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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thoughts on The Girl On Fire from The Girl Who Reads

This week, I bought the Hunger Games trilogy at the book fair at my mom's school. I just finished all three books just last night.

And then I lay down on my bed and cried, something I have never done after reading a series. Reading The Hunger Games trilogy was like being in a war. You watched people you grew to like and love die terrible deaths, people are irreparably damaged and fractured, and in the end, it's hard to tell who's really won and if it was all worth it.

(The rest of this post is full of spoilers, so don't read if you haven't finished the series yet. Consider yourself warned.)

The Hunger Games was wrenching enough--reading about young men and women dying a variety of gruesome deaths isn't very pleasant, but watching Katniss and Peeta struggle to survive and maintain their humanity just adds to it all. Katniss's fierce drive to survive in the arena and protect her family, while being completely clueless about the secrets of her own heart is something I think anyone can relate to. We've all had intense, complicated situations that require all of our attention and energy, and we leave the inner workings of our  own hearts completely out of it, because it's just too much work to try and figure it out. In The Hunger Games, that's really what it's all about, survival.

Catching Fire was like being on a roller coaster, the stakes going higher and higher and the whole time you're thinking, "It can't get any worse. It possibly can't get any just got worse." And it just keeps going. Katniss and Peeta are put through the wringer emotionally, mentally and physically. They're put through a perverse "Victory Tour" of the the twelve Districts, with President Snow looming over them, breathing out threats and murder. In order to survive, Katniss and Peeta are forced to pretend (to a certain extent) being desperately in love, to keep their families and District 12 safe. They're falsely engaged, and then forced back into the arena with past Hunger Games victors. Before, Katniss had only one goal in the arena--stay alive and come back home. Now, it's reversed: make sure Peeta survives, no matter the cost. While all Peeta wants is for Katniss to live. And then, just when you think we've reached the very top and they can't get put through any more without being irrevocably damaged...the roller coaster starts going down at terrifying, breakneck speed. With bombs attached. Shrapnel goes flying in every direction. And us, the reader, is desperately trying to figure out how to come through it all without being emotionally scarred from everything that's going on.

Mockingjay is the limit, the absolute limit. You come away feeling like you just watched your loved ones die in a war. Peeta is captured, Gale is being consumed by vengeance against the Capitol, and it wouldn't surprise me if Katniss could be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She's the face of the rebellion, the titular Mockingjay, but she hides in remote places and tries not to think about all the damage she's gone through. She has screaming night terrors with all people who've died, the loved ones that are lost coming back to haunt her.

But as before, Katniss eventually finds one driving force--rescuing Peeta. If that means becoming a pawn for the rebels when she's just got through being a pawn for the Capitol, becoming the Mockingjay, then so be it. She's not much of a savior, our Katniss--she's a terrible actress and she can't follow orders to save her life (literally). She gets too attached to who her superiors call "the wrong people" and no one, as Haymitch says, should let her make the plans. But through sheer grit and fight and indomitable will, Katniss overcomes. She lives. Is she damaged? Yes. Has she lost almost all the things she's cared about? Without a doubt. But does she go on, does she survive the unthinkable? Always. Katniss can't do anything the easy way; the girl has fire in her and she's a fighter born. We love her for that and we too mourn the dead: Cinna, Finnick, Boggs and Prim. And though we've cried and mourned and howled in protest for the terrible things we and Katniss have had to go through, these lines makes it all worth the suffering:

"That what I need to survive is not Gale's fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that.
"So after, when he whispers, 'You love me. Real or nor real?'
"I tell him, 'Real.'"
~Katniss Everdeen, Mockingjay, page 388.

My soul was lifted for that alone.

Over & Out,


  1. Yes, to everything (especially the end!) We are kindred spirits in these sentiments, my dear. The end of the trilogy caught me off-guard in that it made me cry nearly as hard as some of the gut-wrenching death scenes. The part you quoted and the reprise of the meadow lullaby during the epilogue...shoot, I'm tearing just thinking about it. (I can't lie: I even cried when Buttercup found Katniss.)

    I love this trilogy, but I have found (with the advent of the film adaptation) that I've become almost fiercely protective of the books, or at least the truths I perceive within them. Which is why I refuse (as much as possible) to have anything to do with the media-hype surrounding the films. I'm thrilled to see the story play out in a different medium...but I don't want to buy into the media glamorization of "The Hunger Games". I don't want to be sucked into a superficial enjoyment of something that I think cuts much deeper. (I have a feeling you understand...)

  2. Honestly, it was the Buttercup/Katniss reunion that made me tear up the most. It was just, the one person Katniss and Buttercup love the most, the one thing that tied them together, Prim is gone and you're left just staring at the page, wondering, "Did we go through all that...for this?"

    I am looking forward to the movie, but like you, I tend to be a little off-put by how focused people can be about who's playing who and how they look in costumes (though I won't lie, I think Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are perfect as Katniss and Peeta). It's not just about how it's going to look; it's about what you're going to SEE. Kids are going to die, our heroes will be injured, and if the other two books are made into'll only get worse. I think people are going to be reminded of that once they get over the "Oh, popular YA novel made into movie? I think I'll check it out" mindset. What I really hope from the movie is that people go to the books and realize, "You can learn something from this story."