review: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Ever since Mockingjay came out a few months ago, I’ve been hearing how amazing the whole trilogy is. And for the life of me, I can’t explain why I never even looked up the books to see what they were about. But I kept remembering that the series was out, and well-recommended, and so I finally decided just to look up the first book in my library catalog, to see where I could pick it up. To my surprise, out of the fifteen or so copies total in my county, there were only two available. This, more than anything, piqued my interest, and I put a hold on the book and picked it up.

I started reading it at about 10:00 at night on a Friday. I finished it at 3:30 a.m. I absolutely could not stop reading the book.

It’s told in first person perspective, present tense–not exactly an easy thing to achieve. I tend to associate the present tense with pretentious literary fiction, for better or worse. It’s a difficult tense to work within. I had a discussion with a fellow writerly friend who told me that she actually thinks that the present tense removes the agency of fiction, making it difficult for readers to engage in the action. At least, she thinks, the present tense makes it harder to achieve a fast pace.

I’m not sure if I agree on all of those points, but I think I know what she’s getting at. Readers tend to trust authors implicitly, unless we know we’re given an untrustworthy narrator or we know that the writer likes to play with the reader with psychological thrillers or similar. But normally, with first person stories, the reader can be pretty sure of one thing: the narrator is going to survive until the end. Unless, of course, the author pulls a twist at the end, and makes the text a journal entry or diary, or uses a more difficult move to kill of the narrator. We’re usually pretty sure that with the death of the narrator ends the story, though, and mostly we aren’t disappointed.

The Hunger Games never gave me the satisfaction of believing that the protagonist, Katniss, would make it until the end. I’m not going to discuss the plot of the book, because the last thing I’d want to do is spoil this amazing ride. But the setup is worked in such a way that even though I have a trusty first person narrator, I have no reason to believe that this makes Katniss safe from the dangers around her. The present tense magnified my sense of dread–I think that I was almost afraid to stop reading because I was so afraid of what would happen to the book’s characters.

This is not the sort of book that makes you want to skip ahead a few pages to make sure that the action picks up. The action never drops. In fact, I made sure to cover the right-hand page with my hand to make sure that I didn’t accidentally spoil myself with an errant glance (a technique I perfected when reading the Harry Potter series).

Another one of the book’s major achievements is the depth of its carefully crafted characters. I cared for all of these characters–even the vapid, vain characters earned my sympathy, and I absolutely despised some of the more despicable offerings. With the sheer number of characters introduced, it’s not feasible that we’d get to learn absolutely everything about all of them. But that doesn’t mean that the characters are pat good or evil. They’re just characters that we don’t fully investigate, if that makes sense.

This isn’t even mentioning the smart, smart plot and the amazing premise of the novel. Everything about this book is right. As soon as I found Catching Fire in my local library, I snapped it up and read it in two days, in an attempt to draw out the magic a little longer than the first go round. I wasn’t disappointed. As soon as I get my grubby little paws on Mockingjay (because of course it isn’t checked in at any library in my county) I’m going to absolutely inhale it, which is the best praise I can think of to offer: that this series is so popular, so amazing, that I’m unable to find it in any library near me, and that I cannot wait to read it.

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