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I've just finished the third and last book in the Hunger Games series and have a few disjointed thoughts.

I've heard many say the series went downhill after the first book. For myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the second, maybe more than the first, though that has, perhaps, less to do with quality than with freshness (I hadn't already seen a movie about it). The third, however, went steeply downhill. It was still an enjoyable page-turner, but the ironclad fiction craft for which I praised/mocked Collins in my first Hunger Games review got sloppy.


Spoilers follow...

The greatest casualty of the sloppiness for me was the love triangle. "Hijacking" Peeta's mind so that he spends much of the book "not himself" was a bad narrative move, as it wasted a lot of pages that could have been used for natural interpersonal development and left the final establishment of Katniss and Peeta as a couple to literally the last page or so, where their relationship got summed as "we grew back together" or words to that effect. Meanwhile, Gale makes a moral error that Katniss can't forgive him for, as a result of which she dismisses him from mind and he ceases to have any meaning, which is about as demeaning an ending for her best friend as I can imagine and only a small cut above the grand old most cowardly way to resolve a triangle: killing someone off. In the end, Katniss does choose the man she "can't survive without" in almost those exact, very self-centered terms, which she previously faults Gale and Peeta for ascribing to her. Are we meant to think she's really heartless? Because that's the taste that's left in my mouth.

(Just to be clear--I am a Katniss/Peeta shipper, for essentially the reasons Katniss ultimately gives: they complement each other better than K/G, who are more alike. But that doesn't mean I enjoy seeing Gale thrown out with the trash. On the upside, it was nice in book 3 to see him developed as a character, something that scarcely happened in books 1 or 2.)

On the other hand, overall I really have to praise the series for bucking the more typical (read Twilight and almost every Hollywood movie) trends in teen girl protagonist lit. And this isn't a very complicated move. It's really just a direct inversion of the usual tropes. And it's funny how compelling it is just to see the fakeness of the fairy tale exposed. For example...


1) Trope: girl is torn between two men. Hunger Games: girl is torn between two men, but for much of the saga doesn't want to be romantically involved with either of them.

2) Trope: boy and girl fall madly in love. HG: boy and girl have to pretend to fall madly in love.

3) Trope: boy and girl run off and elope. HG: boy and girl pretend to run off and elope.

4) Trope: boy and girl have love child. HG: boy and girl pretend to be having love child up to pretend miscarriage.

5) Trope: girl is incredibly pretty. HG: girl must be washed, waxed, manicured, shampooed, made up, padded-bra'ed, and stuffed into tailor-made outfits by four professional stylists to look incredibly pretty.

6) Trope: girl thinks a lot about boys. HG: girl thinks a lot about food.

And so on. In general, the basic plot point that Katniss and Peeta are in a reality TV show beautifully exposes the fakery of the traditional girl-romance plot. There's a reason K and P do all that pretending: they do it because it sells, just like it sold in Twilight, and it's nice to see the lie exposed--and it's good role modeling too, at least in the romantic dimension.

One more thing I really like about HG: it consistently depicts people as people--not perfect heroes or evil villains or allegories of some quality. Some are better developed than others; none is especially deep, and some characterizations are sometimes ham-handed. But the consistency of this move highlights how rare it is. Just think about how rare it really is in narrative to have warring teenagers and none of them be depicted as just bad people; to have a love triangle where both possible love interests are genuinely good, compelling matches; to have an overly nice girl who's really just nice and not smarmy; a poor-little-rich-girl who's actually not spoiled but is good friend; a superficial socialite who actually has feelings and is doing her best, and so on.

No wonder I have trouble finding books I enjoy if HG (which is not a work of great character development) develops characters a quantum leap more humanly than my impression of the norm. Why can't this be the norm? I mean honestly...
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