My goal is to become a veterinarian because I love children

Back a couple days ago when I updated my poor, underfed Books Read list with Mockingjay, someone asked me what I thought of the Hunger Games Trilogy.  I said then that I was still thinking about it.

I think I’ve reached the end of that.

Warning!  If you have not read the Hunger Games sequence, and object to having your reading experience spoilt, you might want to stop here.  You have been warned.

Right, then.

The very first thing I noticed about The Hunger Games was that the world-building sucks.  No, really; it does.  The place just doesn’t hang together at all, and the reader is forced to suspend disbelief like a wild crazy suspending thing for the first, eh, half of the first book, before your brain finally says, “Oh, all right!  It’s that way Because The Author Said So. Fine, then.”  That’s OK, though, because nobody was reading The Hunger Games for the world-building, anyway.

You read The Hunger Games sequence — if you read them at all — to find out What Happens to Katniss.  Who is unlikeable, smart, adaptable — and an unflinching and extremely compelling narrator.  Also?  The author makes an interesting choice:  she tells the story in first person.  I mean to say — Suzanne Collins?  Is a smart cookie.

Why?  Because across the trilogy, Katniss does some terrible, terrible things.  Had the tale been told in tight third, that little, little distance, granted the reader by the pronoun she? Would have made it too easy to judge Katniss and downplay her necessities.  It’s much, much easier to hate she than it is to hate I.

Mind you, there were frequent moments when I wanted to slap the child — and, again, Collins chose correctly, in making her heroine prickly and self-doubting.  And tough, did I say?

I’ve seen some discussions positing that trilogy is so over-the-top as to be unbelievable.  This is not unique with Suzanne Collins.  Back when I was a YA reading YA books, the problems the heroes were already over-the-top and casual, terrible suffering was the norm.  Possibly because the audience for YA feels everything so strongly, in real life.

I remember a book about children being kidnapped and imprisoned on an island to mine gypsum, of all things.  And another about an alien girl who brings sorry and tragedy on her new friend. When the two of them are imprisoned by the Really Nasty Police Type People, their heads are shaved.  The native girl immediately collapsed into an agony of shame, while the alien girl doesn’t care at all.  Old Yeller, anybody?

So, anyway, the over-the-topness, I think, is a mark of the genre.

Other things the author did right.

She gave Katniss clothes.  Beautiful clothes.  Yes, she professed to hate them — but that hit a sweet spot.

She gave Katniss two perfectly acceptable choices for boyfriend, and she let them both live up to their potential.  Different? Oh, my, yes.  But equal in their different powers.
She allowed Katniss to not understand what was going on, and who was playing whom.  She also allowed Katniss the native wit to be able to figure some of this stuff out.  But — she’s only, what 15? — when the first book starts; legitimately, she’s naive.

She allows Katniss — and the rest of the characters — to show cracks from the treatment they’ve been subjected to.  To survive the Hunger Games is not a victory.  To do that, you will have killed, or outlived, many people, and even perhaps murdered people you cared about.

Things she did wrong.  IMHO, there was, as President Snow himself said, no reason for Prim to die.  That?  Was over-the-top.

Would I recommend the series?  Sure, why not?  The things the narrative wants to discuss — personal responsibility; how to figure out who to trust, and how far; that actions, deeds and thoughts have very real consequences, not all of them pleasant? — are all worthy topics.

So — Scott!  Sorry you asked?

One thought on “My goal is to become a veterinarian because I love children”

  1. I actually thought that Prim’s death was necessary to what was, to me, the most intriguing and highly subversive element of the trilogy, which really came to the fore only in the last book. Hidden amongst the gorgeous clothes and over-the-top excitement of the hunger games was a remarkably unflinching (and rare, in the post-9/11 west) look at what a horrible thing even a just war is. The rebellion uses unambiguously terrorist tactics in fighting the Capital — and Collins makes it clear that these tactics are crucial to their ultimate victory, because they lack the manpower to wage a conventional war. And because the Capital is unquestionably evil and morally bankrupt, that forces (or should force) the reader to confront the question of when terrorist tactics are justified. If the rebellion is justified in using such tactics to defeat the Capitol, in what other situations can you justify the same tactics, which inevitably and invariably lead to incidents like the one that killed Prim and other innocents? (I think it’s important that Collins leaves open the question of which side detonated the bomb that killed Prim.) And hand-in-hand with the brutal tactics is the strong statement that we ask our warriors to do terrible things in our name, and that even heros doing brave things in a just cause can be irreparably damaged by their actions. In the end, Katniss’s choice between Petra and Gale is dictated as much by the incurable damage she has suffered in the Games and the war — which Petra, being damaged himself, can understand and which Gale cannot — as anything else. If the over-the-topness of the books were just to generate excitement (which it certainly does!), that would be one thing, but I think Collins also uses it as a vehicle to sneak in some provocative lines of thought that readers might well be unable to accept as an open polemic. I found the trilogy both a fun and disturbing read.

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