Business, then Considering Katniss

First off, business.

I believe that tomorrow is the last day that my stories Exiled, Young Blood, All Too Human and The Hunted Key will be available on Amazon via Republica Press. After that, I will try to get them back up myself, but it will likely take a few days. I have submitted these to a new publisher, but am waiting (and probably will for another month or so) for a response (the publisher had to go abroad). Thanks to everyone who has purchased, read, commented — it means a lot.

I’d also like to thank Republica for all their help and support. We’ll miss them.

Second — Considering Katniss.

I have just finished reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy (this is an Amazon link). If you haven’t read them, or seen the movies, you may want to stop reading now, as there are SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS ahead, both in the links I provide and in what I write. Although part of me says, if there are indeed spoilers left for you, you have done an amazing job at avoiding the media blitz on the movies and books. Kudos! 😀

I myself got suckered in. Sometimes it’s fun to resist the popular tide, but most of the time after there’s enough of a hubbub, I like to read or see whatever it is for myself. After a little debating, I bought the THG trilogy for my Kindle (too long a wait at the library for me). I read them in about 3.5 days, so perhaps I should let things sink in a  little more, but what the heck.

So I read the books. I’m sure many of you know, as I’ve stated before, that I am not a huge fan of YA books. That is not to criticize the authors or their audiences, just a statement. I prefer characters closer to my own age, in large part, and as for the “genre,” well, not liking YA is no different to me than not liking sci-fi or horror or anything else. I tried to keep an open mind going in, and I think I did all right. Also, one thing that trumps nearly any dislike I might have of a genre or style is whether it’s well-done. Collins’ books hooked me. As I said, I read them all within four days (and I have two kids).

I’ve also read a lot of the THG movie coverage, which naturally touches on the books. There are movie reviews galore; Slate.com has a section dedicated to THG, ranging from movie reviews to examinations of whether Panem’s economy is viable; and, perhaps most depressingly, jezebel.com’s article on the racism that some fans indulged in after seeing the movie.

Obligatory background: unspecified years in the future, the North American continent, or at least the US part of it, has collapsed environmentally and economically. Apparently much like in the late, lamented Firefly tv series, a centralized authority fought for command and won. The country, now called Panem, is governed by “The Capitol,” apparently located in the Rockies. The Capitol is surrounded by districts 1-12 — 13 was decimated some time ago — and each district provides a specific good or service for the Capitol. (Wiki page here.)

In an effort to keep the districts fearful and in their place, every year there is an annual contest called “The Hunger Games.” Each district provides a boy and a girl, aged 12-18, chosen via lottery on “reaping day.” The chosen are whisked off to be prepared for the games, which are something like Survivor, except more tightly controlled in every aspect — the “arena” is enclosed and controlled by Gamemasters. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen (16yo), volunteers to go in place of  her 12yo sister. Katniss is from District 12, a low-population, coal-mining region.

So what about Katniss? I know I warned about SPOILERS, and they will likely start soon. Katniss is not a terribly likable person, which is not surprising: her father died about five years before, her mother went into a crushing depression, and she has been trying to keep herself, her mother and younger sister alive. She is introverted, slow to trust, and angry, but basically decent. No problem. She may not be likable, but she is sympathetic, which perhaps is more important.

I was thinking, though, that for all Katniss is a heroine (so I read) and idol for the book/movie fans — is she so different from anyone else? Is she just someone who feels sorry for herself and keeps doing it because, well, it works? I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of her.

For example, (SPOILERS SPOILERS!!) during the Hunger Games start (aside: an odd name, although catchy; I had to wonder why they weren’t called the “War Memorial” games or something like that), Katniss goes quite a while without killing anyone. That’s fine, and she was more concerned with keeping herself from getting killed at first, which I think is a decent strategy. Her first “kills” are accidental — she releases a have of genetically-altered wasps on to a group that has trapped her in a tree. Her first direct kill is in retaliation for the death of a young girl with whom she has allied. Her second and last (as I recall) is a mercy killing of another “tribute” (what they call the contestants).

Now from a strategy point, I think allowing your “enemies” to kill off as man of each other as possible and saving your energy for later is an excellent idea. It’s basically pacing yourself. But what if Katniss had been a bit more aggressive? A bit more “pro-active”? What if she had, in fact, stalked or tracked and killed any of the other tributes? Would we consider her weaker or stronger? More or less moral?  More or less likable, or sympathetic? It’s all self-defense, after all. She’s supposed to be someone who is hardened against feelings, except in specific instances, most notably her younger sister and her best friend from District 12, a boy named Gale who’s two years older than she is. So in that sense, strictly of survival, I certainly wouldn’t have held it against her if she took a few out.

(I have to put in a quick aside — years ago I read a book called “The Cage,” and I forget the author. A woman was attempting to find the man who had years ago imprisoned her in a cage, and she had a cage all set for him when she found him. Yet, as often happens, when the moment came, she didn’t do it. I wanted her to.)

It’s a bit more of the same in Catching Fire, the second book. Katniss is forced back into the games for a special 75-year anniversary edition called the Quarter Quell. However, by this time, Katniss has unwittingly started a revolution — she and her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark (who is in love with Katniss) were about to both commit suicide in the arena rather than have one return alone, which totally messed The Capitol’s plans. She didn’t mean to — she simply wanted to either go home with Peeta, or not at all. District 12 is a small place, and life would have been awful for either one of them if they’d gone back alone.

The last book, Mockingjay, puts Katniss in a somewhat less-than-flattering light. She’s fairly passive for long stretches, and I can give her a pass for some of it, but after a while, you want her to say, “Okay, this sucks, but I have to do [THIS].” Seriously — she’s only 17, and I’m fine with giving her some time to pout, sulk, be depressed, try to work things out, whatever. And she does try to get it together, let’s give her that. But at this point I have to say, I wish someone had taken her aside and told her these things — that they know it’s tough, that she can have a little time, but then, it’s time to go to work.

It may be that very thing that appeals to the books’ audience — surely nearly every teenager must feel overwhelmed and in need of direction and support at some time.

At the end, too, the book likely plays into many girls’ fantasies or hopes, in that Katniss marries Peeta, and he loves her, and she loves him, and they have children, and seem mostly happy (they can’t beall the way happy, given what they’ve been through, but that’s okay).

So there you go. My thoughts on that, at least for now. Other things come to mind, but I’ll stop here.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by JD Bell on March 31, 2012 at 8:02 am

    The Cage (1989) (SM Stirling with Shirley Meier) I think is the book you are thinking of. I had the same reaction at the end. Grin.

    I have been staying away from the Hunger Games.

    Reply

    • Yes, that’s the one! Thanks! 🙂

      The funny thing about that ending is that I wasn’t dissatisfied (I don’t think) b/c it was a woman who opted not to take her revenge. I would have felt the same had it been a man. I just wanted to see someone go through with it, for it to be different than the usual. I even started my own story — file lost since then, unfortunately — where I intended to have the heroine go through with her revenge.

      The Hunger Games is a decent read, with a lot of interesting points to think about. Since I was focusing on the Katniss character, I didn’t talk about other things, like — how Peeta is a more interesting character; how there’s a big technological difference in the districts, yet everyone has a television; how “the revolution will be televised” has a couple of different meanings. There’s a lot there to think about, whether you agree with or like the books.

      Reply

      • Posted by JD Bell on March 31, 2012 at 6:02 pm

        Have you ever run into the concept, that is attributed to the Chinese emperors, where they would deliberately starve a rebellious province as a punishment. And if no provinces were rebelling that harvest, they would pick one by lot and strip it of all food. Just to encourage the others in having a right attitude to the Imperial throne.

        JD

      • I had not heard of that, but I wonder if Collins has, b/c there’s definitely that mindset in these books.

  2. Interesting take on the series. I don’t read YA. I view the label as a marketing gimmick. I will see The Hunger Games, however, because I think Jennifer Lawrence is an amazing actress.
    I agree with your previous post too – about Dune, and I read Dune when I was 14. Most of the time I think authors/pubs label a book YA that would otherwise be labeled science fiction, fantasy or literary fiction simply to sell it.

    Reply

    • The label may be a bit of a marketing gimmick, but I don’t mind it. Labels aren’t always a bad thing — they can give you enough information to make a quick decisions. For example, if you like YA, and you see a book labeled as such, you can investigate. If you don’t, the label will save you some time. It also tells you that the main characters (probably) will be in a certain age range, and that may factor into a person’s decision as well.

      But you do have a good point — I just read Whale Rider. I couldn’t figure out why it was classified as YA. It was told in first person by a 24yo man, the main character’s uncle. He’s even a bit removed from the main character, Kahu (the book is quite a bit different than the movie). Yet somehow it’s classified as YA. Is it because he’s only 24? Because they thought only that age range would buy it? It was a great book (and great movie), but the YA label in that case made no sense to me. Didn’t seem to fit at all.

      Reply

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