I have just finished reading Mockingjay, the final book of The Hunger Games trilogy. My friend promised me that I would “like it so much more than Twilight.”
She was right. My enjoyment had to do with a number of factors: the stories themselves, the writing, and the characters. In particular, Katniss.
I know that there’s a lot out there on Bella Swan and Katniss Everdeen, who makes the better role model for teenage girls, who is a better symbol of a feminist, which girl is simply a cooler character. For some writers, these two characters represent all the negatives and positives of writing female characters, especially for a Young Adult audience.
I tried once to analyze different kinds of female characters, but I figured I’d leave it to those who took that task more seriously and strenuously than I do. I’ll just tell you which girl I’d have more fun writing and what my experience of reading Bella and Katniss was like:
1. New Moon is one of 3 books I’ve ever thrown on the floor while reading.
Look, I get it. Adolescent girl loses boyfriend, falls into depressive state. That’s fine. Teenagers aren’t, generally, cheerful creatures. But in order for me to empathize with Bella being catatonic, I need her to be sympathetic in the first place. But what do I know about her, other than she’s awkward and unremarkable, but all the boys at her new high school like her? Even the romance between her and Edward didn’t seem to warrant all the mopeyness in New Moon. Granted, I’ve been reading romance novels since I was 13, so maybe my sense of fictional romance is different than that of a YA reader.
2. Despite the dystopian nature of The Hunger Games, I believed in Katniss’s problems and relationships more.
Like Bella, Katniss tells us her story. Unlike Bella, Katniss is not obsessed with a sparkly vampire, which means that her relationships are richer, conflicted, and more interesting to read about. The majority of Katniss’s issues stem from living in dystopian Panem, where the totalitarian government keeps its citizens poor, hungry and powerless–exemplified by the Hunger Games. So Katniss is poor, hungry, her father has died in a mining accident: her problems are grounded in the reality of her world. Her love for Prim and her friendship with Gale humanize Katniss and her slow caring and eventual love for Peeta build through the trilogy–and all of these relationships felt believable. But Katniss is defiant. She hunts in the woods, though it’s illegal. She does not abide by District 13’s rules.
Bella’s only relationships are with her father, her boyfriend, Jacob, and boyfriend’s family. By the end of the series, her social circle is tiny. How am I expected to believe in a girl who has pushed away her parents, pushed away the few normal friends she has, and whose only ambition is to become a vampire–when I don’t even believe the romance?
3. There are love triangles and then there are love pentangles.
Yes, both series have a love triangle of sorts. Bella, sparkly vampire, and werewolf. Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. The boys in Bella’s life are both overbearing though. Edward, the hundred-year-old vampire, likes to steal into Bella’s room and watch her sleep–without her knowing it. Creepy! He doesn’t like it when she talks to Jacob. Katniss is best friends with Gale, but she grows close to Peeta through the experience of the Hunger Games. Peeta is the one with the crush on Katniss. Katniss cares for both Gale and Peeta, but she’s much more focused on survival and her family and retaining her sanity and a rebellion. Plus, what’s creepier than Jacob imprinting on Bella and Edward’s kid?
As wonderfully chilling as the Volturi are (especially when played by Michael Sheen), President Snow and his blood-and-rose smell is an indelible, sensory image. What about the militaristic President Coin? The great thing about the villains in The Hunger Games are that you’re not always sure who is a villain and who is an ally.
Stories are conflict, conflict, conflict. Characters, too, are more interesting when conflicted–or at least, have a personality. Bella, other than being “awkward,” is not conflicted. Edward does have conflict–he’s an angsty vampire who wants to kill Bella because her blood smells yummy–but that doesn’t mitigate his creeper and controlling ways. I felt that Katniss’s conflicts certainly had more scope. And as Katniss notes, she doesn’t like most people, so having to become a media darling is tough for her. And then there’s Gale designing weapons and whether those weapons may have killed Prim. How torturous is that?