Matthew Reads The Hunger Games: Part One

Our senior theses are due this week, and this is kind of a frightening prospect. So instead of sticking to our regular schedule this week, Bad Books Good Times will be doing Senior Thesis Intermission Hunger Games Week. Before Bad Books, Good Times started, Ariel and I had spent a few months talking about how we wanted to start a blog together, but had no idea what the project should be. This was around the time that the first Hunger Games movie came out, and I decided to take advantage of its popularity by doing a series of posts on my other blog titled “An English Major Who Knows Nothing About The Hunger Games Reads The Hunger Games“. These posts weirdly enough turned out to be something of a predecessor to Bad Books, Good Times, because Ariel and I talked about the books and these posts, made lots of jokes, our friend showed us Fifty Shades, and then the idea for Bad Books, Good Times fell into place from there. So, yes, these are old posts that have already been on the internet for about a year, but they’re important to the history of this blog, so we felt they should ultimately make an appearance here, and we really can’t think of a better time than when we’re otherwise losing our minds in the last week of writing our senior theses.

So the short version: This week we’re updating M/W/F and reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Because senior thesis.

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I’ve been hearing a lot about The Hunger Games, but given how the last big thing to happen in young adult fiction was Twilight, I was more than a little wary to read it. But then some of my English major friends started recommending it to me and I decided it was probably safe to see what’s going on. And then I realized, “wait, The Hunger Games are huge right now. And I know nothing about them. I should blog this shit.” And blog this shit I will, because I love you guys.

I’m going to provide, chapter by chapter, my thoughts on The Hunger Games, which will range from in tone from “analytical and legitimately insightful” to “smartass”. Keep in mind, I’ve never read this before, nor have any idea who any of the characters are or much more beyond the basic premise. I wrote this up as I read the novel with no idea what The Hunger Games was about except that:

  1. It’s a dystopian society where teenagers are forced by the government to fight to the death and maybe eat each other (note: not totally sure about the cannibalism bit)
  2. The characters have really stupid names

And now let’s begin The Hunger Games. I think this would be a good place for a joke about the odds being in somebody’s favor or something but I don’t actually know what the line is, so, yeah, sorry.

#3: I see this picture all the time, so MAYBE somebody gets arrowed to death.
#3: I see this picture all the time, so MAYBE somebody gets arrowed to death.

Chapter One

So we have Katniss and Gale, and the novel makes it very clear that they are totally just friends. Man, I bet that doesn’t change at any point.

But on a serious note, here are my deep, analytical thoughts about the beginning of this novel. You know how at the beginning of the video game Half-Life 2 or the novel 1984, you’re immediately sucked into the bleak, dystopian society as you slowly see just how badly everybody’s suffering and how powerless they are? Yeah, well, this doesn’t happen in The Hunger Games. Yes, the novel goes to great lengths to explain how everybody’s suffering under an unquestionably oppressive government, but this gets more than a little undermined when the first twenty pages are “the government doesn’t allow people to go into the forest but everybody does anyway and the government doesn’t really care”. Also, this could be the result of a first-person narrator, but note that I said the novel “explains” the setting. It doesn’t show it. (Tip: This is the “show don’t tell” technique that you should really, really try to follow in your writing, otherwise you get some smartass college student on the internet explaining why you didn’t start your novel as well as George Orwell did.)

Oh, and Katniss hates cats and her younger sister Prim has been randomly chosen to be in the maybe cannibalism contest. Yeah.

Chapter Two

Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place. Although Katniss was the one keeping her sister alive in the first place, so there’s kind of a major shortcoming in this plan. But I’m inclined to like Katniss so far. Granted, I kind of already hate her as a narrator and she doesn’t seem to show too much character yet, but right off the bat we know she’s a very, very strong character, and it’s essential that’s the sort of character you’re rooting for in this setting.

But now we’re introduced to Peeta, who, much like Gale, is also a boy. So two chapters in and we’ve already got female main character’s totes platonic male best friend boy #1 and a mysterious but kind boy #2 she doesn’t know very well and now I’m kind of worried I’ve been tricked into reading the next Twilight.

Chapter Three

Katniss says goodbye to her sister and mother and they’ll probably be okay as it turns out because the mom is sane all of a sudden, so that’s good. Katniss also says goodbye to totally just friends Gale. Peeta seems quiet so far, but I’m not expecting this to last long because young adult fiction. The novel’s already becoming less about Katniss and more about the world she lives in, and this is a good thing, because the subtle hints about the mind games to come are way better. I’m mostly interested in this Effie character from the government at the moment because she has some serious Umbridge potential that I’m really hoping doesn’t fall flat.

On a completely different note, as a biology major (I’m a double major because I’m insane), I kind of have to raise my eyebrow at the whole mockingjay thing, but as an English major, holy shit this sounds like a terrifying nightmare bird of nightmares. A bird that can memorize and repeat human noises ranging from whimpers to entire conversations. In a novel about teenagers who are forced fight each other to the death in some big outdoor setting. Yeah, I’m sure that’s never going to pop up at an inopportune time and terrify the shit out of everyone.

Instead of talons, it just carries an arrow. This is canon.
Instead of talons, it just carries an arrow. This is canon.

Chapter Four

So they make their drunken potential mentor Haymitch take them seriously by suddenly being very violent, but that’s kind of what goes for normal in this dystopian society, so let the nightmares commence. Katniss’s flashback isn’t as interesting as the rest of the chapter, where we slowly learn more about what terrifying world something like The Hunger Games could possibly exist in. Basically the contestants are being treated like celebrities and Katniss is trying to not have to know Peeta too well but oh please, Katniss, you’re totally gonna want him before the end of the novel, this is young adult fiction.

Chapter Five

I already can’t wait to see the stylist Cinna again. This guy clashes with everything we’ve come to expect from the Capitol, and I really want to know what his motivations are, if he’s just getting a kick out of rooting for the underdog or something else.

Katniss is getting sucked into the celebrity mindset surprisingly quickly. I’ve still got no idea what to expect from Peeta, who seems unexpectedly reserved next to Katniss. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out when they inevitably develop feelings for each other and/or have to kill each other, although, as teenagers, these are arguably the same thing anyway.

Chapter Six

Katniss and Peeta have a real conversation at last, but it’s kind of boring, even when he straight up asks her if she likes Gale because he’s, you know, curious, not because he likes her or anything. Even if this novel is the new Twilight, the mind games between these two characters, constantly doubting each other because they are both in a competition where people fight to the death, puts what I’m sure is going to put an enthralling spin on things. Especially if the whole cannibalism thing goes down. I still haven’t gotten a clear answer on that.

Chapter Seven

So Katniss and Peeta get caught in a weird complimenting each others’ physical talents battle that simultaneously comes off as flirting and as people who realize one or both of them is going to die freaking the fuck out. I can’t decide if it’s hilarious or horrifying. Either way, once again a boy seems immediately smitten with Katniss and she has noooooooooooooo idea. Peeta’s rough relationship with his mother also puts a very interesting spin on his character. Is he inclined to like Katniss because his mother openly supports her and hates him? This is terrifying.

I'm mostly hoping that if someone shares this post with someone on Facebook, this picture of Freud will be the thumbnail for an article about The Hunger Games and everybody will be confused.
I’m mostly hoping that if someone shares this post with someone on Facebook, this picture of Freud will be the thumbnail for an article about The Hunger Games and everybody will be confused.

Chapter Eight

I just want to say I totally called Katniss’s score of eleven. That is all. And then Katniss compares her relationship with totes just friends boy and with pretending to be friends until one of us has to kill the other one boy, which is a bit of an awkward comparison.

Chapter Nine

Katniss and Peeta are trained for their tribute interviews, and Katniss asks what Peeta’s approach is, and the answer is “Likeable [with] a sort of self-deprecating humour” and it’s like “Oh, Katniss, that’s the approach he’s using on you. DERP”.

But oh my god the interviews. The interview scene changed absolutely everything. Oh my God. Katniss’s heartrending dialogue concerning her sister did more to humanize her than 150 pages of her narration, but what’s enthralling is the ease with which she embraces her new-found celebrity – so much that she doesn’t even notice.  Her dry narration, which up until this point I viewed as the weakest aspect of the novel, is now a strength. Katniss the narrator completely contrasts with Katniss the celebrity, and Katniss the narrator is completely oblivious. It’s not exactly like she’s an unreliable narrator, but more like a distant narrator. That alone changed everything about this novel for me. I am now officially sucked in.

But then there was MORE. After the total gamechanger that was Katniss’s interview, there’s immediately a second gamechanger. And that, dear reader, is kind of a lot of gamechangers all at the same time. The twist at the end of Peeta’s interview, however predictable, makes everything fascinating. I can’t decide if him admitting unrequited love for Katniss on live television will hurt him or help him. Probably help him. In a terrifying way, I can just imagine the rest of this world being as enthralled with his emotional tragedy as I am. But it could all be calculated. But his character so far seems so effortlessly genuine I don’t want it to be so.

Guys. It is officially okay to like The Hunger Games as of this point in the novel. I will allow it! Now hurry up and decide if you’re Team Gale or Team Peeta now!

Who's hottest?! Leave your comments below!!!
Who’s hottest?! Leave your comments below!!!
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0 comments

  1. Bellomy Reply

    [NOTE: Since Matthew has already read the book I am going to write with no care whatsoever for spoilers, so be warned: SPOILERS AHEAD:]

    I’ve only read the first book and part of the second, finding the series overrated.

    Reading your analysis is fascinating, though. Here were my thoughts on similar things that you noticed:

    1) The thing with Prim was ridiculously predictable but as a premise I accepted it.

    2) Afer seeing Gale, you just KNEW that whoever she was being paired with in the games would be a “good boy”.

    3) My honest thought on the twist after the interviews? “LOL Peeta has been glaringly obvious about his attraction to Katniss the entire time AND now has announced it on television (like that wasn’t obvious) but she still doesn’t buy it.” Oh young adult novels.

    Basically the entire section of the book before the games bored the Hell out of me, because I’m reading a book about a postapocalyptic world where children are forced to take part in asadistic death-match for the government’s enjoyment, and the author is trying to get me to care less about that than whether Katniss will choose Gale or Peeta. Fuck off with that shit Collins, I don’t care.

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    • matthewjulius Post authorReply

      The Peeta-interview twist is way more obvious in retrospect, I was mostly impressed with the actual dialogue through which it was done. The love triangle trope was actually subverted pretty nicely in the first book, in my opinion, although the sequels shit all over that. In addition to everything else that was good about the first book. And everything that was bad. Just shit everywhere. The sequels. The sequels are shit.

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      • MarcAnthony Reply

        I think you make a good point when you identify the break-off between “real” Katniss and “celebrity” Katniss, and it does do a lot to make her character more likable when she becomes a sort of “voice of reason”.

        As for the “love triangle” thing, yeah, in the first book she plays it more or less the right way, but even then clearly her biggest strength is writing action scenes. I’d rather focus on them than think about that Katniss’s “totes friends” love life.

        My favorite character was always Haymitch. I still think they missed an opportunity for comic relief in the movies and probably should have cast a comedic actor-not a PURE comedic actor, but somebody who knows how to make people laugh-as Haymitch. Would have kicked ass.

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        • matthewjulius Post authorReply

          I dunno, I thought Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch was one of the best parts of the movie. He wasn’t written perfectly, but his acting was great for what he was given.

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      • Bellomy Reply

        Oh, I thought the actor who played Haymitch did very well for what he was given. Still think an opportunity was missed there.

        Sorry, but I don’t think the love triangle was a media thing though. I saw it very clearly in the books, and a huge deal was made of it-perhaps not by Katniss the narrator but definitely, and not so subtly, by Collins the author.

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      • Bellomy Reply

        Bah, if it wasn’t clear, I’m MarcAnthony. It’s a persona I use on a couple of other not-funny blogs.

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    • Ana Reply

      I have to desagree with you on your last paragraph. Collins never set up the Team Peeta x Team Gale, who did that was the fandom and the media (who was trying to sell it as the next Twilight). Yes, the sequels did shit on a lot of things, but Katniss was never “Oh, should I love Peeta or should I love Gale?”, she clearly liked and cared about both boys, but her thoughts on who to choose were always extremely practical. When you think later that pretending to love Peeta was what would keep her alive, because President Snow demand it, the appeal of the love triangle was always because of the media. Diegetic media included.

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  2. Ali Reply

    The first book was good, and the second and third went way down hill.

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    • 22aer22 Reply

      Noooo I loved them all so much! I cried in Starbucks while reading the third one. That’ll teach me not to read in public!

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      • matthewjulius Post authorReply

        We should do a post where we just argue about the sequels. Have us disagree on something for once and confuse the shit out of our readers.

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  3. Hanna Reply

    In the first book, the love triangle seemed kinda like an afterthought to me. I imagined an editor somewhere reading through a first draft and saying, “Hmmm, good story, but I’m not seeing the YA fiction obligatory love triangle.” and having Collins go back and add it. Katniss seems to care little about either of the boys romantically. Being caught up in a dystopian death match, it makes sense that romance would be the last thing on her mind, and that’s how the first Hunger Games book came across to me, Katniss cared far more about Prim than anyone else. It seemed that she was trying to cope in a situation that was totally beyond her, and she just wanted to get back to her family. I thought she was a compelling character.

    In the second and third books it just seemed like Collins didn’t know what story she was trying to tell anymore.

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      • Bellomy Reply

        Somehow I missed that post, but there is one HUGE problem to “The Giver” example (which is an inferior rehash of the awesome “Brave New World”, for my money the best dystopian novel you’ll ever find): Lowry wrote two sequels. Or at least two spiritual successors set in the same universe and that even featured Jonah as a recurring character.

        At any rate, I thought the book definitely needed sequels. They just needed to be GOOD. In fact, the sequels could have been AWESOME if they were set from the point of view of somebody BESIDES Katniss. Then we could explore different sections of Panem and go back to the games and explore how they were affected thanks to Katniss’s actions, and we see the Peeta-Gale thing stay an open-ended question, at least for a little while.

        Mind you, this is coming from somebody who has only read through about three fifths of “Catching Fire” and stopped because he found it boring-though once again, the actual Games section is easily the highlight.

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  4. Tâmara Reply

    I like the Hunger Games. It has a good pace, Panem is kinda interesting and I love how Katniss is simply not interested in neither of the, uh, love interests in this book. However, I have a feeling that Collins only wrote the sequels because the first book became popular. So, Catching Fire has a bit of a generic setting and it takes time to really start, but it’s not terrible. But Mockingjay. I don’t get Mockingjay. It’s terrible. And seriously, what was the epilogue? Can somebody please explain the epilogue?

    I think the Hunger Games opened the market to dystopic YA, as Twilight did with vampire YA. I mean, there were some books in the genre that were rather popular, like Uglies and the Host, but the Hunger Games caused a boom. And there were some good stuff released recently. I mean, it’s mostly masked sugary romance, but some of the worlds are pretty interesting. And as it’s the genre my sister writes, she’s all gigly-wiggly about this coming to the Brazilian market. Which is annoying.

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    • matthewjulius Post authorReply

      Those are my thoughts exactly about each of the three books. Seriously, Mockingjay, What the hell? And I’d much rather have dystopian themes get popular because of Hunger Games than adult themes get popular because of Fifty Shades =P

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  5. travesaou Reply

    I’ve only watched the movies, never read the books unfortunately but concerning the love triangle thing or whatever I really wanted to vote for Gale. Just the fact that Thor is your brother should add like 50 points to your side of the scale xD! but more and more him and Katnip don’t seem all that suited to each other. They have the same attitude, fiery, head-on, attack first-think later style which is probably why they are besties but I think the very fact that Peeta has an opposing nature to Katnip, he’s more calm, diplomatic, thinks things through, like Haymitch, which is why Peeta and Katniss just make a better logical match. Is that logical though? But forget all that which team stuff, what’s wrong with a Gale-Katniss-Peeta three-some? Sharing is good. Yes? No? Maybe?

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