I’m usually well behind the curve when it comes to popular culture. I don’t think I even started reading the Harry Potter series until somewhere around the time when Goblet of Fire was published, so it should come as no surprise that I saw the blockbuster hit The Hunger Games in theaters before deciding to read the book.
As a general rule, I actually do prefer seeing a movie adaptation of a novel before reading it. To me, novels are generally much richer in detail and create a more vivid world, so that I am usually at least a little disappointed when I see a film version of a novel I’ve enjoyed. There are exceptions, of course: The Lord of the Rings trilogy did a tremendous job of adapting books that seemed unfilmable; and there have been occasions when I’ve read a book after seeing a film only to discover that the two versions shared very little beyond the title (Bernard Malamud’s The Natural springs to mind, but I’m sure there are better, more recent examples). Books and film are different media, and I do try to approach them as as independent of each other and revel in the strengths of each. At any rate, seeing and enjoying the film version is what finally motivated me to read The Hunger Games.
Perhaps because the film adaptation was so strong, I was mildly let down that the book didn’t include a tremendous amount of additional material and plot points. That’s not really fair, I know, but my usual strategy of seeing a film and then “getting more” by reading the book kind of failed me this time. Mainly, I was surprised that the book was written in first-person narrative. I like first person-narratives as much as the next reader, and Katniss Everdeen is a compelling protagonist to be sure, but the world of Panem is full of colorful characters and I was hoping I’d get more insight into how and what they were thinking. Wouldn’t you just love to know what, if anything, is going on inside Effie’s head, or learn more about Cinna’s past? What did Katniss’ mother feel when first her younger daughter’s name is called, and then her elder daughter volunteers to take her place? What did the people of District 12 think as the games progressed—did they feel hope that their tribute might come home alive? Did they even care? Maybe that’s why the movie adaptation worked; the book doesn’t contain much nuance or subtlety for the movie to miss.
Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading The Hunger Games. I did. Very much. Katniss is a complex character full of strength, anger, doubt, and love, and she kicks ass to boot. She is the protagonist that young adult readers deserve and can relate to, and adult readers can embrace as well. The plot is well paced and drives forward to a tense climax, and it did leave me wanting more. Fortunately for me, there are still two more books in the series.