I’ve written about The Hunger Games before, on my lists of Favorite Fictional Couples and Least Envied Fictional Jobs, and it’s one of those stories that will no doubt continue to pop up on my favorites lists again and again, because it does so many things well. That’s what makes it a favorite, after all.
This spot it earns has a bit of a story to it.
I got on the Hunger Games wagon in late 2011. All three books were already out and wildly successful, and Matt was going to buy me the first book for Christmas. I asked him to get it for me early, so I’d have more time to get through it before the movie came out, because that’s my rule; a movie coming out based on something I’m remotely interested in getting into is the final warning that I’m way behind and need to get with the program.
This was right after the Twilight mania, and I was in a very cynical mental place, assuming that any YA so widely and fervently embraced must be more of the same unrelentingly neutered and shallow sentiment, with a few surprising high points and/or laughable low points to enjoy at best. What I found instead when I opened the book was the ultimate antidote.
This wasn’t some twelve-year-old’s wish-fulfillment fanfic with the names changed. This was the start of a personal yet full-scale epic, almost a horror epic in nature, with a more believably tough, complex, and developed protagonist as of the third page than many epics can pull off in their entirety. And she was a girl!
It’s true that the first act of The Hunger Games is oddly paced, with a lot of time spent on prep before the games begin, and it’s also true that I asked myself a few times along the way, “Shouldn’t I be bored by now?” But, obviously, I never was. The introduction to the world and its inherent satire is that compelling, and Katniss’s presence always adds to it, without becoming either passive observation or heavy-handed commentary.
Katniss is not passive. Nor is she philosophical. She’s an angry, hardened, distrustful loner, with a direct, straightforward approach to life and a vast, carefully hidden capacity for love, and everything she does and thinks comes naturally from who she is. The biggest reason The Hunger Games had to take this spot is that I can identify the exact moment when Katniss and her world had both Matt and me hooked.