Just a note, I'm going to try and keep this review spoiler free.
I finally finished The Hunger Games by Suzane Collins, which right now is the hot new item on the book shelves. After hearing about the movie, and nothing but praise from both regular readers and critics, I decided to give it a fair shot. So, just to get it out of the way, here are some of the flaws I found (yes, they are there) while reading it:
First and foremost, the execution. If you read my journal talking about my first impressions of it, you'll know that I absolutely despise the way it's written. First person AND in present tense. First person I can deal with if it's done right. Present tense, to me, is just unforgivable. But, despite my gripes, I soldiered on. I'll touch on this subject again later.
Secondly, I realized half way through that this really isn't a character piece. Katniss, while being a strong female lead, almost came off as too strong in the beginning. Both emotionally and physically (meaning her skill in archery, not necessarily her strength). All in all, she was no Bella Swan, thank God, but being a sixteen year old girl, she seemed to lack a certain realness to her that would have fleshed her out a bit more. Now, on the flip side of that, there are very good, valid reasons for her strength. Mainly because life in District 12 sucks ass and her mother is a useless piece of meat at this point in time. But again, she does act more like an adult than a teenager. Aside from Katniss, I think Peeta got the most development. Now personally, I would have loved to see more of his character, as I think he's generally a good one, but as I mentioned before, the writing style has us so wrapped up in Katniss's monologue that we don't get a lot of time outside her head. Other characters, like Rue, also had less of an emotional impact on me than they should have because of what little face time they did have. There were even times where I went: "Oh yeah. Gale. He's a thing... Too bad he's not developed." This is another subject I'll touch on later.
Another irk I had about it was that I could pretty much predict what would happen a chapter before it did. There were only two plot points that I didn't really see coming. One because it came so out of left field that I don't think anybody saw it coming, and another because it was such a small and minute detail before it happened that I didn't notice it. But ultimately, the book is a bit predictable once you get used to the world it's set in. Half way through, I predicted one of three things happening. And I was correct. One of those three things happened. For example. The minute Katniss started paying attention to a certain young tribute, I immediately placed a big ol' X on her forehead, knowing that she would have a moving death scene, probably in Katniss's arms. And sure enough... Anyway, point is, you can kind of figure out how it's going to twist for the most part. Again, another subject I'll talk about in a second.
Before you get angry, and start raging about how this book is amazing, let me finish. I actually like this book. More than I thought I would. Let me put it to you this way: It took me a little over a week to read the first 100 pages here and there. It then took me from 11:30 at night to 4:15 in the morning to read the other 274 pages. And the minute I did finish, my first thought was: "Dammit! Now I have to read the others!" I figure if a book has that effect on me, there's got to be something there. And so, the things that Ms. Collins got right. And oh did she get them right.
As I said before, the first 100 pages or so of this book were not all that special to me. It seemed rushed, underdeveloped, and though the settings were interesting, I wasn't that invested. And then we go into the Games, the build up of which I had been looking forward to. I was so happy when I realized I would not be disappointed. I realized very quickly that this book was written this way for a reason - the reader is very much intended to slip into the shoes of Katniss Everdeen and go on a roller coaster of a ride. And I do not use that term lightly here. The fast pacing and the tension of the Games was what kept me going all through the night. I literally finished this book about 35 minutes ago, and I'm still a little shaky with adrenaline. Half the time, I actually got angry with myself because I couldn't read fast enough. The last time that happened, I was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If that doesn't say something, I don't know what does. So yeah, there's a reason for the present tense. Doesn't mean I have to like it though...
Now, as poorly set up as most of these characters were in the beginning, Katniss and Peeta do get far more room to stretch out and become real amid the action of the Games. The minute they broke into the first bloodbath, it was a ride that didn't stop and wouldn't let me out until it was over. If you refer to my analysis of Mary Sues (found in the literature section of my gallery) you'll know that I do excuse a self-insertian device if it's used to proper effect. Boy oh boy was it used properly here. After I let myself go and get lost in the story, it really did feel like I was the one fighting alongside Peeta, wielding those silver arrows and getting thrown around more than a foot ball at a redneck's bonfire. Good God does this girl get beat the fuck up.
If you've gotten this far, you can kind of guess what I liked next about the book. The action. Seconded only to the emotional drama that comes at the tail end of the book, the action of the Games is, quite frankly, top notch. For a moment or two, I was worried that such a huge third act, as it were, would have been blowing the load too early on. I have never been happier about being wrong. Not only was the action great, but the injuries and what we saw of the deaths had a genuine feel to them, that not a lot of books, or even movies for that matter, can achieve. It wasn't so much that it was gratuitous, but I didn't feel like any character got off scott free, which can happen from time to time. Furthermore, the appending knowledge that the main characters could quite possibly die at any minute - be it from the tributes or from the actual obstacle course - really did ramp up the tension (even though, as I said, there was very little I couldn't predict). And once that action kicked into "oh fuck" mode, I was completely transcended into it.
So, in summary - are there flaws? Yes. Is it a bad book? No. Hell no, in fact. Even with the things I nit-pick about, I'm probably going to end up reading the next two books within the month. As if I didn't have enough on my plate all ready... Goddamn it, Suzane Collins.