By Grace Crawford

The Hunger Games image courtesy of Scholastic Publishing

The problem with writing more than one review in a single day lies in the number of jokes one is capable of making in a single sitting.  More often than not, I bring out the big guns for the first article, leaving very little for the second.  However, the last one I wrote was a little light on the funny.  It actually wasn’t funny at all.  It was drier than a piece of month-old bread.  It was drier than all the jokes about bread I’m going to make in this article, because I can never resist puns about baked goods when I’m talking about The Hunger Games.

I’m writing about the book, not the film, and just the first book, not the whole series.  So I don’t want any grousing about how “you didn’t talk about the other two books, and everyone knows the last one is the best,” or “the movie was a ball of flaming crap and I fell asleep and so did my narcoleptic great-aunt who went and saw it with me.”  It’s your own fault for bringing an old woman with a sleep disorder to a movie that cost you $10.25 for the seniors’ ticket and $12.75 for the medium tub of popcorn that she can’t even chew anyway because she left her false teeth in the dishwasher again, and anyway I liked that movie.  But that’s beside the point.

I’m going to get this particular criticism out of the way early:  yes, there were a lot of grammatical errors in The Hunger Games.  Yes, I’m a communications student.  Yes, I want to punch a grizzly bear in the balls every time I see a comma splice.  And I learned to live with it, because the alternative was living in a world where I couldn’t read my book.  And I like my book, as I will soon be explaining.  And while I think of it, yeah, I know the book bears a striking resemblance to something called Battle Royale.  I haven’t read it.  I don’t have time to see it read now.  I have like two hundred pages of reading for my magazine writing class that is never going to get done.  So no, I have no time to read a book that’s similar to The Hunger Games, because I read The Hunger Games, which is what I wanted to do in the first place.

Plot breakdown (and I can’t believe I even need to do this):  out of the ashes of North America rose Panem, made up of the Capitol and thirteen surrounding districts.  These districts provided the Capitol with goods and services until seventy-four years ago, when they rebelled against their government.  The Capitol crushed both the resistance and District Thirteen.  As a reminder to the districts never to rebel again, they held the Hunger Games every year since.  Each district held a reaping to choose a boy and a girl to compete in a televised fight to the death. Only one child could survive.  This year, District Twelve’s tributes are Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark.

Let’s start with Katniss.  In some ways she’s your standard action franchise main character, but she’s no Mary Sue.  (I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be a Mary Sue in this universe, actually.)  She’s strong, capable, self-assured, and familiar with hunger, but she’s prone to the weaknesses of a teenage girl.  She’s not a well-written character, if I’m being completely honest: her narrative wears thin after a while.  But it’s easy to identify with her and to see her as an independent person, not just as a skin I can slide into and walk around in.  Katniss loves her little sister, distrusts her mother, and misses her father, and these feelings all combine to form a flawed but determined protagonist who will do whatever it takes to return home.  And it definitely doesn’t hurt that she can hunt.

Peeta, on the other hand, is the son of a baker and the source of many jokes about bread.  He, too, is strong, capable, and self-assured, much like the rest of the characters in the book.  I think this works, though; the Seam, where Katniss and Peeta grew up, was a hungry district. The strong survived and the weak starved, and there was very little anyone could do about it — except Peeta, who saved Katniss from hunger years before, and neither of them ever forgot it.  Peeta has been in loaf with Katniss (BREAD JOKE) since they were five years old, and he is willing to die if it means she can return home.  His selflessness and his unconditional love seem a bit unrealistic, but the stability of his character is a source of comfort for both Katniss and the reader—at least for now.

And then there’s Gale.  Who is Gale, you may ask?  (I know you didn’t actually ask, but I’m pretending you did so I can move this along and get to some more bread jokes already.)  He’s Katniss’ hunting partner, and apparently he’s drop-dead gorgeous, which I always appreciate.  He may have feelings for Katniss, and Katniss isn’t sure how she feels about him, but none of it matters because she has to carry on a romance with Peeta in order to survive.  (They’re playing the star-crossed lovers angle for the TV audience. Try to keep up, Short Round.)

So there’s a love triangle, and I am desperately trying to avoid making a reference to Twilight, because that keeps cropping up in freakin’ every single review I write and I promise I’m not a fan.  At any rate, love triangle, necessary to survival, etc, etc.  So if it’s just a bunch of teenagers making googly eyes at each other, why should you read it?

There are 17 jokes contained within this image.

Because if you hadn’t guessed it by the title, The Hunger Games is about a fight to the death.  Which means action, start to finish, even if some of that is basically a re-enactment of the seventh Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Really Long Camping Trip.  And hey, they’re even hungry in that, too!

“But wait,” you don’t actually say.  “Are you telling me to read a book because it’s about a bunch of kids killing each other?!”

Yes.  That is what I am telling you.  Yes, you’re taking on the part of the Capitol when you read it, taking entertainment from the deaths of people you only see as characters in a story.  Yes, you are enjoying a story about children murdering each other.  Yes, people are compromising their values, their beliefs, and everything their hearts and minds tell them so they can survive.  And you will read this book so none of that ever happens in real life.

The subject of media desensitization has been beaten to death (too soon?), so I’m not going to get into it now.  Suffice it to say that entertainment has changed a lot over the years, and that it’s entirely possible that child-killing could be the next big thing in reality TV. (After Jersey Shore and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, I wouldn’t be surprised at anything.)  We need to retain our sense of horror and righteous indignation. I don’t care what your attitude is, as long as you recognize that this can never be allowed to happen.

Besides that, it’s a damn good story.  I can’t elaborate too much on the plot, since it really is just kids doing a beauty pageant and then fighting each other in the woods.  But somehow this basic premise gives birth to an idea as old as the first time one man raised himself above another:  freedom from one’s oppressors.  It’s simply told and well-detailed, and the world is vividly colored.  Suzanne Collins did a fine job on this story, and it’s no wonder I’m always grabbing it and starting the series again.

I know I’m overlooking a lot of flaws.  I know that the plot, the characters, the world, all of it, is imperfect, even amateurish at times.  But this is the kind of book you keep around, because there will always be a time when you want to pick it up and read it again.

Also, I promised bread jokes.

Peeta bread.

You’re welcome.

GRADE: B (for bread)

Final Thoughts:

  • I always liked Effie.  More accurately, I liked her outfits and wished I had the courage to wear them every day.
  • I know it’s wrong to want children to die, even fictional ones, but let’s face it, Clove was a colossal b*tch.  I may or may not have laughed when she died… oh God I’m the worst.
  • I also may have been rooting for Foxface a little.  I don’t really know why, since her victory would have meant both Katniss and Peeta’s deaths.
  • Peeta, is that a baguette in your pants, or are you just happy to see that I survived the Feast and got your medicine?  Wait, did Haymitch send us a baguette?  No.  No, he didn’t.  Gross.  (I’m just the classiest. BECAUSE BREAD JOKES, THAT’S WHY.)