I honestly didn't think anything could make me accept the first person present narrative for anything with a bigger scope than a one-shot fanfic, and I was right. No, that's not true. I did accept it, and one of the most interesting parts of my reading was the examination of how and why it worked, and during which parts it worked better than others. Because the thing is, when you pick up this book you just cannot put it down until you find out what happens next, and the reason you don't already know is that Katniss doesn't know. Even while all logic is telling you that she's going to survive and that the story is not going to go in direct opposition to basic storytelling tropes, you're stuck in the head of a girl who's experiencing this as if it's real, and that's all it takes. The author had the sense to use her obnoxious perspective gimmick consistently, so there aren't any flash-forwards or POV switches, and it matches right up with the major theme of the content: this is entertainment for you, but it's real for me.
Which is not to say that it made the writing any less awkward in other parts. I accept the first person present narrative for this book and this book only. And possibly its sequels.
Now I like a good dystopian story as much as anyone, but what I really appreciated about this one was that it wasn't preachy. If there were specific parallels to any modern political issues, I missed them, and I didn't at all feel a looming threat of "this could be our future!" This might have been intentional, in which case I'm duly grateful, but I suspect it had more to do with the author not really caring about an overriding metaphor, which I like even better. I honestly think the inspiration came from watching reality shows and thinking about that odd self-negating quality they all have; i.e., they're not real. When you get voted off the island, you go home and have dinner. What if you couldn't?
Maybe that in itself is meant to be a political issue. God knows we've all lamented enough about how reality shows spell the decline of society. But it's put forth in a nice contemplative way that keeps the blame well spread out: the Hunger Games happen because no one person is responsible for them. The Gamemakers are just doing their jobs, like the escorts, hosts, and stylists. The participants know they're being used, but they train for the possibility or increase the risk in exchange for food anyway. The government is trying to satisfy the largest or most influential part of its populace, which is what all governments do. The spectators? Are spectators.
In for the kill - the spectators are also us. It's ridiculous to ask why the people of Panem find the games entertaining when all you need to do is ask why the reader does. Don't blame it on a lack of empathy, either - the reactions of the audience are always shown as a deep investment in the lives and the fates of each tribute. They investigate their backgrounds and personalities, back the charismatic ones, and go wild over the presentation of a love story. That's exactly what fandoms do with characters. We love empathizing with them, and be honest, we'd love it even more if they were real. It's not a disconnect from their humanity that we require to keep supporting dramatic productions, it's a definitive assurance that we are not the ones at fault for their pain.
My favorite character was Cinna. I half expected him to betray Katniss at some point because everything I consume lately seems to involve the betrayal of the one you expect the least, and I'm not convinced he won't turn on us during the next two books, but let's just take him at face value for now. He's part of the system. All he does is dress up kids so that the audience can enjoy them before they die. Yet, we learn through the process that his ministrations have a real objective: if he can make the rich people love Katniss enough, they might shower enough gifts on her to help her survive. Even that stops short of noble, though - he just met Katniss, and as far as he knows, the survival of any one of these kids means the deaths of 23 others. Does he just want to be the winner, like everyone else? Or did he ask for District 12 because he intuits the need to uplift the underdog as an early step to chipping away at the dominant paradigm?
Look at all these thoughts I'm having! And at the same time, the book itself was enjoyable, too. Survivalism, when done well, is almost always a good time, and the action was fast-paced and...gritty? Do I want to say gritty? Sounds like something Andrew would say. Anyway, as I've mentioned before, I'm all about characters, and this cast measured up. Katniss was a tolerable solitary POV and nifty in a variety of ways, though I think her biggest strength is that she's got the material to be a total badass in the movie (when does that come out?). Rue was my other favorite, which was obviously rigged on the part of the author because she wanted us to suffer. Peeta or Gale? I'm gonna go with Peeta. I liked his character outside of the filter of the romance, just the way he was introduced as a figure of simultaneous kindness and deadly manipulation. Also, I checked out the Mark Reads on this one and I was delighted that he came to the same conclusion about shipping names that I did - Katpee! Or Peeniss! How irresistible is that?!
I'm not going to look for the sequels right away, but I'm glad they're there. This was a good book.