It seems everywhere I turn these days, somebody is saying they’ve just read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and they absolutely love it. I’ve read the first book, and I unfortunately can’t find the same enthusiasm that everyone around me has. I did enjoy the book, and I applaud Collins for her work, but there were several things that detracted from the experience for me. Here are two minor problems and one major one that I feel made The Hunger Games good instead of great.
1) Really bad copy editing. This isn’t Collins’ fault so much as Scholastic’s, and it’s something that can be corrected in future editions. But it’s a reminder that no matter how big the publisher, a book just might not receive quality editing, so it falls upon the author herself to ensure the version going to press is good.
2) Obvious similarities to Battle Royale. This 2000 Japanese film was based on a 1999 novel by Koushun Takami, which centers around a class of high school freshmen kidnapped and pitted in a last-man-standing deathmatch, which is broadcast on live TV. The ongoing similarities between THG and Battle Royale wouldn’t be so problematic alone, but they offer an interesting contrast for my main issue with the former…
3) (SPOILER WARNING) A lack of genuine hard decisions for Katniss. As Battle Royale so well illustrates, this plot setup is a goldmine of impossible situations. Groups of friends form alliances that implode in paranoia and violence. Some contestants kill themselves rather than participating in the game, while others plot doomed escape attempts. The characters in BR also know each other, which makes for even more tension as old school friendships and rivalries turn lethal.
Collins sidesteps the real difficulty of her scenario by creating a group of “bad” players from the outset and having them eliminate every character the reader is supposed to like. Katniss wonders whether she may have to fight Rue or Foxface, but they’re cleanly killed off by the Careers, dodging scenarios where Katniss would have to make an ambiguous decision. Her only hard choices involve Peeta, and we pretty much know from the start how that plotline is going to turn out because, well, duh. He’s the male lead.
Two things are worth noting lest I come off as one-sided. Battle Royale is clearly targeted at a much more mature audience than The Hunger Games, so it gets away with a lot more. It also has a similar ending to The Hunger Games, and that ending feels much harder to believe after everything else to which the story has exposed us.
The Hunger Games actually really sold me in its own ending. The closing chapters, after the Games ended, were my favorites, and I do intend to continue the series. Right after I finish A Dance With Dragons/some school reading/everything David Mitchell ever wrote.