The Hunger Games: The Reread

After I watched the movie of Catching Fire the second time, I decided I needed to reread the whole series. This is something I thought I would never do when I put down Mockingjay a few years ago and returned it to the library. I couldn’t say I liked it–not after all the terrible things that had just happened–but I could say it was a good, well-written series. To everyone who pressed me further, I would say something like, “Any book that keeps you up at night and makes you question society itself is well-written. The author has done her job, and done it well.”

But then they started making movies. I took my oldest daughter to watch the first movie in the theater the first night I could responsibly do it (no school for her and no work for me the next morning). I cried. I was impressed. I wasn’t sure I could watch it a second time, but I knew, even as I thought that, that I would buy it.

My oldest daughter opened the package as soon as it came in the mail and popped it into the DVD player. She watched it by herself this time, though I may have wandered in and out of it. She mentioned that she liked it more the second time. Then her younger sister (by 19 months) watched it and liked it enough to read the whole series, and I found after watching it a couple times that I, too, enjoyed it more with repetition, though it still makes me cry, just like Dumbledore’s death makes me cry every time.

My oldest daughter and I saw Catching Fire as soon as it came out (my second daughter wanted to go with us, but I wouldn’t let her), but this time a little less responsibly; we didn’t go to a midnight showing, but we didn’t wait until the weekend, either. We went to work and school more tired than usual, but of course, it was worth it. We both cried through it and loved it and were pleased that almost everyone else who was posting about it loved it too. I found myself defending not just the movies but the books against the naysayers, many of whom hadn’t even given the books a chance, and that’s when I realized I really love this series–and it’s time I reread them.

Now at this point I need to break my narration to explain why I wouldn’t let my 13-year-old go to the theater with us. This series is really intense. It is violent, though Suzanne Collins is ingeniously careful in the way she portrays the violence, and the movie makers have retained Suzanne’s care in keeping with the intended audience. After watching it in the theater, I decided to make my 13-year-old wait until it comes out on DVD, because there’s something about seeing it in your own living room on a smaller screen that lessens the intensity and makes things more comfortable.

These are really hard books to read. I fully acknowledge that, and I have just explained my own journey in dealing with the content. I would never force someone to read these books or watch these movies. I do, however, firmly insist that if you’re going to bother to watch the movies, and even enjoy them, you must read the books. You are missing out on the meat and much of the meaning of the series if you are simply watching the movies and choose to ignore their origin. Now back to my narrative.

Shortly after I decided I really needed to reread the Hunger Games series, I walked into the library to return Ender’s Game (which I felt I needed to reread after watching the movie) and Xenocide. My Xenocide hold had arrived at the library before my hold on Speaker for the Dead, so I hadn’t reread Xenocide yet, and I don’t want to read them out of order, especially since I haven’t read these books since junior high. (Speaker for the Dead has finally made its way in; I’m hoping to pick it up tonight.) So I walked over to the Card area in the sci-fi section to see if, by some chance, Speaker for the Dead was on the shelf, even though I was way down on the hold list. Nope, of course not. Lots of other Card books, but none of the Ender series. So I walked across from the sci-fi section to the teen section, and there it was, waiting for me on the shelf: The Hunger Games, and right next to it, Catching Fire.

So began my reread of The Hunger Games. I’m a proofreader by trade and an editor by education, so let’s get this out of the way right now: This book needed another round of proofreading. There are several places where someone has crossed out typos in pencil (which may or may not have been one of my own children, I have to admit), and there are many places throughout the book where the commas needed a serious revisit, no matter what style you use.

I remember one of my editing professors pointing out that the difference between Twilight and successive books in that series is money. Twilight was full of errors, and each book after that was cleaner. These books were making money, so it was okay to spend more money on them. I don’t know if that is the reason The Hunger Games is messy, and I don’t remember if they get less messy; I’ll find out as I go on. But because I know the publication process forward and back and I know that these issues are a very small portion of what goes into making a book, I don’t let them get in the way of my enjoyment of a really good book.

And this is a good book. I think the point of view–the way you can only see what Katniss sees–is genius. Part of why I love the movie is that you get to see everything else that is going on, so it completes the story instead of just repeating it. I’ve read critical reviews that say this isn’t a good book, it’s just another series that teens have caught hold of. I heartily disagree, and I’m guessing that said critics don’t care much for teen or juvenile literature in the first place. I have a very low tolerance for the opinions of people who don’t appreciate good teen and juvenile literature.

As is true with any well-written book, you understand everything better–the characters, the circumstances, what makes this book tick–the second time around. You notice things you missed before, now that you know why small details are important and what is going to happen next. I’m glad I gave these books a second chance after my initial “wow, that was awful; as well done as it was, I can’t bear it again” reaction. The fact that I had that reaction in the first place tells you how well Suzanne did.

In a way, I hope she writes more, but in another way, I hope she doesn’t. I enjoyed Gregor the Overlander (the juvenile series that introduced me to this author), but it wasn’t genius. I feel like it was a foundation for her to build on, similar to how I feel about the early J.K. Rowling books. (My apologies to those who loved the first two Harry Potter books, but her books became much more from Goblet of Fire on.) Can either of these authors top themselves? I don’t think Jo Rowling can; Harry Potter was just too big, and as a rabid fan of those books, anything else would be disappointing. Can Suzanne Collins? I don’t know; I don’t know enough about her or her writing yet. For me, the jury is still out..and waiting.

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