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I’ve been trying to write a blog post about this series for over a week now. The problem is a) my YA author friends have all read this and are probably exhausted from so many posts concerning this series and really what could I possibly have to say that hasn’t been said, while b) my non-YA author friends are actually looking for opinion on this series because they may want to read it, and I’m afraid I’m going to say something altogether spoilery in nature. So, we’ll see where this blog post lands.

*Okay, yeah. This got spoilery when I started talking Character, but not in a way that would ruin it. Anyway, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!

I am naturally interested in books that explore how youth deal with, or are consumed by, war, loyalty, duty, and courage. This may have something to do with how much I detested the books I read in high school about war, namely Red Badge of Courage, while going through the ROTC program and questioning career possibilities in the military. The idea of throwing kids into an arena to fight til the death for sport, which leads to unrest and rebellion? Yes! I would have loved to have read this in high school. So there’s that. Captivating plot.

The series was swift, full of action, and the most suspenseful book(s) I read all year. I read them all together, one after the other in about the span of five days. Each one was equally hard to put down; and I made the right decision to wait until all three were out before I read them. I was more than satisfied with the level of “WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN-ness” that the author created. It was thrilling. So, there’s that. Amazing suspense.

Now, character. Collins ranges in how she, character-by-character, shows the effects of war. I was most impressed with Gale. His character was perfectly complicated and changed accordingly as the series progressed, (though I agree with the folks that say his ultimate destination was too quick an ending). But for all the effects of war on the characters that Collins gave us, she puts Katniss (the main character) in a tricky position (writing-wise) by the third book. The hunger games have opened into something far bigger, bigger than the teenage cast could “control.” The main character is no longer fighting her own battle–among peers, but is in the midst of a full scale war. There becomes an adult influence in the book that is not in the others. It is still Katniss’s story, but to me it felt pressed down or stifled somehow, and I think it was because she was teenage character outside the arena, and in an adult-run world. I wanted her to burst free of this, but at the same time, it wasn’t inauthentic that Katniss would not be included in many of the major plot points (adult forces at work) in the book. I was talking about this with E.M. Kokie, (follow her on Twitter) one of my author friends, whose book, Personal Effects, is due out in 2012, from Candlewick Press. (Goodreads description: A teenage boy discovers evidence of a secret love affair among his dead brother’s personal effects shipped back from Iraq, and embarks on a cross-country trek to find the mystery woman and deliver a last, unsent letter, with surprising results.) She said when we were discussing The Hunger Games series, “I liked seeing other characters emerge as more powerful, intelligent, etc. because often it isn’t the young person who knows what to do.” She adds,”I agree that I would have loved to see Katniss burst free of her PTSD and childhood and emerge from the ashes the strong leader – I would have cheered for her. BUT, I think it was more organic to Katniss and to reality that she couldn’t shake the PTSD and grow that fast. And I applaud that Collins let war overtake and change her characters, and not generally for the better.”

While I think that true, I’m still not fully convinced that being a pawn should have been Katniss’s story by the time we get to book three. She is the Mockingjay. I keep asking myself, Did Katniss take from both her upbringing and what the capitol threw at her and emerge a new kind of creature? And if so, who or what is that? I’m still thinking about it.¬† Sometimes I think yes. Sometimes I think no.

E.M. Kokie also said that Collins never once took the easy way out in any of her writing of this series. I absolutely agree. So, no matter Katniss’s role in the story, the series was ultimately very very good. Thought provoking, gripping, and in the end, hopeful. I highly recommend it. And I am super excited about the movie, scheduled to release in 2013. Hope the world doesn’t end before then!