Rating: 4 stars
I’m late to the party, I know. Back in the day, when this was the talk of my middle school, I used to lie that I read it, and since my sister had actually read them and gave me a point-by-point plot summary immediately after reading each book in the series, I felt at age 12 that I already had read it, or at least knew enough to trick people into thinking I had. And I watched all the movies and really enjoyed them; I’ve even seem them more than once.
But I’m not an animal now and I have some standards. I decided that it’s now or never, and I picked this up. And despite knowing the plot already, I found myself getting caught up in this tale, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I feel that the fandom has died down enough by now that I can say this without being placed in the Games myself, but oh my goodness, the first chapter was horrible!
Let me explain. Think of the textbook what not to do in a first chapter: heavy exposition awkwardly placed throughout the scene, inconsistent narrative voice, white room syndrome. This had all of those. In abundance. I’m not a huge fan of first person, but when it’s consistent, I can get behind it alright. But this first chapter constantly flipped between feeling like a story being regaled to me at a later date by the main character, and like I was witnessing events unfolding in the moment. I could never quite tell which was which, as Katniss would literally be walking around, and then suddenly launch into irrelevant backstory, only to go back to the scene unfazed. Were these the thoughts Katniss herself was having in that moment? Why would she feel the need to explain why she’s going hunting if this is just what she does every day? Or if this is a story being told, in the future about the past, and these are just important details I need to know to understand the rest, why is the rest of the book told in a way that implies immediacy?
It felt like Collins knew she needed to introduce this info for thematic reasons but had no idea how to do that successfully. (And she did expand on all of this very well throughout the book, but I still can’t ignore how mediocre the introduction was.) I didn’t get a handle on who Katniss even was in the first chapter, though I did get a sense of Gale and even Prim to a degree. Katniss felt like a complete blank slate, an empty window for the reader to peer through at Panem, devoid of personality and even, on occasion, a body. But then she developed, slowly, but surely, into a person, by the time the third chapter rolled around. I’m utterly baffled that it was so poorly done; that a book this popular, with this much acclaim, got away with a garbage beginning.
It didn’t help that beyond being first person, I wasn’t a fan of the writing style. I’m an audiobook reader mostly. My preferred method of reading is to listen and look, so that my brain simply isn’t given a chance to drift off because I have input from my eyes and my ears. And I’ve learned, as I read books by different authors with different styles, that some authors really don’t like using dialogue tags, that they like inserting character thoughts between dialogue, even if it isn’t their speech. And this, for an audiobook, is almost impossible to interpret, especially if the speaker is the thinker. There’s no way to determine if something was said out loud or simply in the character’s head. I don’t know, then, what the other people in the scene do or don’t know. Or who is speaking at any given moment, especially if it’s a volleying exchange. It makes some scenes borderline incomprehensible. This is basically the reason why I DNF’d The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh. I literally didn’t know what was going on.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for the movie and my faded knowledge of the general story, I would have DNF’d after the first chapter. I’m really glad I didn’t though. After the rough start, this was totally awesome!
My favorite thing, and the thing that startled me the most, was Peeta. I absolutely loved him! Every single moment with him was great, and the thematic purposes he served, and how sarcastic but also genuinely sweet he was really did it for me. He was a gem, through and through. Cinna was a surprise favorite also, and since I know what happens, I’ve decided to preemptively cry.
The Games are a given. They’re fun and intense, in a way that makes me wonder if I’m horrible for loving it. But that’s what’s great about this book. It vilifies you too. It makes you question your own standing in society; what you allow through apathy or through misdirected action; what horrors you condone for your own pleasure, ignoring the suffering of others, even if it’s a small, seemingly inconsequential thing. It makes the bad things fun, and it makes you entertained but feel bad for feeling entertained.
I know this review sounds like I didn’t like it. I did, truly. It was epic and profound, and gave me what most of the copycats in the dystopian craze really lacked: something to say and a story to tell. I’m really glad I finally read this, and I’m excited to continue the series.
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