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Book Report: Hunger Games Series

It seems I never wrote about the rest of the Hunger Games books—the first book of the series was the second-to-last of my regular Book Reports (when I was blogging every single book I read) and while I listed Mockingjay in the Ten or Eleven Books Your Humble Blogger Enjoyed Reading for the First Time in 2011, I didn’t actually go back and write the Book Reports I promised.

Anyway, I am re-reading the series—I think this is my second time through Catching Fire and Mockingjay, tho’ I did re-read The Hunger Games by itself at some point. Anyway, I am still finding them exciting, well-paced and powerful. And I am still totally and completely knocked out by the guts Suzanne Collins showed in making the horrible trauma Katniss experiences in the first book have actual, permanent effects in the last two books. Really, the great accomplishment of this series—the reason it’s a great series and not just a good read—is that when Katniss gets fucked-up, she doesn’t recover immediately just because she wins. In fact, she doesn’t recover at all—she learns eventually to live with her PTSD, to control it with treatment and habits and so forth, but the damage done is damage done.

Most YA books don’t do that. I’m OK with that. It’s not easy to read. It’s much easier to read the bit where Our Hero escapes the terror and kills the villain, and then embraces his family (or his True Love) and everything is all better. That’s not what happens in real life, but then in real life princesses aren’t kidnaped by dragons anyway. I don’t demand verisimilitude. And a second or third book that consisted entirely of Our Hero adjusting, slowly, to life with PTSD would be terrible. It’s Ms. Collins’ses’s achievement is in making an exciting, well-paced and powerful story that also depicts Our Hero as fucked-up by the fucked-up stuff that fucks her up.

And in with that, what has really impressed me this time is what she does with Haymitch… y’all know the basic idea of the books, right? The evil dictator forces the regions of horrible postapocalyptic dystopia to give two tributes each year, a total of twenty-four teens or tweens who are forced into an arena to fight until only one survives. Well, and the Victor of a year has special status and wealth and blah blah blah, and also acts as a mentor for the tributes from his or her district each year. The only Victor around from Katniss’ District Twelve is Haymitch, who is a drunk and a loser and a moron and a jerk, only we keep discovering hidden—what? Depths? Not really depths, I suppose. Hidden facets? Can you hide facets? Anyway, the really amazing thing is that as I am reading the three books, I keep being surprised by the fact that Haymitch is a killer.

Really? Surprised? What’s the one thing we know about Haymitch from the start? That he is a Victor, which means that he survived a Hunger Games. While it’s theoretically possible that a person could survive without being a killer, practically speaking? No. He’s a killer. Not to mention that he was trained as a killer before he entered the arena, and that—and think about this—he has been training tweens and teens for the arena every year since then. More than twenty years of training kids to kill each other, and by the way all of those kids died. This guys is a fucking psycho, right?

And yet, for me at any rate, it’s so terribly easy to think of him as an irascible but lovable old soak. Until something happens that reminds me that he is both manipulative and ruthless, unmerciful and pretty much totally lacking in empathy. And I’m surprised by it. We discover—over and over—that he has lied to Katniss (and by extension to us) and lied to everyone else, rigged whatever he could possibly rig to his favor and everybody else’s disaster, planned people’s deaths individually and in mobs without compunction. Well, without evident compunction. We don’t see things from his point of view, but from Katniss’ses’ point of view, and she really needs to be able to trust him. And then trust him again. And then trust him again.

And so we do, too—or at least I do. I forget, chapter to chapter, that he’s a killer. And that’s astonishing to me.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I agree with you about Haymitch, although I don't think I'd thought about it much until now, but you're right. I wouldn't necessarily even always go with lovable, but definitely more like an ineffectual schlub stuck in a dead-end job than like, well, all the things you said.

I'm not sure I agree about Katniss; I felt like I spent a lot of time in the third book saying "seriously, is this book actually going to be two hundred and fifty pages of Katniss walking around like a zombie? because that's sort of realistic, but not at all fun or interesting". I should re-read the series, but I recall disliking the third book a lot, at least most of it, and finding it a huge slog to get through.

I agree with pretty much this whole entry. I also wanted to note that I kinda see Katniss as already having (at the start of the series) a kind of flattened affect and a certain inability to care about or empathize with people other than her little sister, and I find that really interesting. In particular, I feel like she's pretty self-aware that she doesn't really care about either of the boys, even though maybe she wishes she could, or feels like she ought to, or thinks maybe if they weren't in this horrific situation she might. (In the book, not the movie.)

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