two moments of actively going out and doing something of her own initiative: when she blows up the supplies and when she drugs Peeta so he won't stop her. She is the victor by default, not by bravery or amazing action.

In the end I'm glad I read The Hunger Games. I have a better understanding of the Young Adult genre and if what I'm writing could fall into that area. I also understand now that YA isn't just adult prose with an easier vocabulary. It really is for young adults who can directly identify with the characters. In other words: it's not for me.

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Posted March 3rd, 2020

Tagged: rant