The Hunger Games Trilogy requires a lot of post-reading thought to decide whether you love it or hate it, or even whether it’s an appropriate young adult series or not. I can’t say that about most books I’ve read and I like thought-provoking books. These books are dark, heart-wrenching and brilliant – but I speak from an adult’s perspective, not a young adult.
In Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen plays and wins – at costs known and unknown to her as she becomes the face of rebellion. In Catching Fire, she plays again, but ‘winning’ comes at a different cost, a greater one, when Peeta, her companion in the first Game, is captured by the evil Capitol. And in Mockingjay Katniss is consumed by the machinations of others and her own guilt (whether deserved or not).
This last book has been criticised for its lack of character development, for its disappointing epilogue, for being depressive, for a whole host of reasons. But for me, it was all appropriate. The horror of brutal oppression and war is bad enough for adults, for professional soldiers, but for a teenager? It’s even more tragic. And in this totalitarian world, the terrorizing and torture of the districts is heinous. It is worse for the teenagers who must accept that they will have to kill or be killed and accept the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives. For Katniss it goes deeper as she is the face of the rebellion, a pawn in the machinations of others, a tool in the pursuit of power.
And Katniss is near destroyed by it all. She is not permitted to enjoy her revenge on those who used and abused her. Worse, she is punished for it, although if she’d spoken up, maybe things would have ended differently.
Katniss is cunning, petulant, impulsive, selfish, obstreperous, frustrating, indecisive and narrow-minded; but she will sacrifice everything for those she loves, she will protect strangers, beguile the enemy and gather allies to the cause. In short, she’s a teenager. She knows she’s not heroic, but she’s portrayed that way and she cannot escape what others are determined she do. Only once does she feel the power she has over others and even as she understands it, it’s taken away and guilt takes its place.
This is not a perfect book. There are events I found unnecessary to story or character development, one event in particular that served no purpose, even as I understood the reasoning behind it. Without that scene, Katniss had a shot at, if not happiness, then contentment as they rebuilt their lives. The issue of presidents Snow and Coin also raises questions. We know Snow is evil, but again, without a particular scene, it didn’t matter to Katniss whether Coin would make a better president, but Coin takes that extra, unnecessary step and Katniss and her family pay for it.
These books are filled with metaphors and themes from life and they refuse to shy away from the issues of PTSD, of heroes dying needlessly, of villains escaping true justice, of actions and consequences, and what happens to combat soldiers when the war is over.
The trilogy may be a young adult book, but it deals with very adult concepts and there is no escaping the underlying themes. It is no wonder that this is one of the most talked about books of the year.