[book report] The Hunger Games

This is a partial report on Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. I have a vexed history with this book, if you can call it that. I bought it in hardcover when it first came out, wasn't grabbed by the first chapter, and gave it away. Years later, I came across it again and decided that I wanted to read more YA, so I gave it another try. After getting to the 30% point and quizzing my daughter about it (my daughter read all the books in the series), I have decided that it is not my thing. So I'm quitting.

I can't say that The Hunger Games is a bad book. But I should have realized that it was not likely to be a good match for me. I am a hard sell on post-apocalyptic Earth settings to begin with, and I am an even harder sell on gladiatorial dystopias. So you can see where this is...never going to be my thing. It wasn't impossible that I would enjoy it, but the odds were against it. My daughter said that the book was 80% gladiatorial games, so yeah, I had better stop now.

As far as I can tell from the part I did read, it's set in a future North America divided into twelve districts. The prosperous rulers keep control of the districts by pitting two tribute from each district, chosen by lot, against each other in gladiatorial combat once a year. The winner is feted and wins food and glory for their district. But the catch? Combat is to the death, and there can only be one winner.

The protagonist is Katniss, a girl who (illegally) hunts to support her family, and has ever since her father died in a mine accident and her mother dissolved into uselessness thanks to depression. She is determined to protect her little sister, Primrose. When Primrose is chosen as their district's representative, Katniss invokes a long-forgotten rule and volunteers to take her sister's place. She doesn't want to die, but she loves her sister and will do anything to protect her.

A complication comes when the other tribute from her district is Peeta, the baker's boy, who once gave her bread when she was starving. Katniss remembers being grateful to Peeta, but her feelings toward him are decidedly ambivalent: part attraction, part gratitude, part resentment, part suspicion. As she and Peeta are coached for the games, she has a hard time getting along with him.

And that's as far as I got. Some of it was my lack of interest in the book's particular setting. Some of it had to do with my skepticism about the worldbuilding. For example, poaching is apparently illegal, but who the hell is actually enforcing it? Are the districts' subservience mainly enforced by custom and a disparity in technological base?--but it seems that their rulers depend on the districts for food and resources. Of course, some of these questions may well have been addressed either in the rest of the book or the rest of the series.

That brings me to the biggest reason I stopped reading: I didn't care about any of the characters, and that included Katniss. I simply found her boring. Now, I am not necessarily a character-centered reader. I have certainly read and enjoyed stories for other qualities: chess plots, suspense, great worldbuilding, beautiful language, you name it. But in this case, none of those other elements grabbed me. Characters were all that was left. And since I didn't care about the characters, there was no more reason to turn the page.

As I said, it's not necessarily a bad book. I can see where Katniss and Peeta would be interesting to readers who are not me. But this just isn't for me, and I have determined that life is too short to spend on books that I'm not getting enjoyment out of on some level. (It counts if I enjoy snarking at a book I consider bad--that definitely happens. You have no idea how much Vampire Diaries I watched long after the show had jumped the shark based on "this is terrible but I'll watch it to snark at it.") So I'm going to move on to something that appeals to me more.

If you read this series, what did you think of it? Feel free to drop spoilers in comments.

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