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I like big books.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, Book 1)

I have to admit I had pretty low expectations going into this one. The plot is good and so is the atmosphere that Collins builds up. The games are interesting and she builds up an intricate ceremony and ritual surrounding them. In short, the world is cleverly created with just the right amount of detail about how America arrived at such unfortunate dystopianism without being painfully cliche or cheesy. It's enjoyable and well-paced...if all you care about is a good story.

Reading Hunger Games after finishing a similar game-type dystopian novel by King (The Long Walk) was probably not very fair to Ms. Collins. In fact, the two can be considered a case study of polar opposites in the genre. Collins's rules are elaborate, her world layered with a rich history. King's is flat, details irrelevant to the development of character. And that, ultimately, is what separates a great novel from a good story. King takes care to develop his characters. Plot serves the development of character, introspection, growth and self-realization. In The Hunger Games, all things serve the plot. Characters are introduced or have importance only insofar as they advance the plot. The good thing for Collins, is that it's a relatively good one. There's just no depth. And personally, the book reeks of hipsterism. The characters carry around sickeningly unique names that remind me of the types of ridiculous names that celebrities give their babies that make normal society cringe and it's distracting to me for a couple of reasons. One, on a logical level, if this is a not-too-distant future America, why aren't normal American names present in the story? Names have staying power that oceans and revolutions can't seem to demolish, like the prevalence of the name John for instance. Yet in Collins's future America, everybody's named after a wildflower or some such nonsense and not a single person has a relatively normal passable name. We have Katniss and Haymitch and Peeta and Effie and Cinna. Maybe that's just a personal bias of mine, but I found it extremely annoying. The second, bigger issue I have is kind of related. Oftentimes in YA novels like the Hunger Games, this type of naming-sense is indicative of shallow thinking. It's almost as if more effort is put into the veneer of the characters, what they look like and making sure they "sound" cool than in the content of the characters themselves and their personalities. As if all you need is a cool name to cover up the lack of depth. Maybe that works with eleven year olds, but not on a wider audience (see the enormous difference when compared to quality YA literature like the Harry Potter books). Ultimately this book is a facade of what it could have been with a little more deep thought. Collins passes up many opportunities to use the games as a vehicle for discussing what it means to be human and our essential bloodthirsty or hopeful nature, something that The Long Walk does quite brilliantly. The twists in the plot are kind of easy to pick out and the "shocking" surprises aren't so shocking for a relatively sophisticated reader, but again, I'll admit, something about this book was kind of fun.

The writing is good and there's enough action and cool science fiction twists to keep adolescent readers glued to the series and enjoy flipping the pages and in the end, that's what it's all about. Anything that encourages kids to read, especially books with relatively strong female protagonists, gets a thumbs up in my book. (Let's hope Katniss's independence and sense of self-worth don't completely crumble due to the introduction of boys in her life the way it started to at the end of this book.) And the writing isn't bad! Not great, but not horribly cliche and cringe-inducing like the few pages of Twilight I managed to choke down before kicking it to the curb like it deserved.