0 The Hunger Games
Having previously posted (read: gushed) about delving into the first of Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games trilogy, I wanted to go a bit more in-depth having finished the first book.  I'll begin with the obvious:

Right. Spoilers, obviously. For both the first novel in the trilogy and the newly released motion picture, so don't complain if you don't heed the warning.  On to the review...

Book #1: The Hunger Games

 Suzanne Collins

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place. 

I'll start with what should be plain to anyone whose ever picked up a book: It's better than the movie. No. Stop. No arguing. Any book is better than its accompanying movie. If you disagree, you are wrong. End of conversation.

Katniss Everdeen, as the central character in the first book is also my primary focus in this review. What kind of character is she? What sort of depth does the author give to her, as our reliable narrator? What kind of insight is there into the sort of person she is that better explains her personality, attitude, motivations, prejudices, decisions, faults, strengths, and so on?

 Source: DeviantArt

In the movie? Not so many. Much of what she does is not really adequately explained if you have never read the book. Certainly her relationships with other characters are not as fully explored, but that's a common issue with most book-to-movie adaptations, so I can't really fault it. She still made enough of an impact with me during the course of the movie to make her a likeable character, but somehow not enough that I could really identify with her.

The book bridges that gap on a powerful level. We get to know Katniss as a young child, developing teenager, all the way to the character she is when we join her come the beginning of the novel. These details into her history are scattered throughout the first book and revealed not only through Katniss herself, but through the other major and minor characters around her. In turn, these details also reveal the roles of said other characters in Katniss' life. They help us to get a better idea of them not as cardboard cutouts there to help her story along, but rather as genuine human beings with histories and feelings of their own. Everyone is affected by the horrific conditions they live in or the equally horrific rules they must abide by, no matter what their station. They are all desperate. They are all starving. They all have people they love.

We have to get a better idea, as it should be impossible for the characters not to be affected. The people living in The Seam, the poorest area of District 12 (where our heroine hails from) are not immune to the daily tragedies simply because the story is told from Katniss' point of view. It is not just her story and the book makes it clear that it is not only her that is affected by the decisions she will make.

Her positive traits are explored; her unwillingness to let her family starve after the death of her father and the induced apathy of her mother, her sense of fair and team play when dealing with her equally desperate fellow citizens, her strong love and desire to protect her more sensitive, young sister. In equal part, her flaws balance her character: she is distrustful because she has been hurt, she is willing to break rules not because she is born rebellious but because it must be done if she is to keep her family alive. This is examined to such a successful degree that when the selection of the unfortunate duo chosen to fight to the death in The Hunger Games is made, Katniss' instinctual decision to take her sisters' place as tribute in the games doesn't come across forced: Rather, it is the knee-jerk, fear-induced, instinctual decision of someone that can do nothing else. To do anything but what she does would go against the grain of her developed character.

Source: DeviantArt

Her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, is also not especially well explored in the movie. We get a very fleeting sense of the bond these two characters share. A rainy day. A bit of bread. Why do we care? In the novel, this gesture carries incredible weight. But the time to explain why was simply not considered important to the film. Yet this moment in the book is tremendously important to this relationship and gives us important information into the moral (and emotional) foundation of Peeta's character. He's not just someone who throws you a bit of burned bread on a rainy day. He takes a beating for you. He saves your family from starvation with a simple gesture that could earn him worst still. He never asks for thanks. This show of humanity continues well into the book and far into the arena.

In the movie we see him betray Katniss, allying himself with Career Tributes to hunt her down and kill her. She knows this. As the movie goes on, he suddenly switches sides (due to some shaky "love you" reasons) and his previous betrayal is never mentioned or resolved. His sincerity is never really assured. In the novel, we (much like Katniss) gradually come to know enough about Peeta to believe (even before we are assured) in his innocence and ulterior motive for doing what he does.

This characterization is not limited simply to the main "good" character either. Many denizens of The Panem Capitol, whom we initially see as much the monsters as their monstrous pastime are revealed to be just as helpless as any of the tributes; trapped in a system of (largely) their own design and able to do nothing but offer a few kind words of comfort or coaching to the children they know to be sending to their deaths. The city is a Gestapo, a Nazi state where every word is heard and every action examined for the faintest scent of rebellion. The ugliness is masked, reflected by the people of The Capitol in their garish dress and gaudy, heavily made-up faces. People here smile and laugh because to not do so means revealing your true self and their true selves may well not be able to live with what they do. The citizens, like the despicable games, are wrapped in pretty wrapping paper and glamor. Underneath, they are as ugly as the things they force their own children to do and they know it.

Identity is an important theme and the potential loss of it is explored very bluntly, particularly in a short monologue by Peeta prior to entering the arena. Life in the districts is about robbing you of your identity just enough to make you docile and helpless. Forcing you to watch the games and the subsequent murder of those you have known or even cared for induces fear. Lastly, unless you are prepared to die, your moral threshold is pushed and finally broken completely with the first life you take. You might come back from the games...but you really won't. Either way, the person you were dies in the arena.

The winner is then showered in riches and spoils. Not as a sign of sincere support or victory, but rather to placate the masses that might rage against such brutality. If you survive the savagery of the arena and are suddenly thrust into prominence and plenty, you are far less likely to rebel in fear of all you have suffered being for nothing.

Katniss, over the course of the novel, is revealed to both know this and to come to understand it to its fullest degree. She understands how even the most subtle of actions can go against the government of The Capitol and becomes the embodiment of rebellion against the state. She refuses to give up her humanity to the point of nearly committing suicide alongside Peeta so that the State might be robbed of its final victory. She does something no one has ever done before: she forces the hand of The Capitol in her favor and at the cost of their face. A dangerous move that come the end of the first book, will no doubt mean reprisals in the second.

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