An Ode to a Mockingjay: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

9 February, 2012

Well not exactly as I’m not a poet but you know what I mean.

I don’t know what to say. I’ve been hearing the buzz about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins all of last year and was planning to read it at some point until I recommended it to a friend of mine who was looking for a reading distraction, warning her that I haven’t read it myself. I didn’t have to worry. She texted me soon after to tell me that I HAD to read it and so I ordered the set: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

I’m the first to admit that I’m beginning to feel less inclined to read YA novels mainly because I’m in my 30s and so tend to find something lacking as I now read like an adult (well, it did take me over 30 years to reach this point!) However, I was blown away by the relentless pace, thrill and about turns of The Hunger Games and its sequels. There was no time to breathe, no time to reflect, just carry on and overcome whatever obstacle Collins puts in your way, just like her protagonist, Katniss Everdeene, 16 years old and trying to stay alive to save her family.

Like many readers, comparisons to Battle Royale by Koushin Suzuki did cross my mind as I read The Hunger Games, but you know what, so what? There are many stories like this floating around, but Collins’ delivery is superb. She knows just how to keep you on tenterhooks, knowing that what you assume will happen, will not.

Most of you will know the premise of this tale already, but I’ll summarise anyway. Katniss Everdeene lives with her mother and younger sister Prim in District 12 in Panem, what is now left of North America after a catastrophic war. Panem is a republic with a Capitol where the privileged and powerful live surrounded by twelve districts that provide the food and resources for its population. The people living in the twelve districts have no rights, barely enough to eat and must live under the rule of the Capitol in punishment for an uprising almost three quarters of a century ago that almost toppled the republic. In addition, the Capitol requires two children between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district, a boy and a girl, to participate in the Hunger Games to remind the people of the consequences of any uprising. The Capitol regards the Hunger Games as entertainment, in much the same way as the Romans viewed their bloody games in the Colosseum. The 24 tributes will fight each other until there is only one survivor.

In the 74th reaping where the tributes are chosen for the games, it is Prim’s name that is read out and Katniss volunteers as tribute to in exchange for her sister’s life. Together with Peeta Mellark, her classmate, and Haymitch Abernathy, their mentor and sole survivor of the Hunger Games from their district 25 years ago, they must match their wits and strength against the malevolent will of President Snow. For Katniss has started something the Capitol had tried so hard to prevent. She had started a small fire that will eventually bring Panem down.

The cast of characters in Collins’ trilogy are well-rounded. And it’s impressive that she’s able to give you these complete characters without going on and on about their feelings, etc. It’s a hard thing to do but she pulls it off. I liked Katniss a lot because she was believable. She is the catalyst that sets off everything and yet she is this vulnerable young girl who doesn’t fully understand what is going on. And yet, she is resourceful, strong and as hard as nails. Her one weakness is her family and loved ones and she is determined to do everything to save them.

A central theme in this tale is the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, Katniss’ best friend and hunting partner. What impressed me was the way in which Collins sets out to show the evolving nature of their relationship with one another, how going through such traumatic experiences will change someone. And how the fierce hopes and beliefs of the young will change and determine their paths in life in ways which may not necessarily be what they imagined.

One of my favourite characters is Katniss’ stylist, Cinna – so kind, clever and dependable yet one of the citizens of the Capitol. Collins distinguishes the pampered Capitolines with the starving and desperate district slaves showing just how debauched and decadent they are, and yet, Katniss’ prep team including Cinna are all that but with hearts and this is something which Katniss will discover, a process which helps her overcome her prejudices.

Many readers have said that their favourite of the trilogy was the first book and the other two were slightly disappointing, however I found all three to be enjoyable.

One of the things that continually strike me about YA novels is actually how they don’t shy away from issues such as death, grief and violence when you assume that they would be too difficult. As an adult and an aunt, I don’t want my nephews to know about these things yet because they are so small. And yet, I remember reading about these issues as a child and being able to process them without getting nightmares. So maybe the labelling may unfortunately put me off, but I’ll still be on the lookout for some kick-ass YA novels with realistic characters.

So, have you been hooked by The Hunger Games trilogy? I know all my friends are and I’m looking forward to the film this year.

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7 Responses to “An Ode to a Mockingjay: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins”

  1. bibliolathas Says:

    I really must read this – I keep hearing good things about the first one in the series.

  2. Iris Says:

    I’m looking forward to the movie, but I found the first book to be somewhat disappointing. I did like the second better for some of the more reflective aspects, I think. I still need to read the last book.

    • sakura Says:

      Most of my friends preferred the first to the second but I liked all three. It helps that I read them back to back though;P But yes, you DO need to read the last book Iris!

  3. Alex Says:

    Great post! I was also hooked from page 1, even though, like you I’m in my 30s and it’s becoming more difficult for a YA book to completely satisfy me. Last year I read a book of essays about THG that I recommend to fans who want to go deeper – “The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy” by Leah Wilson (ed.).

    I’m not surprised that most YA don’t shy away from violence, I’m surprised that they *do* shy away from sex. You often see heads flying and guts being spilled, but authors don’t usually go beyond passionate kissing. Marketing reasons perhaps? Maybe they think parents won’t allow teen to buy them? It cannot be because of the teens themselves…

    • sakura Says:

      That’s so true Alex. Sex is always a thorny subject with parents even though sometimes I’m more shocked by the violence. Thanks for recommending the the book of essays – I’ll definitely check it out. Have to say I can’t wait to see the film!


  4. OOooo, now I want to get back to this series! Like Iris, I have yet to read the third book. MrBIP has just gotten hooked on the series himself, so I’ve been getting daily updates from him on the first two books, which will help as a refresher to head into Mockingjay. I am always surprised to find “serious” subjects popping up in children’s books too, but I think it’s vitally important for kids to have the kinds of discussions that erupt around them, and sometimes it seems “safer” to talk about them as they relate to characters.


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