This month’s topic will be the YA fantasy trilogy The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The first book in this series, The Hunger Games, was published in 2008 and was hugely popular in both the YA and the adult markets. Catching Fire and Mockingjay have seen similar success and have gone on to include a very successful movie franchise with the debut of The Hunger Games movie last year. The second movie, Catching Fire, hits the big screen in November of this year, and filming for the first of two movies that will make up Mockingjay has already begun.
From the book jacket: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lie the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Diva Chat Panel
Janine Savage, Chief Executive Diva
Favorite: Hunger Games
Least Favorite: Mockingjay
Shay Goodman, Chief Creative Diva
Favorite: Hunger Games
Least Favorite: Mockingjay
Lauren Schmelz, Chief Operations Diva
Favorite: Hunger Games – The world that was created was one of the most inventive I’ve read in a long time.
Least Favorite: Mockingjay – It drags, a lot.
Jen Matera, Chief Financial Diva
Favorite: Hunger Games – I’ve only read the first, so that one has to be it.
Least Favorite: Hunger Games – Can my favorite also be my least favorite?
This series is popular with teens and adult readers. However, the premise of the story is not for the squeamish—children killing children as a form of entertainment.
What is it about this series that is so appealing?
Shay: The arena, the environment is what was most interesting.
Lauren: I think that this YA book wasn’t just written for the young adult crowd. It appeals to a broader audience, especially adults. Katniss is such a strong character in the first two books, girls could look up to her, men could admire her, and women could root for her. Yes, there is a love triangle which cinches it for the female demographic, but the action and yes the violence draws in the male. My husband loved The Hunger Games.
Jen: The older sister willing to risk her life to save her younger is something that appeals to adolescent girls. Perhaps the idea of making others’ lives better or changing the way things are also appeals. I also think we have a voyeur society, one that actually enjoys watching in horror—like gaping at a traffic accident—as chaos and turmoil unfold around the members of the ‘game.’
Janine: It’s the classic David and Goliath story. Not only that, but Katniss takes the place of her sister, knowing that she will most likely go to her death. It’s good versus evil. The ultimate underdog story. Even District 11 is the underdog of Panem. And Katniss has skills, so it makes Peeta even more of a long shot. The world building is great. Panem is the former United States. It’s familiar and yet so alien. It’s a good mix for a dystopian novel.
This story is about children killing children for entertainment. How did that impact your reading experience? Were you able to look past this and still enjoy the books?
Shay: I found it morally disturbing. It made the story less enjoyable for me, but maybe it’s because I have kids in the age range of this book’s target audience.
Lauren: I was able to look past it only because I was so drawn into the story. It became about survival to these kids. In our world, at least in the US, we don’t live like this, but in other countries and even in another time in our US history, it was a kill or be killed mentality with young people. I think HG is exhibiting the same kind of mentality for their world. I think that for some it was hard to get out of their modern-day thinking to really look and see more into The Hunger Games.
Jen: Nope. I thought the book itself was wonderfully written, and taken abstractly, a fabulous story, but I couldn’t get past the premise of children killing children as form of punishment and entertainment for the rest of the world.
Janine: I was able to look past the children killing children mostly because the only people in Panem who actually enjoyed the Hunger Games were the people in the Capital. The rest of the nation hates the Hunger Games and all they stand for. Even the districts that are better off still hate the idea of sacrificing their children for entertainment. If all of Panem had glorified the games, I don’t think I could have finished the first book.
Katniss: She comes across as very unfeeling. Why is she still so appealing, or is she?
Shay: She isn’t. She’s not that great of a protagonist. From the beginning she comes off as jaded, instead of allowing the story to jade her. She starts in a place of coldness but then becomes more emotional as the story progresses. It’s odd. But then, maybe that’s the point.
Lauren: I think she comes across so unfeeling for reasons of self-preservation mostly. She’s guarded to everyone but her mom, Prim, and Gale in the beginning. But In a way she still is guarded. She wants to protect them and is very bullheaded, which gets her in trouble. Her trust is also soon reached to people like Peeta, Haymitch, Effie, and Cinna. They are her inner circle, the ones who she can trust, but she’s still at an arm’s length with them. Call it a creature of habit mentality. She’s got hang-ups like any teenager. Does she love Peeta or Gale, who will take care of her family, who’s going to kill me now? People are looking at her to basically save their world… It’s a lot of pressure.
Jen: I found her appealing for her unselfish nature; her ability to put herself and her needs aside for the benefit of her sister and family. I don’t think she was as unfeeling as she was incapable of dealing with the atrocities she faced, so she effectively shut down in order to function.
Janine: I found Katniss to be robotic at times, but I understand part of the reasoning behind this. It stems mostly from the YA genre and the need to keep the emotional engagement of the target market to a minimum with such a gruesome topic. That being said, even though Katniss also had to grow up fast, I still found her emotional disconnect a little too unrealistic for a teenager and a first person point of view.
The Love Triangle (Gale / Katniss / Peeta): This series is YA, so as expected, it has a love triangle. Was the love triangle a welcome respite from the atrocities surrounding these characters and a way to ground the story or was this love triangle a stale trope?
Shay: I’ve never seen a love triangle that I thought was anything beyond a stale trope. This story was no exception.
Lauren: What I didn’t like was that she led both Peeta and Gale on some much. She was so wishy-washy with her feelings. But what I liked was that we rooted for both men to be with her. Peeta played against type for much of Mockingjay while Gale became the hero. But you had an inkling that Peeta was going to pull through. Up until the last book, you never had a clear notion who she would end up with. And I liked that. I loved both men, but ultimately you see Katniss finally taking a stand with her life. Everything up until that point was plotted for her: The Games, her “fake” relationship with Peeta, being the Mockingjay… she had no control. When she choose Peeta, it was all her. She was finally calling the shots in her life.
Jen: Honestly, the love triangle was pretty lame, as far as triangles go. It never really felt as though it was an internal struggle, but more of a situation forced upon them all by the powers that existed. Is a love triangle truly a triangle if it’s fabricated for the viewers? It felt too forced.
Janine: After reading the first book I knew who would be the better choice for Katniss in the long run. I just didn’t know who Collins would pick as she wrote the story. But honestly, I felt bad for both all three of them. Feelings that were unrequited on both Gale’s and Peeta’s part were suddenly thrust into the open. And for Peeta’s part, on national television. Katniss’s part in the love triangle was forced because the idea of romance was so far outside of her frame of mind. She was suddenly faced with two love interests, and she suddenly has to choose when maybe she never had feelings for either.
Which was better–the first book or the first movie? And are you looking forward to the second movie? The third?
Shay: They both had their positives and their flaws. The movie had a better version of Katniss while the book had a better plot. I am looking forward to the second movie, but that’s just because I love seeing Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland on screen.
Lauren: I think the movie followed the book as much as it could. There were some things that were left out, but all in all a the movie was largely the book. I loved seeing it brought to life. Although the weird CGI dogs were not what I imagined would be depicted from the book. They were supposed to be the mutated contestants.
And are you kidding? I’m camping out for the second movie!
Jen: As I’ve only read the first and haven’t seen the movie, I can’t really comment.
Janine: I liked both. The book for the details and insights into the world Suzanne Collins built. The movie for giving that world life.
It’s sad that only so much of a story can be shown two hours. I’m excited for the second movie, and disappointed that they are going to split Mockingjay into two movies. And it’s not for the reasons you think. I really thought Mockingjay was bloated and that the story went a bit off the rails. Two movies of my least favorite book of the series is not something I’m as excited about as say, watching Catching Fire next month.
Suzanne Collins is the author of the The Underland Chronicles, a five-book award-winning fantasy series written for middle-grade readers. We’ve seen other children’s books (Harry Potter comes to mind) that have appealed to a greater audience. Based on your experience reading The Hunger Games trilogy, would you be willing to give the The Underland Chronicles a try if you haven’t already?
Shay: No. I’m not that into YA.
Lauren: I probably won’t. And even though I’m a huge HP fan, I haven’t read all the books yet. The genre, although very good, is too young for me in some regards. Or let’s just say, it’s not my favorite genre to pick up.
Jen: I haven’t already read this series, and if there aren’t children killing children—or any story lines as horrifying as such—I’d be willing to give it a try.
Janine: If I read YA on a regular basis or if my children were younger and wanted me to read The Underland Chronicles, then maybe. But sadly, neither of those fit my situation.
Give us one last thing you’d like to say about this series – any topic.
Shay: The series is overrated. And I agree with Lauren, the casting of Peeta was awful and the casting of Gale was dead on.
Lauren: I really didn’t like who they picked for Peeta in the movie. LOL! He’s too short, too goofy looking, and not serious enough. Gale was perfect, though. And I love Jennifer Lawrence, she’s the ultimate Katniss in my book.
Jen: I’m actually surprised the series is so popular. I wonder if it’s more popular with adults than young adults. How do the younger readers assimilate the premise of the story? Are they unaffected by the horrors because it’s labeled fiction? Does that simply not equate to them, or are they desensitized to the violence?
Janine: The first two books were great. The last one, not so much. As far as the movies, my daughter (16) loves Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. All I see is that kid from Zanthura… eh. Jennifer Lawrence owns Katniss and she is what makes the movie so believable. She gives Katniss a vulnerability and the emotional turmoil simmering just under the surface we just don’t see in the books.
While there are mixed emotions about the subject matter of children killing children, the divas seem to agree that the series is compelling and well-written, but most of all, Collins did a wonderful job with the world she built for this series. It sets the stage and creates just the right atmosphere to tell Katniss’s story. The first movie is a hit and the release of the second movie is a much anticipated event. Maybe we’ll see you at the movies!
I’d like to thank the divas for participating in the Diva Chat. Their contributions and insights are appreciated.
If you’d like to add your views of The Hunger Games trilogy, please leave a comment below. We’d love to know what you think.