Why I Did Not Love The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games movie comes out tomorrow, and so far, it seems to have a pretty good critical reception. I feel kind of left out of the whole Hunger Games mania/excitement. I’m sure I’ll see the movie at some point, but I just can’t get myself worked up into a froth about it, as I was not hugely amazed by the book.

I liked the book. It was diverting and page turn-y. I thought that Katniss kicked way more ass than a certain boy wizard protagonist. I liked the world it was set in. But, I did not love it. It did not rock my world, change my life, or otherwise blow my mind. It was fine and I did not hate it, but I had a few fairly major problems with it. Such as:

It’s not nearly brutal or scary enough. The Hunger Games is ostensibly a book about kids killing other kids. However, the violence in the book was sanitized to a degree that I was never scared of or disgusted by it. There were no instances where I felt pity or horror or sickness at what I was reading, there was no time in which I felt any kind of terror about spurting blood or deadly fights. The vast majority of the action happens away from Katniss and therefore away from the reader, since the book is in first person. If you want the reader to find something horrible (and I’m assuming that that’s Suzanne Collins’ goal) then have to take a page from Upton Sinclair and show them something horrible.

The tributes from the wealthy districts are too clearly the bad guys. It was kind of a cop-out for Collins to make the tributes from the wealthy districts obvious villains. Whether or not they’re favored to win, or whether or not they have training and resources, they are still children who are being savagely manipulated by adults. Collins gives us characters whose deaths we actively hope for, and that undercuts the moral authority of her story.

Despite trying to tell a story about why deathmatches are bad, we still root for Katniss. Collins is trying to illustrate how the Games are a horrible display of power on behalf of the Capital. However, we as readers still hope that Katniss kills people and wins the whole thing, so even though we’re supposed to be deploring the whole system we’re still rooting for a specific outcome within it. That’s a highly uncomfortable position to be in.

Katniss is conveniently absolved of killing anyone other than a “bad” tribute. Throughout the book, Katniss manages to coast by and, despite being surrounded by death, very rarely has to actually get her hands dirty. She kills very few people in close quarters, and Collins lets the “bad” tributes do the dirty work of killing off the more innocent participants. I kept wondering if Rue was going to try to kill Katniss, or vice versa. That would have been interesting, but it never happened. Which reminds me…

Peeta is a loser. Seriously. Katniss should have arrow-ed him in the face. Kind of can’t stand that guy.

And finally…

It’s not as good as Battle Royale. But then, few things are.

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