I was only fourteen years old when I first read The Hunger Games. I had recently discovered a love for young adult fiction. And at that time, YA dystopias were all the rage. So of course I devoured as many as I could get my hands on: the Divergent series, The Maze Runner books…and The Hunger Games trilogy. Though I loved Divergent, and there’s a special place in my heart for Thomas and The Maze Runner, I’m not sure either of them affected me as greatly as The Hunger Games.
Now, here I am in 2020, in my early twenties, reading them again. Obviously in preparation for Suzanne Collins’s prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a story about Coriolanus Snow before he became President of Panem. I was hoping to have finished my re-read before the book was delivered to my doorstep, but that didn’t happen. Somehow I’ve managed to avoid any and all spoilers regarding the book, so I’m very excited to be starting it tomorrow after work. But before I dive back in the Hunger Games pre-mockingjay, I’d like to revisit the original books with you guys, as it’s been an emotional and fun experience for me.
Like I said, I was a young teenager when I first read these books. I adored them. I thought they were amazingly written, super interesting, and incredibly heartbreaking. I swooned over Peeta and didn’t much care for Gale, but the love triangle trope still managed to capture my young heart. I know tears were shed in all three books—I’ve always been a crier. And then all the films came out, which only strengthened my love for this world. Now, after my re-read, I can appreciate things a little more, while also being more critical. Let’s begin.
Oh, and it should go without saying that there will be spoilers galore for books 1 – 3.
The Hunger Games
Immediately, I was cognizant of two things: one, the writing is much simpler than I remember when I was a kid, and two, ALL THE NOSTALGIA. Regarding the writing: it’s no Fitzgerald or Hemingway, duh, but I remember not paying attention to the writing at all as a kid. Ah, pre-English major days… The writing isn’t bad, it’s just very simple, which is fine for YA fiction, honestly. Because it was easy to understand as a young adult myself, and that’s what matters most. It got me reading and kept me there. Regarding the nostalgia: I was so excited to jump back into this world again. I mean, it’s a very dismal, very violent world, but I was excited nonetheless. Right away, I was overjoyed to be back with Katniss and Peeta and Haymitch and Effie and Cinna. I love them all. And even though The Hunger Games features many deaths and sadness, it’s the least painful of all the books, so there was happiness, if only shortlived and clouded with pain.
Even though I knew what was going to happen the entire time, re-reading this book was not a boring experience. The story has always stayed with me, but the excitement and thrill was not lost, and catching all those smaller details was almost like remembering a forgotten memory. The Games, though horrible, are always riveting to me. I think that’s why I like books 1 and 2 the most, because they feature an arena (and yes book 3 does in a way as well, but not until the very end and in a very different way).
There is one thing I decided when I first read the books that I will continue to stand by today: Katniss. Loves. Peeta. Genuinely, truly, and from the very beginning. Don’t @ me. She wants to deny it because she’s fiercely independent, and also loving someone means most likely loss and heartbreak and pain, especially since she and Peeta are both in the Games. But she loves him. And I know the book gets a lot of flak for there being any sort of romance in the middle of a death match, but for one, Katniss is mostly doing it for survival at that point, and two, even if/when it is legitimate, I mean, she could literally die at any moment, she’s often delirious from starvation and injury, she’s alone with a boy in a cave who’s on the brink of death, they have to stay close to be warm…I mean, who wouldn’t succumb to romantic thoughts and feelings? It could be their last moments on Earth. They’re teenagers. Come on.
Lastly, something I didn’t pick up on as a kid: the ending is rushed. I’ll say it and admit it because it’s true. After the drawn out opening and the events in the Games, Collins is just like OKAY THEY WENT HERE AND DID THIS AND SAID THIS AAAAAAND DONE! As an adult, I would have been interested in seeing more of the initial aftermath of the Games. But overall, I loved the book and kept my original 5-star rating.
I forgot how long it takes for the Games to even start in this book. For some reason, I thought most of Catching Fire took place in the Games? I don’t know why. But even so, I love every minute of the book. The beginning with the slow aftermath of the Games, Katniss and Peeta having to reunite, the announcement of the Games and the reaping, the actual Games… It’s all so emotional. Seriously this book is like a black cloud and makes me cry like ten times throughout it. And I get chills every time I read or see Snow announce the Quarter Quell. I love this book as much as I love book 1, just for different reasons. I didn’t read it as fast as the first book, but almost. It, too, is just as thrilling the second time around.
But this time I really did grow sick of the Gale-Peeta dynamic. These books would have been much stronger had Gale just been Katniss’s BFF. No romantic interest on either side. Because I really don’t think Katniss ever loved Gale. Not like that. Maybe before the Games, but not after. Gale could never understand. Not the way Peeta does. She just yearns for a simpler time before the Games, and Gale reminds her of that time. But what she wants and needs is Peeta. Always.
Again, I kept my 5-star rating.
This book, which I just finished about an hour ago, is a little harder for me to formulate an opinion on. I remember the first time I read it, I devoured it. It was the conclusion to the war, the series! I was dying to know how it would end! It was harder to read than the other books, but I know I loved it regardless. I do think, even then, that it was my least favorite of the trio, though.
Now, I think I stand by that. Mockingjay was definitely my least favorite to re-read and took me the longest to get through. I hated that Gale had a more prominent role in this book, though necessary. I hated that Peeta was barely in the first half and messed-up for the rest of the book, though necessary. And I hated how little Katniss actually does until she lands in the Capitol. I mean, she’s been through hell and back twice. I don’t blame the girl. I think what I mean is, there was so much going on in this book. So many small events and scenes leading up to the final showdown. And I get the point of them all, it just felt like nothing was happening at all. I don’t know. Maybe that’s just a ‘me’ thing. But I definitely didn’t feel the thrill and excitement from the first two installments until Katniss and her squad are storming the Capitol. And that’s not surprising, since this part of the book is designed as a Games-like arena. And it’s literally the conclusion to the series. I just wish I could have felt as invested in the first 2/3 of the book. Maybe I did the first time around, but not this time.
This book is the hardest to read, though, in terms of my weak heart. I grew to love so many characters, and many die in the effort to end the war. Obviously Finnick and Prim’s deaths gut me. I can never recover. But even the characters new to the series, like Boggs, ruin me when they die. It’s a sad book. I think when I first read the series, I finished Mockingjay and thought, ‘WOW. Thank goodness we get a happy ending.’ And now, I just sit here and laugh at younger Alyssa. Who in their right mind would call that a happy ending????? So many are dead. Katniss loses her best friend. Haymitch just goes back to being drunk and distant. She never sees her mom. She’s traumatized for the rest of the life. And sure, she has Peeta, but is that really going to make up for everything else? No. Sure, she accepts her love for him (finally), she grows older with him, they have children (which I’m sure she didn’t really want at first but as soon as she gives birth it’s a whole different story), but she’s changed forever. It’s a good ending, but not exactly a happy one. Though I rated it 5 stars when I was fourteen, I think I’d drop this one down to, like, a 4.5-star rating now. Still epic, but not quite as enjoyable as the first two books.
So there you have it. If you’ve managed to read this long post, you now know all my thoughts and feelings on The Hunger Games, ten years later. What valuable knowledge you have obtained! Seriously, though, let me know if you’ve also re-read the series, or have just read them for the first time! I would love to hear thoughts regarding this series. And stay tuned for my upcoming review of the long-awaited prequel.