Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hunger Games Lamb Stew (I didn't make this) and a squeally fan-girl review of the Hunger Games

Yes, I will be talking about the book, and yes, it will be below the cut--fair warning, there be spoilers after the cut.  But I thought this was cool--a website called Fictional Food.  Cool!  She did Katniss Everdeen's favorite dish--the lamb stew with dried plums.  It looks delectable.  I have one more lamb roast in my freezer, and I am so tempted to try this (and adapt it for the slow cooker) but I do love the Moroccan Style Lamb. . .ah, decisions.

Now, I am going to veer faaaaar away from homemaking and crafts and whatnot and talk about the series, so if you haven't read it and don't want spoilers, if you really hate the idea of the series and think It is Totally Ruining Our Youth Today, No Seriously It Is, and Besides a Girl Is In It Doing Ungirly Things and That Is Just Icky, then you'll probably want to skip this post.  Also, fair warning: I'm soapboxing like nobody's business here.

Okay.  I loved the series.  It is one of many works of fiction that used the fight-to-the-death theme effectively, which seems to horrify a small number of adults who I suspect missed the point of the series.  One thing that sticks in my craw is that tweens and teens are viewed by some adults with a weird mix of contempt and anxiety.  We expect them to have the impulse control and wisdom of 30-year-olds (newsflash: they don't) yet we think they cannot read any book that isn't all unicorns and rainbows as they'll automatically go on a killing spree or something.  And then some of us don't bat an eye if they see half of Harvey Dent's face burned off in a Batman movie or play Grand Theft Auto but clutch our pearls at the Hunger Games.  I have to wonder if part of this isn't some sexism--or at the very least, surprise at a female main character who does ungirly things, and is portrayed doing them quite matter-of-factly like the other girls and women in the book (it's not unusual in the districts of Panem for girls and women to work the hard, dangerous and menial jobs, to hunt, to fight, whatever).  Honestly, I liked this much better than most young adult fiction or even most fiction--let's face it, in those stories the girls and women are passive (if they aren't it is noted often how very unusual they are), and if there's a love story there's drama and angst and often really creepy behavior.  I'm more worried about that tripe continuing to be normalized than a fictional "tradition" that is portrayed from the get-go as barbaric and oppressive.

Let's start with that.  Peeta, how do I love thee?  He was heartbroken and disillusioned by the end of the first book but decided that he'd get over it and be a friend to Katniss--he knew that the way things were in the arena didn't exactly make for honesty or trust, and he knew that just because he revealed his feelings (and that he was being genuine, not manipulative for the cameras) didn't mean that she was obligated to feel the same way--she wasn't sure how she felt.  (The Games could be a really twisted version of the prisoner's dilemma.)  He just wanted her to be happy.  I never took for granted that they would end up together; this was a war story, not a love story.  Had it gone the other way, Peeta would have been fine. He would have met and married another woman, and Katniss would have hunted game for Peeta's wedding reception.

What I liked about this book--really, about the series--is how meaty it was. (Do you see what I did there?)  Suzanne Collins actually gave her young readers some credit and figured they could handle some complicated issues and see shades of gray, and she did so by holding up a mirror to our current society.  The tributes had to do a lot of PR to be liked enough to get sponsors, the rebels did a lot of PR/propos to get people on their side; at the end of the day what won out were the genuine moments and not the manufactured ones.  But the effect was real--no one was quite sure who was genuine and who was playing a game.  The Peacekeepers weren't all evil oppressors, the ones in District 12 seemed to identify with the people they were supposed to be keeping under control (though Cray was a gross molesting piece of dung).  Darius got horrifically punished to keep the new head Peacekeeper from flogging Gale.  The Capitol people weren't evil or malicious, but they were generally entitled and relatively pampered compared to the people in the Districts who were exploited to provide the goods they used.  They didn't see the people in the Districts, they were other people somewhere else, so it wasn't real to them.  The resistance wasn't all noble or good--Coin was manipulative and power-hungry, District 13 was another version of the Capitol, and they tortured Katniss's design team for taking too much food.  The Careers were lapdogs, yes, they acted smug and hateful, but they were also in the throes of some serious collective Stockholm Syndrome and at the end of the day, forced to participate like anyone else.  Gale, who hated the Capitol, came very close to becoming what he hated.  Katniss wasn't all that eager to be a revolutionary--she just wanted to survive.  She didn't rail against the Capitol (at first), she just poached game and foraged plants and tried to feed her family.  In fact, the effects of poverty and oppression and deprivation and grief and trauma already left their mark on people--it does not necessarily make you honorable or saintly or good.  Hard and emotionally remote and a bit cold and calculating--that's another possible outcome of living a life of deprivation and oppression, and I was glad to see that Collins wasn't afraid to have her protagonist have these traits. A lot of people didn't have this--Prim was sweet and kind and open; Peeta was optimistic and compassionate and hopeful.  But Katniss (like Gale) was a bit hard-edged.  In her mind, she couldn't afford not to be hard and cold--she couldn't afford to trouble herself with things like emotions and so she didn't always know what she felt. When she did her little trick with the berries, she wasn't quite sure what fueled that.  Partly to stick it to the Capitol, partly to stick it to the Gamemakers, and partly because she was not okay with killing Peeta, someone she knew, someone from her District, and someone who had already done her a few solids. Someone she might have loved but she wasn't sure--she had other worries.

I liked the fact that it showed how emotionally removed we are when it comes to violence.  Really, even today we are desensitized to how horrible we can be to each other--people are routinely humiliated on TV and we call that entertainment.  Reality shows feature people manipulating the audience and each other--and in the Hunger Games, the stakes were much higher than ratings.  The Games were so removed from citizens of the Capitol that they couldn't quite grasp that real children died horrific deaths at the hands of other children, and that they were basically forced to by their government.  It was a television show to them--not real.  Stuff got real for people when the past victors--whom everyone felt they "knew" and who they felt they loved and were close to--had to fight in the third quarter quell.  That did not go over well with the Capitol population.  That disgusted the people in the Districts, who most years buried two kids, and I found it abhorrent but I also understood it.  That's apparent in the real world.  Television is more real and important than reality to us.

What I also liked about this was that it was an unflinching look at poverty, oppression and war.  The so-called love story was secondary and wasn't a central feature of the book.  Everyone had bigger worries--how to keep from starving to death, then how to not get killed in the arena, who can I trust in the arena (and what is real--and how can I manipulate the audience to get sponsors), then fighting a war, and who is trustworthy on our side of the war, and am I becoming what I'm fighting against and do I care?  People went through horrible things and ended up with PTSD--something I very rarely see discussed in a lot of fiction, let alone young adult fiction.  But it fits.  (And again, the tweens I knew who read this got it--and I read reviews on Amazon by veterans who completely related to this--of course Katniss would have nightmares and hide in closets.  Of course Finnick was a wreck.  Of course the victors were drug addicts and self-destructive and unstable. Of course Haymitch drank himself into a stupor! Of course Katniss's mother checked out into a fog of depression and hopelessness for awhile.  Of course Peeta's relationship with reality was distant.  Think about what they've been through!)

The ending of the series was bittersweet.  There was no real happily ever after.  Sometimes there is no fine.  The few who survived (another thing I liked, honestly, people die in wars, even the people you like and are attached to) built lives for themselves and did okay, and there was hope but you knew things would never be great.  They still had PTSD; it was a part of their lives and they had to cope with it.  It took years for Katniss to be comfortable with the idea of having kids; that no one was going to force them into the arena.  Katniss dreaded the day her children learned about the Hunger Games in school.  Peeta still sometimes had to grab the back of a chair and wait until his spell passed.  Haymitch went back to drinking. The feeling you got was the war may have been necessary but the cost was high, maybe too high for people who had already paid such a price all their lives to provide a good life for others.  There is nothing glorious or honorable or great about war--even if you think it is necessary, even if it is a "good" war.


  1. OK. I skimmed this article WAY too fast, as I have to rush off, but I read enough that I realize it will be reward for a dismal day spent selling cards and candles (and most likely a few copies of "HG".) But I am very much looking forward to rereading this later today.

    I just finished the first book this morning, and I have to say I will *not* be picking up the second. I seem to be the only person in America that is *hating* "Hunger Games" (but not for the reasons you mentioned...a strong female lead is what drew me to the story in the first place.) Can't wait to give your article the time it deserves and to get an opposing viewpoint to my own. Also can't wait to discuss it in person. You and Carolyn can both give me "what for."

  2. Stephen, you're allowed to not like it--I certainly won't give you what for for not liking it as long as I don't get grief for liking it. You know the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding that everyone loved? I hated that movie with the fire of a thousand suns. And I think I might be one of 10 people who despised Twilight.

    But I dunno. I saw a lot of parallels between the Capitol and the Districts and the Global North and the Global South--we don't make kids fight to the death, but we do take for granted a flood of cheap goods made by exploited labor and desperately poor people we don't see. (Many of them teenagers.) Much like the Capitol and the Districts.

  3. Yes, Pam, you certainly got things out of the story that I didn't. I'm handicapped by not being *quite* convinced to read the 2nd (or 3rd) book, but I think a discussion with you might give me another viewpoint and (perhaps) convince me to read more. At best, I thought of the first book as a metaphor of what our nation does to it's young by sending them off to war, but other pieces of the book led me to believe that I may have been giving the author too much credit in this respect.

    However, it promises to be a lively discussion when we can, and that will make time spent reading the fist book worthwhile. By the way...with you on Twilight and MBFGW. They didn't do anything for me either.