Refusing to fall under pop-culture’s spell: why I hated The Hunger Games

I like a book that instantly grabs you, that doesn’t let go until the fading sunlight leaves your room in shadow and you realize that you need to turn a light on; a book that keeps your mind drifting back to your favorite character;  a book that makes your real friends seem boring, and you can’t wait to get home to pick up your book. I’ve read books that have made me so sad that I would try to forget it happened by surrounding myself in reality. That’s a little backwards, isn’t it?  So, I know what it’s like to interact with a really good character and get hooked by a really good plot, so maybe my sights were set a little high, but with all the hype over the The Hunger Games, who could blame me?

I’m not terribly picky when it comes to reading, but sometimes I shouldn’t be so impressionable. Maybe that’s why I was shocked to find myself critical right from the start. Maybe my creative writing classes actually taught me something – who knows? All I know is that I felt like I was reading a teen series. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking – this is a teen series! (Actually, it’s “young adult”) So was Harry Potter and Twilight  (granted, I was a teenager when I read those) yet this felt different. I’m surprised even teenagers aren’t more critical of the shallow, unsympathetic characters, the predictable plot line and mediocre writing. Maybe after a semester of picking stories apart my senses were on high-alert. At any rate, I have composited a list of reasons why I hated The Hunger Games.

1) Let us start with the basics: the names. I used to read a lot of Harry Potter fan fiction (and admittedly, wrote some) and Everdeen is such a predictable, unrealistic name that I think I literally rolled my eyes when I read it. So here’s what Suzanne Collins did. She went online, probably to Google, and found a name data base and searched for a really weird, unique first name. She found Katniss. Cool, all right, that’s fine. But then she obviously tried to tap in to her inner Tolkien and failed. If I don’t buy a character’s name, I don’t buy them as a person.

2) Speaking of Katniss Everdeen, doesn’t she seem an awfully lot like Bella Swan? And I’m not referring to their artificial names, but the whole tough, tomboy act both characters embody. Katniss’ talking about not wanting to be married is a little too similiar to Bella’s opposition to marrying Edward, the “love of her life”, don’t you think? This begs another question – what is it about these rather lifeless main characters that seem to draw so much attention from these attractive, devoted males? I wonder how novels such as this and Twilight affect teenage girls ideas about life and boys  – and marriage.

3) Speaking of Katniss Everdeen – again – isn’t she also a lot like Harry Potter? Like Harry, she’s a little hard on herself, stubborn, loyal, and soon as there’s someone in need of saving, it’s Katniss to the rescue. She’s capable of so much, everyone seems to be in awe over her. All Katniss wants is a normal life, yet she can’t seem to stop hurting people. She is responsible for the deaths of many. Harry’s downfall was always his “hero complex” and he, too, led friends to their demise. Katniss is a very shallow replication of Harry yet the parallel between this novel and Harry Potter is found over and over again. Perhaps I am biased, but I definitely know I’m not the only one who read Harry Potter.

4) Predictable much? When Peeta admits his love for Katniss, she thinks it’s part of the plan to get on their sponsors’ good side. Puh-lease. I could see this “surprise” coming from a mile away! Peeta really is in love with Katniss and she’ll finally realize it, only to discover she cares deeply for him too. Oh, the conflict. And we can’t forget Gale – sexy, rugged hunter, the best friend – who also happens to be in love with her. I can’t emphasis this enough – WHY?!

5) Cheap thrills. Because Collins ran out of things to write about at the end of the first book, she employed very cheap tactics in order to keep the readers interested. Sending them back into the games, for instance, is boring and uncreative.  As a dear friend of mine pointed out, The Hunger Games is kind of like Prison Break. It’s a really cool premise, but after the games end in the first book and the characters break out of prison at the end of the first season, what’s left to do? Well, of course, the answer is clear and easy (too easy?) – send them back. I could go on and on, but i’ll mention only one more: cliff-hangers. I hate them. If the only way people want to keep reading is by leaving a hook at the end of each chapter, what does that say about your writing skills? Collins used cliff-hangers constantly, especially in the third book.

As the same dear friend said to me, calling this young adult just seems to imply that we can’t understand more complex, “adult” novels by talented writers such as Hawthorne, Hemmingway or Dante. I’m not saying adults can’t enjoy it, of course. While the premise of The Hunger Games was unique and interesting, I was expecting more. It just didn’t deliver. The characters could have been developed more; the only one who I found really unique was Haymitch, the drunken mentor. Honestly, the book just left me baffled. How did this become such a sensation? I invite people to tell me what they loved about it. There were definitely a number of good ideas within this series, things that Collins could have really worked with, or things she could have eased up on (the love-triangle, for starters) but this has taught me a lesson that I should have already known: just because the media says something is good, does not mean it’s good.

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48 thoughts on “Refusing to fall under pop-culture’s spell: why I hated The Hunger Games

  1. Interesting review. I have to admit I’ve not read the book, and I probably never will. Your analysis has convinced me that my time would be better spent doing something else. Thanks.

  2. I have to say that your blog was more thought provoking than the book! I enjoyed the book as a quick read – nothing more. But I do agree with your points – I’m just not that eloquent!

  3. hannahsfoodieheaven says:

    I think that perhaps you are being a little harsh. For starters, similarities between main characters are incredibly common- consider Harry Potter and Jane Eyre. Maybe it is because I have been studying literary theory all year, but I think that the Hunger Games explores similar themes to films like the Matrix- the idea of having an arena which is almost an exact copy of elements of the outside world with a deadly twist totally reminded me of Baudrillard (whose work influenced, and is referenced in, the film). Similarly, the postmodernist elements (cameras watching everything, a false reality) came out well in the writing, which made up for any character deficiencies. As for the love triangle, the feminist in me rises up against what you say. It seems like female characters who fall in love are criticised for their love, and female characters who are given more ‘masculine’ strength and think that they may turn away from marriage are criticised for being unrealistic. I think that as Virginia Woolf says, ‘the relationships between fictional women… are too simple’, Katniss embodies both the struggle against the ideology surrounding marriage and the genuine love that sparks it. The Hunger Games may not be the most eloquently written fiction, or even the most original, but I believe that it does tackle issues teenagers strongly relate to, and in this way it is a success.

    • I definitely appreciate you mentioning literary theory. I took a theory class this semester too, so I’m interested in your feminist take on this book. I still have to disagree, however! While it’s certainly true that women’s fictional relationships are too simple, that was how I felt toward Katniss and her relationships. I didn’t find her unique in a way that I think she could have been. Thanks for your comments!

  4. I actually really liked the Hunger Games. Yes, it was an easy read, however it was entertaining, which is something I look for in novels especially since I usually don’t read fiction (I’m a non-fiction fan).

    But I do agree with you that it seems like Susan Collins sold out by continuing the series. She had such a brilliant idea and the first book was perfect, but she continued it with them going back into the Games in the second book. That mistake shows she may have ran out of ideas. In my opinion, she should have cut out the second book completely, and just moved up the third book and finished it in two books.

    While I did enjoy the Hunger Games, it can NEVER compare to Harry Potter, but was extremely better than Twilight (can’t stand Twilight).

    • That’s a good thought – cut out the second book completely. You’re right, it would have been better too do that. And I agree with you 100%. There is no comparison to Harry Potter =)

  5. bezhigikwe says:

    I am so glad that I came across this, yes I read the book … but I also noticed how mediocre it really is!

  6. reedsb says:

    Oh yes! Finally – someone who speaks the truth. I don’t even understand why my friends keep raving about it. It’s not that great.

    • Yeah, that’s kind of what happened with me, too. My dad told me to read it because it was so great, so I thought I might as well see what the fuss was about!

  7. Hey, of course, the media spurs whatever the masses will go after, and I definitely share your disappointment with the actual read after taking in all the hype, but I must admit I was drawn, and I did finish the book rather quickly (when I didn’t really have time for a casual read). Maybe the writing leaves a lot to desire, but the storyline and some major ideas in there were thrilling, and no wonder so many people went after that! As to the comparisons to Bella Swan (though I haven’t read Twilight) and Harry Potter, they might be a bit too far fetched, especially that you could assign some similarities between almost any given main characters in ‘young-adult’ series… But I did enjoy your review!

    • Thanks for your comment! I also read the series fairly quickly. Its definitely an easy read and easy to get into, but with all the hype maybe I was expecting too much. I still see a strong connection between Katniss, Harry and Bella – perhaps I have an over-active imagination! However you’re definitely right in saying that there will be similarities in “young adult” series.

  8. I could not agree with you more! I bought the book and began to read it a few months ago…I still haven’t finished it. I have only made it halfway through the book, and even that was a struggle – I kept thinking to myself, “Haven’t I read this all somewhere before? Oh yeah…in every other book I’ve ever read. Right.”

    I then went to see the film with some friends – again, halfway through, I was bored. I don’t get why people like the books and film so much.

    Sigh…I’m so glad that someone else out there feels the same way that I do. 🙂

  9. Ah, the voice of reason! I read this book last week because everyone was going on and on about how great it was, but I found myself thoroughly disappointed. I agree with what you said about the premise being neat (an arena where kids fight to the death… can’t say I’ve heard that one before) but the characters were definitely lackluster.

    I think it’s inevitable that main characters are going to look like other heroes, so I’m not sure that Collins was borrowing specific qualities from Rowling or Meyers (As Robert Frost said, “A poem is best read in the light of all the other poems ever written.” I think that transfers over to literature as well; when the same characteristics are found in heroes and heroines, we somehow understand them better together.)

    I guess I just found your critical look at the books refreshing because I was beginning to feel a little bit cynical myself. I’ve been scouring the interwebs looking for something like this and stumbled across your post. Thanks for writing it! 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment! I like hearing that other people feel the same way. Sometimes I do feel overly critical of literature, which can be both good and bad 😛 You’re right about the inevitable similairities between hero/heroine characters in novels. I know that’s going to be found in many novels and not necessarily between the hero/heroines. Maybe because this was under the same “young adult” umbrella, it seemed much more obvious. Thanks for your thoughts 🙂

  10. Calowiel says:

    I think you’re being way too critical when the book is actually something simple, and meant for teenagers to cling to. It is not under the ‘young adult’ section for no reason.

    1) About the names, I’m sure you would have noticed Katniss being the name of a plant, Primrose, a plant, Peeta as in the Peeta/Pita bread (since he’s the baker) and Gale (as in wind; the freedom fighter). This is, however, not consistently observed in the naming of the various other characters. I gave a bit of a snort at ‘Riddikulus’ myself when I read Harry Potter, but that’s a wee small part.

    2) About the character between Katniss and Bella. There’s a world of difference between them (not because I’m not a twilight fan. I actually enjoyed the first book of the twilight saga until the whole drama kicks in). While Bella does not want to marry because of some don’t believe in marriage attitude, Katniss has a more valid reason not wanting to. Who’d want to watch their kids reaped and fighting to the death in The Hunger Games? Writing what happens in the epilogue here will only spoil things so I’ll say is the trauma Katniss bears is there.

    3) There’s not only a similarity to Harry Potter, there’s a similarity of Katniss to all other hero characters. They rise to the occasion. That is the main message to teens. You might or might not be ordinary, but you should always rise to the occasion, you hold the power in you. Katniss is portrayed as one who’s initially some sort of a coward, driven to a life and death situation because of her sister, wanting to survive, because of her promise. She was afraid. Much like how all of us would have been. It was real. At least, what I think.

    4) Katniss isn’t good with emotions, and there’s nothing wrong with her thinking Peeta was only using love as a ploy, to gain attention. After all, it is the Games. She isn’t one to trust people so easily too. You’ve got to think about where she comes from. In her head, it was only ‘everyone’s out to get you’. It’s not even until she heard them allow a pair of survivors that she lets herself go to Peeta.

    5) I was quite curious to know what was the reason they’d be sent back into the games, and I found out the reason being quite plausible. Quarter Quell and all, it was well planned in my opinion. The Quarter Quells, being anniversaries, therefore special. I think all three books were quite well planned, though I didn’t quite like the third one, thought the front quite draggy.

    I think the key here is to leave this as just that. ‘Young adult’ fiction, an easy read, and not expecting so much more like what Hemingway or Hawthorne could offer. This trilogy was not meant to be ‘literature’ or ‘deep’. It carries a message, one which is easily delivered to everyone because of the way it was written. Not everyone can pore through Hemingway. But you see people (not avid readers) moved to finished The Hunger Games Trilogy.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m not trying to be too critical (despite how it may come across) but with so many friends and family members (who aren’t young adults) gushing about the book, I can’t help but wonder why.
      I do agree that there will be similar characteristics between characters, like the hero/heroine, but I just found Katniss’ personality bland – maybe that’s why I found so many connections to other fictional characters. And I suppose you could say the lack of depth is due to its “young adult” status, but young adults aren’t the only ones raving about it.
      Thanks for your thoughts, though! I appreciate when people disagree with me 🙂

      • Calowiel says:

        It’s posts like these which garners attention and differing viewpoints, interesting to read 😉 So, you’re welcome and thank you too!
        I’m glad you didn’t take it hard (like how certain others would). After all, we’re all just sharing our opinions. So likewise for me, don’t mean to hate/bash.
        Touche to not young adults raving. I’ll say raving about The Hunger Games is at least more valid compared to Twilight.
        Guess we all just wanna go back to our ‘younger’ days 😛

  11. I definitely had similar sentiments regarding the whole Hunger Games Trilogy (was planning on writing a post some time or another). Ok, I’ll admit, the first one wasn’t BAD…. although plot complexity and character dimensions were quite lacking. However, I do have beef with the following two books in the trilogy.

    Like you said, she shameless used the cliffhanger. However, every time after finishing each novel, I felt like nothing really… happened. Maybe because the second one was a faint copy of the first?

    EVERYTHING could have been developed more. For example, being thrust back into the games… that took up maybe 10 pages. Also, the whole skipping over capturing President Snow? If Collins made it so that the entire trilogy built up to Snow’s fall, then she did readers a disservice for not including his capture.

    • Thanks for commenting! Yes, you’re right. The first book wasn’t bad, not counting the uncomplex characters, but the last two just felt like they were thrown together without any real depth. They could have been done in much more detail, detail which could have allowed for another 2 books. As it is, the last two – especially the third – seemed empty. I don’t really know what needed to take up so many pages.

  12. I liked the first. I thought it could have been one longer novel or two, but three was pushing it.
    Yes dystopian, postapocalyptic has been done.
    Yes from a younger girl’s perspective.
    Yes “big brother” is a given.
    At some point though, the weaving of the familiar makes for an interesting trip, dontcha think? The pattern makes the content secondary.
    I don’t know, I reread the first, but may stop there. Too many other GREAT reads to get to.

    • Thanks for commenting. The first wasn’t bad, you’re right. It definitely was unique and the most interesting. I almost feel like I should re-read it too, give it a second chance… But probably not. 😉

  13. I might be one of the few who got two thirds through Book 1 of Hunger Games and then gave up. It just wasn’t getting any better, and I needed it to.

    I recently re-read The Long Walk by Stephen King and for the 4th time reading this short story found myself where I wanted to be – enthralled, with a heavy dash of time travel thrown in. Simply an awesome story of survival under extreme “games” conditions. Recommended.

    • I’m on your side. I love King and would re-read him anyday. I’ve never read The Long Walk, though, but now that’s another book idea for me. So thank you 😀

  14. bicycle says:

    I have read this before… Battle Royale (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Royale)

    This book was/is successful for the very opposite reason Derrida isn’t a mainstream philosopher, or that poetry never sells: answers.
    Derrida and poetry give answers that ask more questions or reveal more answers. The Hunger Games takes the plurality inherent in reality and simplifies it to a single, straightfoward thing (in a thinly veiled allegory to make reads who can “figure it out” -which is most everyone- feel smart because they seemingly can “read between the lines”). No one wants subtlety or plurality. Everyone wants blatant, mono-answers -especially if they are disguised as a puzzle.

    And that is why The Hunger Games is successful.

  15. I have been pondering whether or not to read this series…I felt like Twilight was even quite glossy and shallow, so I’ve held off on Hunger Games…this just solidified in my mind that it is NOT worth the time! 🙂 Thanks!

    • Awesome!! Just kidding =P I think people should read it because everyone should form their own opinion… but if you weren’t that in to Twilight, I’m not sure you’ll be into this one either. Thanks for reading.

  16. I really enjoyed the first book, The Hunger Games, but the other 2 were frankly disappointing, mainly because of what you’ve said: there was no where else to go but back.

    I can see where you are coming from and although I agree with you on some points, I believe Katniss is a well-formed character, even if she does resemble Bella (who, BTW, is the lamest female character I’ve ever had to endure – see my Holding out for a Heroine blog for further details) or Harry.

    Because of everything she’s endured, she has become strong and independent, but also cold and unattached, only showing her love for little sis Prim. She has become so fragile and insecure on the inside that even though she acknowledges her feelings for Peeta, she still cant make herself love him heart n soul the way he loves her, not even at the end of book 3.

    She is exactly what I thought a teenage character in a dystopian future would be like. IMHO, she could not have been any different if the author wished her to be believable.

    • Thanks for your comments! I do agree that she is different from Bella in many ways. I’m not saying they are identical by any means. I agree with you completely when you say Bella is the lamest female character ever. Although I wasn’t particularly fond of Katniss, there was more substance to her because of the hardships she had to endure. So because of this, it made her a more well-rounded character – more believable than Bella, for sure. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  17. whatever valid points you make are undermined by your love of self. the title of the blog alone gives your smugness away, as if those who like it are merely under some pop culture spell you have somehow been inoculated from. I’ve read much more eloquent posts by those who like it, and they do so without mentioning their creative writing classes.

    • Whatever valid points you could have made were undermined by the obvious desire to criticize me instead of my post. I wouldn’t call this smug, it’s how I write. Mentioning my creative writing classes weren’t from “self love” – I mentioned them because I think they have made me overly critical of most writing in general. But I appreciate your comment nevertheless. I’ll try to keep my ego in check.

      • I’m an asshole. fall under my own spell. sorry about that. I’m entitled of course to like what I want. but should wear that more as a uniform than as a badge for online hit & runs. again, my apologies.

  18. I thought you made great points and I really enjoyed reading your perspective. I did like the book, but what you said definitely makes sense. What got me was the originality of the games itself. I thought it was interesting that instead of making up a fantasy (vampires, wizards, etc), Collins based the book in the future, but still in reality.

    I don’t agree exactly with comparing Katniss to Harry Potter though, I think that is more of a common characteristic with a hero character in general. If you think about any hero/heroine they are always trying to help others, and I think that’s going to happen in any story with this type of character.

    I also don’t agree with comparing her to Bella; Bella was an introvert who was slightly tomboy just because whereas Katniss has to be a tomboy to survive. She had to hunt to feed her family, which is slightly different than twilight.

    I really enjoyed your post and point of view though!

  19. I think you should note the theme of the book. It is about society’s current obsession over reality TV and our desensitization to violence. The game is a horrific, macabre display of humanity, and yet throughout the book people cheered it on like a sporting event. Some of the players (such as from Districts 1 and 2) have even become so brainwashed as to be proud of participating. It is supposed to open our eyes to the crap on TV today and the way children are being exposed through gory video games and such. Also, the extravagant people in the Capital and the way the tributes are paraded for sponsors show how shallow society is. Everyday, people are belittled and valued for little more than looks.
    Plus, Katniss is way better than Bella. Bella was irritating and constantly needed to be saved by her awesome vampire boyfriend. Her indecision between Jacob and Edward was stupid because we obviously knew her final choice. She only made me dislike her for leading Jacob on. Katniss, on the other hand, actually can defend herself. She isn’t a damsel in distress 24/7, nor was it very obvious who she would pick in the end of the two guys.

  20. I can see how you may not have enjoyed the book. I read it and enjoyed it….yeah me!!! I must point out that it is young adult and the style is meant to be direct in a sense and not overly complicated with intricate plot themes and wade down with hefty vocabulary. Names do not need to be complicated or have intense meaning to make a reader feel connected to a character, not all of us are meant to harness Tolkien but simply our inner writer. As “The Wandering Youth” has pointed out the book is intended to be a commentary on media and the intake and projection of that media. Katniss has next to no Bella like qualities. While it may seem like she does because she is torn between two loves or rather there a two young men who are a part of her universe the dynamic between them is totally different. The book carries a dystopian element as well that helps to focus the story and offer motivation for these characters. It deals with class and oppression. I suggest a reading of The Lottery and 1984. But by all means you are entitled to your opinion on the book and I understand how and why it just did not set your reading loins ablaze.

    • Thanks for your reply. I know it seems as though I’m being overly critical, and I do know that this is definitely the “young adult” style – it’s just the constant referrals by people who are definitely not young adults has me confused. The Hunger Games definitely has some strong themes, which I think is really great, I just felt a lack where there could have been more development. You’re right about names, though – to a point =P Names are extremely important in connecting the reader to the character, but these names just did not connect for me. I’m sure most people find them great, but I suppose we can’t all have the same opinion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts =)

  21. I love the way you speak about books, it makes me want to read more! I got bored of reading a couple of years ago and moved on to reading plays and acting instead but I’m tempted to go out and buy some good books! Any recommendations? I have to admit that I deliberately didn’t read the Hunger Games because I was going to see the film and I didn’t want to be disappointed, which I know is pretty heinous but it always happens when I see movies based on books. The film turned out to be pretty awful, but it kind of makes me feel better that the book is bad too. I thought the actress playing Katniss in the film was just not very good because her characterisation was so kind of bland and deadpan, I didn’t realise that was the actual character as written in the book! Thanks for enlightening me, I don’t think I will waste my time reading it!

    • Thanks so much for commenting 🙂 Yeah, sometimes I do that too and watch the movie because the book never really appealed to me in the first place. Usually, though, I’m dead set on reading the book first. In this case, I think you made the right choice sticking to the movie – not that I’ve seen it. But as for reading, plays can be a lot of fun, too! I haven’t read much – Shakespeare mainly – so I can’t really give you any recommendations on that front. But if you’re just looking for a good book, I’d say A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. It’s probably my favourite bool 🙂

  22. I agree with the noticeable use of ‘cliff-hangers’. It seemed to be a little obvious technique to keep the readers in reading the book. 🙂

    Personally, what I like about the book is the strong determination of the female protagonist who is Katniss and her struggle to her feelings and some difficult situations which she managed to face despite of her mental and emotional conditions she experienced. (because of some accidents and the death of her sister in the end). The theme of the book is inspiring especially for females.

    • Cliffhangers. Yes, good times. Actually, I like them sometimes – like The Da Vinci Code, if you’ve read that – but this was too much. But yes, I’m totally with you on the strong, female protagonist part. I do like strong characters and in that respect she is a little different from Bella. Thanks for your comment =)

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