Types of Book Series
This question is part of the GRAB(ook) Club, an online book club open to anyone and everyone. It contains a few spoilers for The Hunger Games and the Harry Potter series, so read at your own peril.
This is the first time that I can remember where I left a book in a series feeling as if I couldn’t understand major points in the current book until I read the next book. And I’m not sure how much I liked that despite being very interested in The Hunger Games and prepared to read Catching Fire soon.
All series leave plot elements unfinished that are developed in the next book, but none that I can think of left this many questions unanswered by the last page. Why did Cinna choose District 12? (This needs to be answered because a big deal was made about the fact that he chose her district.) What role does the Avox play in the larger story? (I’m assuming something about that relationship will come back to haunt Katniss down the road or else why draw so much attention to that character?) Why did Madge give Katniss a mockingjay pin specifically, and really, why did Madge get involved at all? And beyond that, why did Katniss take Madge’s item vs. something from Prim or Gale?
See, a lot of questions.
I’m not sure how much of it was sloppy writing, leaving frayed edges to the story (as opposed to something like JK Rowling’s incredibly tight storytelling in Harry Potter) vs. untied threads that will be knotted in future books. If those questions aren’t answered by the end of the third book, it’s sloppy storytelling because the reader was asked to focus on the wrong things. If those questions are answered by the end of the third book, they better be really mind-blowing answers because the reader has been asked to wait additional books to discover their meaning. The general rule is that anything that the author drags the reader’s attention to purposefully needs to be well-explained (or for the reader to believe that it was well-explained) by the end of that book; somewhat an extension of Chekhov’s gun.
I prefer books where I don’t know what I don’t know. I mean, take the Harry Potter series: I didn’t even question that Voldemort didn’t technically die when the spell bounced back on him. I figured the weakness of the spell in secondary form was enough to damage him beyond human recognition but not enough to kill him entirely. Which meant that when the horcruxes came around, my mind was blown because I got the answer before my brain even realized there was a question. Can you imagine if JK Rowling had dropped horcruxes into the first book and asked you to wait for their purpose to be revealed until the sixth? But that’s sort of what Collins did with The Hunger Games. She drew our attention to these moments or characters in a big way. And then didn’t wrap up the book so it could stand firmly on its own.
Do you prefer books in a series to be capable of standing alone while working together with the other books, or do you like books like the Hunger Games trilogy, which is truly just one long book cut down into three equal parts?
After you answer my question, please click over to read the rest of the book club questions for The Hunger Games. You can get your own copy of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins at bookstores including Amazon.