Heather and Sue Blather On About The Hunger Games Books: Part 1

Welcome, everyone, to a three-part series wherein Mutant Sue and I stop pretending that we have wildly successful lives that don’t involve us having lengthy discussions of YA novels on Facebook. We’ll take on each book in the trilogy at a time, for our sanity as much as yours, as we hash out what we loved and hated about the series.

Picture it…The Internet: 2012. On a gorgeous spring day two women are sitting at their computers, typing words at each other….

Heather: You almost weren’t exactly on time by about 5 seconds!

Sue: I is punkchual.

Heather: Because poor literacy is kool!

Sue: That too! I should state for the record that I jotted down some notes for this discussion, but the cat puked on them. I’m not making that up.

Heather: I have cats, so I know all too well that you aren’t.

Sue: Apparently he’s not a fan of Young Adult Dystopian literature.

Heather: Speaking of not being a fan of things, how do you feel about The Hunger Games being compared to Twilight? I haven’t seen the films, nor have I read the books, but I’ve seen and read snippets of both, respectively, and I think the comparison is pretty insulting.

Sue: (Yay! I just found my copy! It was hiding under “Stiff – The Curious Lives Of Human Cadavers”)

Heather: Yeah, that’s totally going in the article.

Sue: Good book. You should read it. But not on a full stomach.

Heather: Heh. I’ll stick it on my Amazon wishlist, then.

Sue: Anyway…. really there are only three ways that I think the Twilight franchise and the Hunger Games are comparable. Female Lead, suggested love triangle, and both series are intended (I think) for the young adult audience.

Say what you will about Twilight, but it *is* impressive how they turned a mildy attractive male into a neanderthal.

Heather: Agreed.

Sue: Having said that, the female leads are truly about as comparable for me as Prime Rib is to a Cheeto left in the rain.

Heather: From what I know of Ms. Swan, I agree with you whole-hardheartedly. One couldn’t ask for two more diametrically opposed characters. Bella’s got no real personality to speak of, is incredibly dependent on the men surrounding her, and…well…really stupid.

Sue: Plus, let’s look at motivations. Bella wants a boyfriend. Katniss–who does NOT have a death wish–puts her sister’s well being ahead of her own.

Heather: Katniss, has been hunting with her father since she was old enough, became the head of her household at the age of eleven (which speaks of her intelligence and skill not only at hunting, but bartering for the non-food items her family needs), and (for better or worse) is one incredibly independent individual. In fact she goes far in the opposite direction of Bella, to the point of pushing possible love interests away.

Sue: Well, Katniss has survival on her mind, and nothing else. And after she steps in for Prim, she’s pretty pragmatic about her imminent bucket-kicking…and still makes darn sure that Gayle is still going to provide squirrels and such to her family after she’s gone.

Bella’s problems are… Heck, they’re so inconsequential and self-serving that I’m still wondering how Stephanie Meyer got away with basing an entire series on them. AND, made a gazillion bucks doing it!

Heather: For all the awful things about it, Twilight did get one thing right: It combined two of our society’s fantasy obsessions (vampires and werewolves and all the taboo that comes with them) with a blank slate main character that any female could project herself onto. Bella isn’t the person you want to be; she’s the situation you want to be in (two incredibly handsome and dangerous men [er…boys] infatuated with you). The Hunger Games‘s protagonist is the opposite. Katniss is the person you want to be, and the situation you do not want to be in.

Sue: Excellently stated!

Heather: Why, thank you!

Sue: You’re welcome, I’m sure! But, I don’t want to say that Katniss doesn’t have a certain irritating aspect to her as well. In her own specialized way, she’s maybe a little too perfect.

Heather: Her flaws are even endearing, which is more irritatingly perfect.

Sue: She hunts when no other girl seems to have the courage or skill (or, to be fair, tools) to do that. Her archery skill is a little too perfect for me to believe. And, she’s another one who seems to attract admirers without quite processing why.

Heather: Your first sentence brings up a good point. I hadn’t thought of that. Heck…even in the arena there were only two other females who seemed to be very competent. To be fair, the participants weren’t chosen just from those competent at battle.

Sue: Did you seriously just post about a musical toothbrush on your Facebook wall in the middle of this very learned conversation?

Heather: Did you seriously just look at my Facebook wall in the middle of this very learned conversatoin?

Sue: No, it showed up in my news feed.

Heather: Well can you blame me? $50 for a toothbrush that plays “Canned Heat”?

Sue: No, I can’t blame you at all. Although….I’m trying very hard not to wonder why or how you managed to find that. (Available on Amazon.com and wherever fine musical toothbrushes are sold!)

Heather: I typed Jamiroquai into Amazon’s search bar, looking for his music. I had the search settings set to “Health and Personal Care” by accident. Hilarity ensued.

Sue: But yeah, a lot of the kids had to be cannon fodder (blunt force trauma and sharp objects fodder?) simply because it’s a random draw in the not-so-awesome districts. Speaking of which…just as an aside…what are your thoughts on kids being killed in the book and on screen?

Heather: I’m glad you bring it up. I was discussing this aspect with Kaleb right before you came online.

Sue: Was he wondering why no one thought to make them into kebabs?

Heather: While that does sound a bit Kaleb-y, he was more wondering whether or not I found that idea disturbing in a “Someone somewhere is surely enjoying this idea for entirely all the wrong reasons” kind of way. You know, looking past all the implications and questions of our society that dystopian stories are meant to bring out and instead treating it like the sick entertainment that the movie is meant to criticize.

Sue: Ah, the deviant market?

Heather: Quite. To which I say: “True, that’s gross and unfortunate, but those people exist. I don’t think we should shy away from telling stories like this just for fear that some won’t understand it or will misuse it.”

Sue: True. I’d as soon not worry too much about the sick and deviant types. As a parent thought, the concept of kids killing kids in a gladatorial/entertainment way really squicks me. And also as a parent, I wonder if there will be actual casualties from kids playing Hunger Games. BUT, from a movie watching sort of way, I thought they handled it as well as it could be handled. At least they kept it brief, slightly out of focus (unless my glasses needed cleaning) and without too many buckets of blood.

Heather: I completely understand the fear that kids will play it out in real life, and it’s something that has glanced across my mind, especially since I found out our local archery ranges are full to capacity now. The optimistic side of me hopes that parents aren’t letting children that young and impressionable watch the film. Also, I hope parents *are* squicked by this. I think the point of dystopian stories is to help us stay aware and horrified of what society can come to. I would hope that this sparks some good conversation between parents and their children. About exactly what, I can’t say, but I see potential for good dialogue.

Sue: Maybe about the perils of reality television and other forms of entertainment making us callous?

Heather: Exactly. That creeping fear of our children becoming desensitized is incredibly unsettling, not just because it could happen, but because to an extent it already has.

Sue: I think if you set aside the whole political aspect, we ARE callous. We care about things like designer clothing and Angry Birds and…and…musical toothbrushes, when there are plenty of people in the world who are in worse condition than the poor schlubs in the outlying Hunger Games districts.

Heather: Very true. Speaking of your fear that children may injure each other trying to play Hunger Games, have you been reminded of the Power Rangers issue? Because I know I have.

White Ranger says NO! to kids killing kids.

Sue: You’ll have to clue me in on the Power Rangers issue.

Heather: I was only in fifth grade when this happened, but back when it was gigantic, children were playing Power Rangers and injuring, and in at least one case accidentally killing, one another trying to pull off those martial arts moves on each other. There was a huge media frenzy over it, and parents were calling for the show to be banned.

Sue: Ahhhh. Luckily Spawn of Mutant1 was better at the sound effects than the actual violence. I think that there will be some problems. On the other hand, kids have been tying blankets around their necks a la Superman and jumping off roofs since my Dad was a kid.

Heather: I’m just going to pretend like I never did anything like that at all.

Sue: Oh, me too. Besides, I was from the Star Wars generation and we didn’t have real laser guns available. Wait a few more decades and George Lucas could be in for a whole new type of lawsuit.

Heather: You try to paint a bad picture to me, but all I’m seeing is awesome. Because I’m a terrible person.

It’s good that we’re on this note, because I was going to ask you this anyway: Do you think this fear of children replicating the Games after seeing the movie/reading the book is why there have been so many people saying that the movie gave too little seriousness to the subject matter? I thought the movie and book both made darned sure to portray the forced Gladiator-style games between children as a terrible thing, and I’m trying to figure out where these criticisms are coming from.

Sue: Well, like I said before, the movie handled it as well as it could given the circumstances, which meant trying not to be too graphic. As far as the story itself goes though…I think the point of it was to show it as devastating to the poor families, but as nothing more than entertainment for the elite population. It’s a cautionary tale, applied with a very large taboo stick.

Heather: I think the movie did what it could to convey the subject matter in a way that our censorship rules would allow. I don’t think the movie is at fault for the lessened impact of the death scenes (except for the incredibly nauseating Shaky Cam).

Sue: The Shaky Cam was an absolute necessity given the nature of the violence.

Heather: I don’t think so. I mean, we had better ways of portraying violence before that tactic was introduced that didn’t make people sick at their stomachs.I think deceptive camera angles and cutting away from the blows could have gotten the point across. I keep thinking back to the shower scene in Psycho. Hitchcock got a pretty grisly death across without a single bit of gore.

Sue: In a lot of cases, I think the first instinct would be off-screen violence and then maybe we get to see the bodies. But for the nature of this story, it had to be there…but go too far and maybe you’re looking at a rating that won’t support a young adult flick. I’m not a big fan of the Shaky Cam. I get motion sickness. But it did give it a sense of immediacy and out-of-control violence, without taking it beyond what an audience would tolerate.

Heather: I don’t think there shouldn’t have been any Shaky Cam. I’m alright with it when used sparingly, and I think it was appropriate for some parts of this film, but we definitely disagree about it not being overused. I have never had motion sickness of any kind in my life, but I was getting ill watching the first cornucopia scene. It didn’t help that the theater was packed, which caused hubby and I to sit pretty close to the front. I did find it was a lot more tolerable the second time I saw it, when my friend and I sat in the back of the theater at my insistence.

Sue: It wouldn’t be my first choice in most cases, but I still think there”s a decent argument for using it in this movie.

Heather: How about the “romance” between Peeta and Katniss? Any thoughts on that, and the love triangle in general?

Sue: Well, Peeta is irritating in the same general way that Jacob and Edward (mostly Jacob) are irritating. Essentially falling all over himself for a girl who is just…not that into him.

Hey everyone! I just flew in from Shalidar Cave and boy, are my arms tired! Nyuck nyuck nyuck!

Sue: I get that to a certain extent. Time honored tradition among teenaged males, but still.

Heather: You have a point. In fact, the book tells us they’ve never even spoken to each other. While I’m not entirely happy with the love triangle, and I think it could have been handled better, I liked the confused feelings and strategy behind Peeta and Katniss working together, and eventually becoming star-crossed lovers in the arena.

Sue: I liked the star-crossed strategy too, although I think it was sometimes clumsily done. Katniss should not be so clueless, because Peeta was never subtle.

Heather: Very, very true. I guess we could write it off that she was in denial, given everything else she was dealing with emotionally. I probably just did that to try to make sense of something that otherwise didn’t.

Sue: Yeah, but there’s a point where it becomes so clumsy that it feels as though the audience is being condescended to. I’m not saying that the line was crossed here, but it was making my spidey-sense tingle.

"Teenage Suicide (Don't Do It!)"

Heather: Admittedly, I did get to a point where I almost wanted to hit Katniss over the head with something. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one calling shenanigans.

Sue: I’ll also say that Gale’s broken off: “Katniss, remember I–” line was sheer lazy cliche.

Heather: Thank you! As much as I enjoyed the book, it did have its moments like that. I wrote them off as “Well, it IS for a younger audience”. As a YA author,  you may call bullcrap on that one.

Sue: As a writer, I don’t like to diss other writers usually (Twilight was definitely an exception). But there were enough weak moments in Hunger Games that I wondered if some parts were written by committee.

Heather: Why doesn’t Gale just continue his sentence, door shut or no door shut? I’d be darned if the lasts words I was ever going to say to someone was going to be cut off because someone shut a door. Was the room soundproof?  The book doesn’t say it is, but it doesn’t say it isn’t, either. Believe you me, I noticed in the movie that she could just walk over and open the door to her waiting room between visitors. Normally I wouldn’t call out such a thing, but Suzanne was a writer for the film. They took that cut-off sentence out of the movie, if I remember correctly. Maybe Collins reconsidered that part.

Sue: They’re in District 12. I can’t imagine anything was classy enough to be soundproofed in District 12.

Heather: True, but didn’t that building also house the only elevator she’d ever seen, and velvet chairs and such? I just assumed if it was that nice they may have also soundproofed it, because otherwise it makes no sense that Gale’s sentence got cut off. It really was, as you said, lazy.

Sue: And cliched. Because we ALL know what he was going to say, except that we can’t…be…completely…sure. And she has no clue. (Shades of Bella there.)

Out of curiosity, what did you think of the heavy emphasis on clothes and stylists? Shades of American Idol or the author pandering to teen girls’ interests in fashion?

Heather: Hmm…I actually hadn’t made anything of that until now. I liked the descriptions and I didn’t feel like it was too much. That kind of thing draws me more into the world. Did it come off as unnecessary and distracting for you?

Capitol Colours! Because if we slap a Hunger Games association on our ugly nail polish you'll want it!

Sue: It wasn’t unnecessary, but I did wonder about the motive behind it. There’s something macabre about making contestants as stunning and photogenic as possible before sending them out to hack each other to death. Very gladiator-ish. But was that the point? Or was Collins playing to the expected demographic of her readership by saying, “Oooh, makeup! Pretty clothes!” Maybe I’m just suspicious, over-analytical and insanely envious of Collins’ best seller status.

Heather: I felt the attention to the clothes and such was intentionally crafted to further instill the macabre nature of the games and the sick minds of the Capitol’s denizens. Not only that, but I thought it made sense in the context of endearing sponsors to the contestants.

Sue: Both good points, and I hope that’s exactly what it was.

Heather: This was probably the intention, but did you feel at all overwhelmed when trying to think what the best strategy would be in the Games? Appearing weak and scared was said to have worked particularly well for a past contestant, but that made me wonder: How did she do when it came to convincing sponsors to support her? Did she score well in training? Wouldn’t that have tipped the tributes off to be more wary of her, thereby rendering her helpless act useless?

Sue: On one hand, if you appear to be weak and scared, but you’re self-sufficient when you’re on your own, do you need sponsors? You’re not high on the target list. You’re on the mop-up later list. On the other hand, since there are controllers behind the game that can throw in obstacles to throw people together…the act only goes so far.

Heather: Katniss was self-sufficient enough that one would assume she wouldn’t need sponsors and yet she did, due to circumstances beyond her control, need at least that first gift.

Sue: True. But remember that Rue was doing okay without any gifts. (I assume.) She was by far the smallest and weakest.

Heather: That’s right. In the book she got a pretty good score, though, as I remember. A seven, I think?

Sue: I believe so.

Heather: I guess I was just trying to decide how far pretending to be weak and scared to the other tributes could go before everyone figures out you’re a force to be reckoned with.

Sue: Remember, that the audience would have seen more than the other tributes. So maybe when Meek Contestant is off snaring mountain lions and building tents out of them, a fan base might be generated.

Heather: I’m just putting way too much thought into what strategy I would use in that situation.

Though effective at warding off most people, Bioshock costumes and dull butcher knives would likely have little value in a death match.

Sue: It’s an interesting question though. Personally, I’d be a greasy smear on the Cornucopia right from the start.

Heather: How did you feel about the dogs at the end, which have the eyes and hair of the fallen tributes, as well as collars with the corresponding District number? I found the whole idea about as horrifying and tragic as anything I’d read so far.

Sue: I thought it was a little heavy handed, to be honest, but in retrospect, it’s grown on me. The tracker jackers I really liked though.

Heather: What did you like so much about the tracker jackers?

Sue: Maybe because killer bees (actually any sort of wasp) is high up on my list of personal terrors. Genetically modifying them to make them even worse? I thought it worked.

Heather: I think they worked well, too. It’s odd that my own extreme terror of wasps (I’m highly allergic to them) didn’t factor in when I was reading. By which I mean I wasn’t particularly impressed with them.

Sue: As far as giving the dogs the eyes of the other kids though…that didn’t work as well for me. I could maybe dig into the metaphor and the politics of it a bit, but since Suzanne Collins didn’t, I thought an opportunity was wasted.

Heather: See, I was incredibly disturbed by that addition, and it really moved me. It’s one of the more memorable parts of the book for me, because when I read that I just thought it really cemented how much these children are owned and controlled by the Capitol. They couldn’t even remain at peace after death. How did Collins fail in bringing that across for you?

Sue: Well, a couple of angles that I didn’t see addressed were: 1. Was there an intention to be a moral dilemma for Katniss, Peeta and Cato having to kill something that represented (in a way) people they’d either already killed or avoided killing altogether? Or did it represent that even though some of the kids had formed alliances with each other, the Capitol was proving the point that it was always in control and could force the survivors to kill anyone and everyone else regardless?

We interrupt this terrible subject of kids fighting to the death to show you pictures of kittens not fighting to the death. Probably.

Heather: Ooh, good point. Okay, I’ve looked through that part of the book and this is the only thing Collins wrote about Katniss’s feelings toward the dogs: “Have they been given any of the real tributes memories? Have they been programmed to hate our faces particularly because we have survived and they were so callously murdered? And the ones we actually killed…do they believe they’re avenging their own deaths?”

Sue: …yeah….that doesn’t work for me at all. Because it doesn’t matter what the muttations think. The kids they represented were dead. The burden is on the survivors.

Heather: I’m with you. After having re-read that,  I’m disappointed. I like the conclusions I drew from it and the implications I got much more than what Collins gave me. She definitely did not do that well.

Sue: Like I said, there was a lot more that she could have done. Much better angles to use. Unless, of course, the Capitol actually could bring people back from the dead, or salvage memories, but there’s no indication that they could. In fact, I’m trying to see if the concept of the mockingjay is explained in this book.

Heather: The Mockingjay? Yes, the Capitol modified these jaybirds, into birds called Jabberjays that could recreate entire human conversations that they heard. They were released around the districts as spies for the Capitol, but the people of the districts caught on to what was happening and fed the birds a lot of useless misinformation. When the Capitol realized this they set the birds loose to die. Those birds mated with mockingbirds and, while they lost the ability to recreate human voice, they did retain an ability to recreate songs, cries of a child, and such. They represent a mockery of the Capitol’s failure.

Sue: The Capitol brainiacs made a very stupid mistake by engineering them. This makes me think that they wouldn’t be capable of retrieving memories from dead people and instilling them into muttations. I realize my logic there is a bit of a leap, but I think the jabberjays make the point (among some other instances in the book) that the Capitol is not infallible or omniscient.

Heather: No, you make a very valid point. I believe that was her intention. It really just makes the idea of the muttations/tributes thing even more poorly done.

Sue: Yeah. And it’s a shame, because there was potential there to do some really deep thought-provoking stuff. Which, actually, is my feeling about the whole book. (Won’t go into the series here.) It didn’t have to pander to a young audience…but in many cases it did. The love triangle, the too-perfect skills of the heroine, etc.

Heather: Oh. Hey. How about Cato’s death scene?

Sue:A few things wrong with that too.

Heather: I really disliked that part. I am by no means particularly knowledgeable about this area, but I’m fairly sure he would have died of shock and/or blood loss.

Sue: That’s part of it. But again it was just a minefield of cliches. Of COURSE he wouldn’t die quickly. Of COURSE he would ask for mercy from Katniss. Of COURSE it’s her last arrow. And, heaven help me, but of COURSE that arrow is part of the tourniquet keeping Peeta alive.

Heather: Ah, see I had l pushed the cliches to the back of my mind, and was just more frustrated with the unlikiness of him surviving being munched on all night long and found it needlessly gory and disturbing.

Sue: You know, I really don’t want to rip on the book so bad. I’ve written for a young adult audience and I would love for my book to be even a twentieth as popular as The Hunger Games is. But there’s a fine line between writing a good story and embellishing it with things from the Big Book O’ Plot Devices Kids Like! I mean, I love the idea of using a romance to sway the audience, and having him totally buy into it while she’s thinking it’s all about the strategy.

You don’t HAVE to muddy that up with a potential love triangle.

Heather: Absolutely! Well, this is where we’ll end things for now.  Thanks for those of you still reading this. Sue and I had a blast dissecting The Hunger Games, and we look forward to getting into how Peeta and Katniss made a fool of the Capitol when we discuss the second novel, Catching Fire.

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7 Comments

  1. I totally loved this 🙂

    I’d like to think that there won’t be too many kids “playing” Hunger Games. The subject is so disturbing, I want to believe that by the time parents let their kids read the books/watch the movie, they’re old enough that they don’t play games like that. However, my neighbor has a fifth grade daughter, and a LOT of her friends are reading the books. And they’re horrified, because the books are brutal. (Kudos to the kid’s teacher, though, who sent home a note saying, “look, this movie is really popular and your kid might want to see it or read the book. THIS IS WHAT IT’S ABOUT.” And to my neighbor, who’s read the series and is’t letting her fifth grader anywhere near it.) So while I’d like to believe it’s not going to happen, between that little antecdote and the Hunger Games Barbie (which I know is supposedly made only for collectors, but STILL), yeah.

    Looking forward to your discussion of Catching Fire!

    • Thanks! I’m glad you liked it so much.

      That was an interesting story about the teacher who alerted the parents to the content. I think it’s a bit too brutal for fifth-graders. I see this book as more appropriate for the 13+ range, which is why I didn’t really expect anyone to be “playing” Hunger Games, but just because I don’t expect younger children to read it doesn’t mean they won’t.

      I hope we’ll having Catching Fire out soon. I’m almost finished with the book, but I don’t know how soon we’ll do our dissection. Sue and I had so much fun doing this one that, when we’re done with the HG series, we’ve talked about doing more.

  2. Great job! I really enjoyed the series and the film. I think I must be the only person who did not care about the Shaky Cam, though. I barely noticed it because it played exactly into how I imagined those scenes. I’m glad you guys addressed the children playing issue. Kids have always played violent games — I remember playing medieval knights with paper swords and stabbing the other players to death. No matter — there were always ghosts and such. I didn’t really get how violent it was until much later (and I don’t think many of us did), but I think we were less traumatized when we learned about it. I think freaking out about kids being violent is missing the point — it’s not that the kids are killing each other, but that adults are forcing them to kill each other for their (the adults’) amusement. They are being used as political pawns. I think that’s pretty much what you guys said, though.

    I can’t wait to hear your discussions of Catching Fire and Mockingjay! They will help pass the time until the next film comes out.

    • Thanks! Between you and me, I didn’t mind the Shaky Cam either. It’s annoyed me plenty in other films, but I still think it was the smart option for this film because of the nature of the violence.

      I also agree that a huge part of the horror here is that adults are manipulating other peoples’ kids for their own entertainment. But if you want to go a little deeper, the government stooges don’t see the kids as kids. They see them as a means to an end, and that dehumanizes them. My guess is that the people working the controls of the games aren’t going home at the end of the day, tucking their little ones into bed and thinking, “Boy, I’m sure glad we don’t live in a district!” As soon as they start empathizing with the tributes on a human level, the whole thing falls apart.

      Just two more cents there. 🙂

      • I had barely read past the first third of the first book and I had already wanted to put it down because of how close to home it was. The Capitol reminded me of places like North America where we are very sheltered, mostly well-off (on average), don’t produce much of our own goods, and are very obsessed with our own entertainment. Compared with the districts, I actually think that this series could be a much better way of teaching social studies to teenagers than some textbooks. (I admit, I didn’t have the best social studies textbooks.)

  3. Pingback: Baffling Book Adaptations | Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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