Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy (The Hunger Games)
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Don't worry, I won't split Mockingjay into two reviews ✌
The Hunger Games
I've been writing and reading so much poetry lately that my book reviews have taken a side seat. Like behind the pole nearest to the bathroom seat. I'm going to be the tired but chirpy waitress that moves the moaning Karen to the seat with the best window view to stop her complaining to make my life easier. I'm going to do this by reviewing my most read book series, The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
Yeah, I'm going to be pretty spoiler-heavy with book one. My plot section is pretty much a summary of the story. I would recommend this review to either someone uninterested in spoilers or who has read it and wants my opinion. Also for those who have just seen the movie (the book is better).
First off *coughs in exposition* please skip this section if you've read the books (unless you want to read the lols of my creative and funny commentary on child murder).
Every year the Capitol (the ruling city) chooses a boy and girl who are reaped from each district to compete as tributes in the Hunger Games. The children (aged 12-18) are put into an arena and forced to fight to the death until one victor survives. The Games are a way to keep the thirteen districts in line since they fought an uprising against the Capitol 74 years previously. To make this easier (Karen just had to wait three minutes for her house sauv), I'm going to bullet further important points to note:
The Hunger Games Trilogy is all told from Katniss' perspective. It is a first person point of view novel told in present tense. Writing in present tense is hard ya'll, mass respect.
Parts of the Games are mandatory watching for all of Panem (unless you're dying). This includes things like the reaping and the interviews with the tributes. Reaping Day is a National Holiday, even for the poors. Other than that, the Games are on 24/7 and it is expected that residents watch most of the games either at home or in big gathering areas with giant screens.
Names are reaped from a giant bowl. You get one entry for every year you've been eligible. So if you're 12, one entry. If you're 18, seven times. However, you can voluntarily sign up for tessera (a ration of oil and grain for the year for one person). Some children may get more than one ration of tessera for the rest of their family, but each ration equals one more strip with your name in the bowl.
Peeta gave Katniss some bread once when she was dying of starvation ofter the mining death of her father. She feels like she owes him for this big courageous act (he threw it in the mud!?) He just did it because he's been in love with her since she was five or whenever you start school in Panem.
Some tributes make pacts and form groups. These tributes are usually from the wealthier districts of 1,2, and 4. They train for the Games and volunteer as tributes, even though training for the games is illegal. For this reason they are called the careers. Careers=baddies.
At the centre of the arena is a cornucopia filled with weapons, food, and survival gear. All the best stuff is in the mouth so that the tributes will head there and an onslaught will begin for the entertainment for those at home for the best goodies.
Cannons are fired after the death of each tribute. They save the cannons from the initial bloodbath until all the fighting is over. At the end of each night stock photos of each tribute are hung in the sky for the other tributes to see and they play the national anthem.
Tributes can be sent gifts in the arena from sponsors. These are negotiated and sent in by the tribute's mentor (in District 12's case, Haymitch)
Muttations (or mutts) are animals genetically engineered by the Capitol for some nefarious purpose or other. I'll be mentioning several in this review.
We meet our main protagonist Katniss Everdeen on the day of the reaping hunting in the forest. She lives in the poorest section (the seam) of the poorest district (thirteen) with her twelve year old sister Prim and their mother. Hunting is illegal but nobody gives a fuck because they're poor and the police officers (peacekeepers) like the fresh meat. Katniss is boss with a bow and picks up some fresh meat. She meets sexi boi Gale in their regular place and they eat something nearing a feast for District 12. This is the point where we find out that Gale has no character traits other than: a) being good at hunting and snaring b) whinging about the Capitol in the secrecy of the woods, and c) being a sexi boi.
They go to the black market to sell their yield. The stallholders pay more because Katniss and Gale might be chosen for murder fest :(. Then they go home to prep for the reaping. Katniss' sister Prim is reaped, even though she only had one entry. Katniss "VOLUNTEERS AS TRIBUTE" (sorry, I can't even quote Katniss volunteering quietly). The boy tribute, Peeta Mallark, is then chosen. None of his older brothers volunteer for him. Awkward! They get to say goodbye to friends and family and Katniss' friend Madge gives her a mockingjay pin to wear as her district token. Mockingjays are hybrids between the all male jabberjays mutts that were released during the uprising to listen then repeat secrets back to the Capitol. The rebels quickly figured out what the new birds that suddenly appeared were being used for, so the Capitol released them all to die. Instead of dying, they mated with mockingbirds and created the mockingjays, no longer able to speak, but able to pick up human songs and melodies,
Next thing, they're whisked off to compete in the Games. They go by train and Katniss oohs and ahs at all the pretty things. Peeta just oohs and ahs at Katniss, but he's like poor rich, ya know? If you like reading about food, this book might just be for you. I swear it's called The Hunger Games because the descriptions of all the Capitol food makes you hungry.
While on the train, they make a deal with the only District 12 surviving victor from a Games Haymitch, an alcoholic wisecracker, for him to stay sober enough to keep them alive. He sees enough in them to agree to do this. We also spend time with Effie, the Capitol born escort of the District 12 tributes. She represents everything physically about the Capitol by being overdressed, overtressed and with make up that would have even the most daring Drag Queen leaning in for make up remover.
Once in the Capitol we get to see how weird the citizens there look. Katniss' prep team wax her within and inch of her life and are so extreme she doesn't see them as people. Then we meet my main man Cinna, her stylist. More on him later.
Peeta and Katniss spend the next few days in the Capitol preparing for the Games by training in combat and survival skills. They also take part in an opening parade where Cinna and Peeta's stylist Portia do the District 12 tributes a solid and made their costumes look like they are on fire. They outshine all the other competitors and are the highlight of the show. It is literally lit literature.
Peeta declares his love for Katniss during the live tribute interviews, obviously. Katniss shoots an arrow at a pig the gamemakers are eating like an impatient 16 year old boss, obviously. Some other bullshit happens, obviously. Then the Games begin.
People of Earth, every time I read the scene where Katniss sits with Cinna and then gets raised into the arena, I have a mild panic attack. My heart rate goes into full cardio mode and I can hear the blood thumping in my ears. The way Collins built up tension in this scene is perfection.
Wisecracker Haymitch told them to run straight for the woods, but Katniss goes for a bag. She uses said bag as a shield when someone throws a knife, so now our girl Katniss has a backpack and a knife. She did see a bow and arrow she believes the gamemakers put there for her, but doesn't go after them to avoid the bloodbath.
She heads for the woods and tries to get as far from the cornucopia as possible. The arena is a forest so she has an immediate advantage. That night a tribute lights a fire near her and the careers hunt and kill them. They then stop to talk near a tree Katniss has tied herself in. To her horror, Katniss sees Peeta has joined the careers and they *exposition cough* are only keeping him around until they find Katniss. At this point we really see Katniss playing the game. She keeps her face hidden in the dark until she figures out what kind of face to show to the audience. She wants to play with the audience. Does she want them to think she's in on it? A coy smile will do the trick.
Katniss then spends the next few days looking for water. It's pretty boring and thankfully doesn't take up too much of the book, but it establishes an unexpected character relationship. Katniss deduces that she must have sponsors, so Haymitch isn't sending her any water because she's so close to a source. Once she finds the water, she decides this seems like a good place to chill for a few days.
But alas, a cannon hasn't gone off for a few days and the Capitol peeps are bored so the game makers throw flames and fireballs at Katniss. Bit petty to Cinna, but ok fam. As Katniss is catching her breath and treating her wounds after escaping, she hears the career pack approaching and climbs up a tree. Turns out they can't climb the tree or hit her with the arrows because they suck. They also don't think to you know, burn the tree down or take turns at hacking at it until it falls. Their plan is to wait for her to come down when she gets hungry. It's at this point I wonder what career they were illegally training for. Public sector bureaucracy? Sitting around all day doing nothing and hoping your plan sorts itself out? Sounds about right!
Anyway, a young wee darling sweet angel of a girl from District 11 named Rue pops up in the tree next to Katniss' and points out a wasps nest. They're mutts named tracker jackers that were designed by the Capitol to kill or hinder the rebels during the uprising. If disturbed, they will track their assailant down until they are dead. I wouldn't mind training a few as pets... If stung only a few times, they send you on an awful, days-long trip. If you're stung more, you're dead. During the playing of the Panem National Anthem and the picture display in the sky, Katniss saws most of the tracker jacker nest's branch. Katniss sees Rue in the morning and points out her plan. Then precious boss darling Rue jumps away from tree to tree like the absolute legend she is. Katniss then creates absolute carnage in the morning when she drops the nest on the careers as they sleep (they didn't even get setting shifts sorted guys, even Vogons can do that!)
Katniss is stung a few times but the nest drops and cracks open in the centre of the careers camp. Damn Collins writes a good horror scene here. Perfect for any squeemish YA reader or 30 year old who still reads the Hungers Games trilogy twice a year (don't judge me). The shit Katniss goes through to get the bow and arrows is... a lot.
Katniss also sees Cato, one of the careers, attack Peeta as he tells her to run. She isn't 100% sure whether it was real or she was trippin' on wasp acid.
Katniss trips the fuck out and is out for days. Rue the darling angel of music looks out for her during this time, even though most of the career pack is recovering or dead and everyone else is just chilling I guess? (First person POV can be annoying like that). Rues confirms Peeta's not dead but wasn't around to see if he saved Katniss. My two boss bitches make an alliance and it's the nicest part of the book (yes, I am side-eyeing the night on the roof). They share knowledge on foraging and hunting, and Rue says she knew she could trust Katniss because of her mockingjay pin. You see, Rue can reach the highest trees in District 11 (agriculture), so she sends a four note song out to the mockingjays when she sees the signal for the end of the day. She teaches it to Katniss so they can use it to find each other.
Their plan is to become the hunters and take the food from the careers. Since it's assumed every year that the careers will win the cornucopia, they don't train in hunting or foraging, just killing. Most years where the food source for the careers has been taken out, another district has won. Come on careers, at least do a little plant research, am I right? Anyway, Katniss succeeds in blowing up the loot while Rue is lighting campfires in random places as distraction. When Katniss goes looking for Rue she can't find her, but eventually follows the sound of mockingjays singing Rue's notes. Rue is in a trap and is stabbed straight through the gut with a spear. Katniss shoots the spear wielding tribute instantly.
My poor sweet Rue. She asks Katniss to sing to her and she does. My little 30 year old heart breaks every time. I cry like a Karen who's just been told their child is the bully, but feels like it's a lie because how could Karen raise a bully? In other words, I cry a lot.
That night a new rule is announced that two tributes can win the games, as long as they are from the same district. This leaves the option open for two districts, two and 12. Katniss has no idea where he is, so she does one of the very few stupid things my boss bitch does in this trilogy, and it is yell out his name. And yes, meme incoming in 3.. 2.. 1..
Katniss finds Peeta and he's camouflaged himself in the mud and is dying. I personally would have left him there but my boss bitch Katniss knows the people of 12 will never forgive her if she just lets him die. I mean I wouldn't, but let's face it, this story needs a Mary Sue and Katniss ain't one. So she washes him up and they go live in a cave. He's clearly dying but Haymitch obviously isn't allowed to send a cure. He does send food whenever they're more romantic. Boss bitch knows hamming it up for the camera gets her supper. Peeta is just awkward and dying. The book kind of drags at this point. To be honest I need to buy a hard copy and just cut out the pages with the story about the goat 😴 I'll leave in his story about the singing though, that shit was cute as fuck!
After some awkward kissing (God it must have been awful. I can't go near my husband after a week-long hunting trip, let alone without brushing his teeth and having a pus oozing wound) they are invited to a feast, where there is a backpack with something everyone needs. At this point there's only six people left in the game, The careers from two, Rue's male counterpart Thresh (a large African American boy who could probably take you out with one hand), KatPee, and a wiley girl Katniss only knows as foxface (cause she looks like a fox, duh).
Peeta asks her not to go but Haymitch gives her some date rape, sorry, err, ex machina, I mean, err, sleeping berries so she can drug him and go get his marysuedicine. She almost dies at the hands of career girl (who clearly took classes in talking to your arch nemesis instead of killing them a la any Bond villain) and suffers a knife wound to the head. Thresh unexpectedly saves her to pay her back for helping Rue. He then murders career girl (none of this talking shit) and runs back into his grass area. He also has Cato's bag so he goes after him not Katniss.
Katniss goes back, cures Peeta, and then passes out from blood loss. Peeta tries to help her out but is useless as all fuck. He can't walk quietly so she can't hunt. He also Mary Sue's himself a kill by picking some poisonous berries that Foxface eats, thinking that if Peeta was gathering them they must be edible. But unlike the rest of us, the poor girl doesn't know that he's useless af. They decide to keep the berries in case the same trick might work on Cato.
Cato kills Thresh. The gamemakers dry out the river PeeNiss has been drinking from so they go to the lake near the cornucopia to await the final showdown. As they fill up their water bottles, Cato comes charging out of the forest chased by large wolf/dog mutts. Katniss shoots an arrow at him but it becomes clear he is wearing some form of body armour. She then realises he's running for the cornucopia and chases after him, knowing climbing the giant horn may be the only chance of survival if the mutts can't climb.
She's almost there when she remembers Mary Sue has a fucked leg so goes back for him. He gets bit, obviously. A final showdown ensues and Cato is pushed off the cornucopia, where the mutts slowly chew at him through his armour for hours. KatPee have to lie and listen to it all night, knowing the Capitol will be wanting this awful footage for their grand finale. Katniss finally has enough and uses her last arrow (which is being used as a tourniquet for Peeta's bitten leg) to kill Cato. The whole scene is ruthless. If you haven't read or seen it, there's something special about the mutts that makes the whole thing so much worse.
So, they won right? Yay!
Lol nah, the Capitol is like jk, the rule about the two tributes has been rescinded, peace out. Katniss goes on the offence and Peeta undoes his tourniquet so he'll bleed out and she'll win. Katniss suggests they eat the berries, thinking the Games has to have the victor. They get to the point of putting them in their mouth when they are announced dual victors. Real yay!
PeeNisss are picked out of the arena and split apart. After a few days of being healed they are interviewed. This is the point where Haymitch tells Katniss she's in trouble for the berry stunt, so insists she act super in love. She's all like "have you told Peeta to do this?" and the fact that Haymitch doesn't slap her shows a lot for his character. As they head home on the train Katniss tells Peeta the love thing was all an act to survive and he takes it about as well as you'd expect. This is pretty much where book one ends. Phew!
I'll try hard to make this bit short. I find most of the character interesting in this book but I have one big problem with them. The complete lack of diversity, mainly of Asian or Indigenous Americans. Suzanne, pick your game up sis. Here's a wrap up of the characters we do have:
Katniss Everdeen. Queen of YA and the clay from which all future strong female YA characters have been molded. I would have put in a fight for Hermione here but.. terf stuff. She's self sufficient, smart, and brave. She is quiet and introverted. She loves her family and her friends and is thoughtful and kind. She is my hero, and I will stan her for life. Her downfall? How absolutely clueless she is about how men/boys might feel about her. Although her appearance is not explained in great detail in the books, we know she is pretty. I believe this character flaw comes from being too consumed with keeping herself and her family alive to think about men in that way. Love is not useful to her except as a means to an end. She also doesn't want kids because she couldn't stand seeing them in the Games. This chick makes Bear Grylls look like Posh Spice. Absolute legend. 10/10.
Gale Hawthorne. In like three scenes before Katniss goes to the Capitol. As said earlier, he is: a) good at hunting and snaring b) whinging about the Capitol in the secrecy of the woods, and c) being a sexi boi. Katniss thinks about how having in in the Games would be helpful in the arena and he is in many of her thoughts, but they don't expand out much further than point a.
Peeta Mallark. Mary Sue. In love with Katniss since the first day of school but has never spoken to her before the Games. Plot bait to make Katniss look like a boss bitch. Is kind and caring and would totally be a Hufflepuff who snuck into the kitchen to bake cakes. I'd go on with this fanf fic but... terf stuff.
Rue. Smaller but just as awesome boss bitch YA Queen. Starts the story as a reminder to Katniss about Prim, leaves the story as the true tragedy of this book. A strong POC character that fends for herself and is kind and trusting in a world that has been nothing but cruel to her. Absolute legend. 10/10.
Effie Trinket. Anal about being on time. Likes lists and planning. Loves make up and colorful hair. Will not take your bullshit if you don't listen to her. Yeah, Effie is probably the character I most relate to. Although I don't tend to sulk about manners, and I'm much MUCH more aware of the fact that I live a very privileged life. Her cluelessness in this department shows how entrenched the Capitol citizens are in their privilege.
Haymitch Abernathy. A character who becomes more likeable as the books go on, but one of my favourite characters from book one. Haymitch has to mentor every child in the Games, as he is the only surviving victor. Being driven to alcoholism and not worse seems almost like a positive trait for me. It is clear that while sober (or sober enough) he is incredibly intelligent and strategic. Also, perfect film casting with Woody Harrelson.
Cinna. Cinna "isn't like the other girls". He dresses relatively normally and only wears very minimal make up - gold eyeliner to bring out his eyes. Cinna quickly becomes someone that Katniss trusts, and through this, the reader. Cinna is another Hufflepuff who hangs out with people from every House (sorry, I can't help it, send help). He is just so great.
Primrose Everdeen. Gives Katniss goat cheese. Has the worst luck ever (the odds were not in her favour). Helps her Mum heal the wounded in their makeshift apothecary. Isn't really in this book, except for in Katniss' thoughts (especially when she is allied with Rue).
Mother Everdeen. I've read these books no fewer than 30 times, and I honestly can't remember if she has a name. Falls into some sort of mental psychosis when Katniss' Dad dies so they all nearly starve. Katniss is still very angry at her about it. That's about it for now.
President Snow. Is there. Seems evil.
The Audio Book
I mean, it's fine. I like the performance. It doesn't distract me from the story but I don't think it's particularly amazing. If you don't have time to read a book and like to multi-task like me (e.g. cook and listen), then I would recommend it.
This book is for you if:
You like YA novels. This book is a must for any YA reader.
You like dystopian novels. This book is a must for any dystopian reader.
You like books. This book is a must for any reader.
This book might not be for you if:
You're an incel. Katniss is too busy fighting for the survival of herself and her loved ones to sleep with you. Trigger warning: a man being taken care of by a woman may also be too much for you.
You're a terf. Men wear make up and appear pretty non-binary in the Capitol. This may confuse or anger you.
You don't like reading. Fair enough. But you're missing out. The movies are perfectly adequate adaptations, but the books are better.
TL;DR The Hunger Games is one of my favourite trilogies of all time. Scratch that. It is my favourite trilogy of all time. Katniss is one of the best female characters ever written and will be an archetype for YA leading ladies for decades to come. This first novel doesn't really have a love traingle in it yet, which I really appreciate. Please read this series if you haven't already. You won't regret it!
R. M, Waenga