Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review of ‘The Hunger Games’ Trilogy

Books: The Hunger Games,Catching Fire,MockingJay
Genre: Young Adult fiction
Themes: reality television, love triangle,poverty,war,self-preservation,alpha heroine
Formats available: Paperback,Hardcover,audiobook,ebook,kindle editions
My Rating: 4/5

I always consciously try to prevent myself from reading a book from a book series.
I normally read books from start to scratch in a go, filled with an obsessive need to know the ending.  So if I end up getting hooked on a series like I did with Harry Potter, I remain in that state of single-minded desperation, till I manage to read the complete series. And, that’s exactly what happened to me with ‘The Hunger Games’, but in this case it was totally worth it.

The books are set in the future in the nation of ‘Panem’, where the controlling district ‘The Capitol’ enslaves the remaining twelve districts and suppresses dissent with an iron hand. The districts rebelled against the Capitol several years ago, and lost the war. As a punishment, every year each district has to send in two children by a system of lottery, between the ages of twelve and eighteen to fight to death in a  survival skills based reality show called’ The Hunger Games’. This cruel ‘reality show’ is the highlight of year for the Capitol citizens, who cheer and send in gifts for their favorite tributes.

Enter our very own kickass alpha heroine – Katniss Everdeen from District 12. She’s tough, manipulative and no stranger to hardship, poverty and the struggle for survival. She’s no passive Bella Swan*, and is used to being the sole provider in her family. And right from the age of twelve, when her father died in a coal mine explosion. An expert with a bow and arrow, she hunts and kills animals for money, with her friend and hunting partner Gale Hawthorne.

In Book 1 “The Hunger Games’ Katniss volunteers in place of her younger sister Prim for the games. Peeta Mellark (an obvious reference to ‘pita’ bread), the other tribute from her district is a baker’s son, physically strong and courageous, but not really used to hunger and poverty like Katniss is. And he’s also been in love with Katniss right from childhood, though she’s unaware of this. Peeta declares his love for Katniss in front of the Capitol audience, and she goes along with it, thinking it’s a ploy for audience approval. It ends up being successful, and Peeta and her end up being the final two survivors in the game. In a calculated move, Katniss suggests that they both commit suicide together. She realizes there must at least be one surviving winner as per the rules, and the Gamemakers would be forced to intervene. Her ultimatum forces the Gamemakers to declare them both winners. She eventually discovers that Peeta was not faking being in love with her, and he ends ups being hurt when he discovers Katniss had just been pretending. This book is definitely the best book in the series, which will have you cheering for Katniss as she clears the obstacles in the hunger games and wins over her opponents with a good amount of violence and skill.

In Book 2 ‘Catching Fire’ Katniss faces the repercussions of her act of dissent in the Hunger Games. Some of the districts have started rebelling against the Capitol emboldened by her defiance. She is warned by the psychopathic Capitol President Coriolanus Snow to keep up the star crossed lovers act, so that the act can be passed off as the act of a lovesick girl. Peeta and Katniss are forced back into the arena for a special edition of the Hunger Games, where they have to compete with other past winners. The love triangle between Peeta, Katniss and Gale is a predominant theme in the series. Katniss identifies more with Gale, since he is similar to her, and is used to hardship like she is. But her need for Peeta’s gentle comfort intensify in this book, leaving her confused and vulnerable. Peeta and Katniss survive the games, by teaming up with the other tributes. But Peeta gets captured by the Capitol, while Katniss and her family get transported by the rebel alliance to District 13, the district that was supposedly destroyed during the district wars with the Capitol.

In 'Mockingjay', the third and final book, the districts' rebellion against the Capitol is up in a full swing, with Katniss being the symbolic ‘Mockingjay’ of the rebellion. She struggles with being a rebel propaganda symbol, similar to Harry Potter* struggle with being ‘The boy who lived’ and ‘The boy with the scar’. She’s also troubled by the fact, that there are lots of similarities between the Capitol and District 13, with the ruthlessness and element of control. Gale, her love interest and former hunting partner fits in well though, and identifies with ‘the end justifies the means’ philosophy that runs in District 13, which troubles Katniss a lot.Peeta ends up being rescued by the rebel alliance, but he’s been brainwashed against Katniss and tries to kill her.
Eventually a group including Katniss, Gale, and a still somewhat unstable Peeta go off on their own on a mission to assassinate President Snow. Before the mission is completed, Prim is killed in a bombing targeting Capitol children and rebel rescuers. A captive Snow tells Katniss that Coin, the president of District 13, was behind the bombing, which she initially doesn’t believe. When asked to carry out Snow's execution, Katniss kills Coin instead, realizing that she is identical to Snow, and Snow was telling the truth. Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch eventually return to a ruined District 12 after Katniss is exonerated of the death of Coin, on account of her mental instability. Katniss slowly begins to recover from her many mental scars. Katniss' mother and Gale both take jobs in different districts, wanting to forget and move on. Katniss eventually realizes that she loves Peeta, marries him, needing his gentleness and love, and not Gale’s fire and need for revenge, so similar to her own personality.

The most fascinating part of the Hunger games is the way the fights in the arena are described, with an almost poetic description of violence and bloodshed. The overdose of violence is surprisingly matched with a minimal amount of physical affection. Katniss shares only a few innocent kisses and hugs with either Peeta or Gale, and even those seem almost ‘brotherly’. :)

Peeta Mellark is an obvious beta hero while Gale Hawthorne is an alpha hero, like Katniss. However Peeta is obviously more likeable and totally in love with our heroine, and I could understand why Katniss eventually falls for him. Gale and Peeta are not totally fleshed out characters, but Katniss more than makes up for them. Haymitch, Katniss’s mentor is my second favorite character in the series.  He’s flawed and ruthless, but he has his heart in the right place. Sarcastic, manipulative and a compulsive alcoholic, he’s a master strategizer who actually identifies with Katniss, and tries his maximum to keep her alive in the games. Katniss herself is definitely a role model for teen audience she’s aimed at, with her self-reliance and strength. But just like any other girl, she has her moments of vulnerability and confusion, despite the backdrop of war. Katniss matures through the series with the books growing darker, a strong heroine who has the capacity to inspire Harry Potter like/Lizbeth Salander* like fan craziness.

* References to Bella Swan, female protagonist from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series
* References to Harry Potter, male protagonist of J.K Rowling popular fantasy series.
* References to Lizbeth Salander, female super heroine of Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon tattoo’ series.

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