I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
This book took me a lot longer to read than it should have. I read the first three quarters or so very quickly, carried on by a need to know what was going to happen, who was going to survive, and how they were going to manage it. The closer I got to the end, however, the harder it was for me to continue reading. I spent some time thinking about why this was, and I think I now have the answer, although Hunger Games fans may “boo” me for it: I started to hate Katniss.
As a Hunger Games tribute, Katniss is pretty much perfect. She may not be much of a fighter, but her hunting skills transfer nicely into the Hunger Games environment. She can be ruthless, but she is still able to trust others enough to form alliances, like she did with Rue (although that was at least partially due to the similarities Katniss saw between Rue and Prim). After the death of one particular tribute, I mourned with Katniss as she arranged flowers over the body. The scene where the dead tribute's district sent bread to Katniss was wonderful. Yes, Collins was manipulating readers' emotions. Yes, it worked like a charm on me.
The problem, for me, came when Katniss was reunited with Peeta. Katniss persisted in thinking that Peeta was faking his feelings for her. Under the direction of Haymitch (a past Hunger Games winner from District 12), Katniss faked her feelings for Peeta to drum up audience sympathy and stellar sponsor support. She started to suspect that maybe, just maybe, Peeta was being completely honest about his feelings and really did love her, and the feelings she was faking started to become a bit more real. Since every moment of the Hunger Games is monitored, and since survival is of paramount importance, Katniss didn't really have time to examine her feelings for Peeta, figure out her feelings for Gale (who knows what he was thinking, watching every partially manufactured tender moment between Katniss and Peeta?), or even talk to Peeta about how much her feelings confused her. Talking to Peeta would have meant revealing that her side of this romance, at least, was not completely natural. If the audience found out, if Peeta could no longer react the way he was supposed to, both of them might have lost audience and sponsor support. Without that support, they probably would have died.
While I understood all of that, I couldn't help but hate Katniss for what she was doing. Since Haymitch obviously wasn't having to coach Peeta on the proper way to fake romantic feelings, either Peeta was a phenomenally gifted actor whose instincts about how to get through the Hunger Games were spot on, or he wasn't faking those feelings. Since I was pretty sure that Peeta really did love Katniss (it'd be hard to fake anything while delirious from a horrible infection), I had to grit my teeth every time Katniss struggled to think of the best way to demonstrate that she felt something in return. When she realized that a kiss equaled a gift of food from Haymitch, and when she acted on that realization, I wanted to scream at her. Yes, I know, she had to do it to ensure they both survived. That knowledge didn't make any of it easier to read.
In the Peeta vs. Gale debate, my vote is currently for Gale. As individuals, I liked Peeta better than Gale, even though Peeta's apparent desire for a sweet, flowery romance was painfully naive. So, why would I rather Katniss ended up with Gale than Peeta? Gale hasn't shown up much yet, but, from all appearances, he's as practical and ruthless as Katniss. Maybe more so, seeing as how he was willing to abandon the siblings who depended upon him in order to run away with Katniss and hopefully live a better life. I think being around Peeta more might smooth some of Katniss' rough edges, but I also think the reverse would be true – being around Katniss would give Peeta more rough edges. Considering how horrible their world can be, maybe this would be good for Peeta, but I'm not sure I'd want that for him, and I'm not sure if it would be good for Katniss to become less ruthless.
This first book in the trilogy ends right after the Hunger Games. One of the moments I dreaded has happened: Peeta learned that Katniss was faking her lovey-dovey actions. Another moment I'm dreading, but that hasn't happened yet: Gale's reaction to Katniss when he sees her again for the first time. Whether he knew that she was faking her romance with Peeta or not, I doubt Gale will be happy with Katniss. I also doubt Gale and Peeta will manage to be civil towards one another. There is relationship angst galore in Katniss' future.
This relationship angst is why I'll probably delay reading the next book. I can't stand the amount of unhappiness that love triangles like this generate. That said, I do expect to read the next book at some point. Katniss and Peeta, as the newest winners of the Hunger Games, will be made to visit all the districts, and I'd love to learn more about each of them. Also, I'm looking forward to reading about the full-blown rebellion that I suspect will appear at some point. I'm still wondering about the girl who gave Katniss the mockingjay pin. Why did she give it to Katniss? Is it one of the first signs of rebellion, and is that girl a part of that rebellion?
Overall, I found this world to be an interesting one, and I did like most of the book. I think I'm just not as fond of love triangles as I used to be. The voyeuristic feeling while reading about Peeta and Katniss' developing “romance” wasn't that much fun for me, either. If anything was going to develop between the two of them, I would rather have had it develop naturally, but instead the audience was always there. Peeta may not have been thinking about them, but there was rarely a moment when Katniss wasn't thinking about them and wondering how best to act in front of them.
(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)