I mostly liked it. I'm not going to say it was brilliant literature or anything, but it was definitely better than a lot of YA stuff. (Not that that is terribly hard given all of the Twilight-wannabe books being written right about now.)
Things I liked:
1. FOXFACE. <3 <3 <3
In case you didn't get the memo, FOXFAAAAAAAAAAAACE.
She was the character I identified with 110%.
Just because I have this really strong sense that that's exactly how I would fare if I were in that kind of situation: I would outsmart the others only to end up dying in a completely random way. I can't entirely explain how I know that's true, but I know it is.
I also liked her because I pictured her having the same expression as Ichimaru Gin.
2. The pacing. I've heard some complaints about this, but honestly I saw no problems with it whatsoever. (Maybe it deteriorates in the other books?)
YA books seem to have particularly bad luck with pacing, but it's definitely a problem shared with other genres, and so many things I've read lately had some kind of pacing issue. Not necessarily a horrible one, just . . . something. Even in some books that I've really enjoyed, there tends to be some problem with the pacing --- either it's too slow in the beginning, or there's a repetition or overly similar scenes, or some minor character is described in detail for no good reason.
I really appreciated the fact that almost everything begins to happen right away, and that there really aren't any scenes that I found overly drawn out. I feel like in most books of this type, we would have gotten several chapters establishing Katniss' normal life before the Reaping, which would have been incredibly boring imnsho. Anyway, what makes SUPER SUPER SWEET Prim tolerable is that she doesn't get much screen time.
3. I think this is the first book I have read, ever, that contained long descriptions of fancy outfits that actually had a purpose to the plot and weren't just there because the author wanted to describe something pretty. Well played, Ms. Collins. Well played.
4. I liked that the people at the Capitol aren't malicious in any way, just incredibly superficial. If they had been actively malicious, it would have come off as fake, because seriously, what reason would they have to actually hate any of the Tributes? Yet in way too many books I've read (especially ones aimed at a fairly young audience; the entire Harry Potter series springs vividly to mind here), any character who causes the protagonist to be in a horribly unfair or unpleasant situation is doing so purely out of spite.
I loved the way that Cinna's assistants are genuinely trying to help Katniss, and that they don't see anything off about the fact that all they're actually doing is dressing up a teenage girl who is probably going to get slaughtered for their amusement. I like that because it feels realistic; they're people who have grown up all their lives thinking that this is normal and have never developed the ability to put themselves into the shoes of one of the Tributes.
Things I didn't like:
1. Why is this book written in the present tense? That was the biggest thing that made it frustrating for me. I can understand Collins' basic reason for writing it that way: the combination of first-person POV and present tense is supposed to lend a sense of immediacy to the narrative. But there are too many points where the combination ends up being awkward, especially because it often comes across as if Katniss is telling the story in retrospect and just happens to be using the present tense to describe events. Lines like this, for instance: The moment the anthem ends, we are taken into custody. That really reads to me like Katniss is telling the story to us, not narrating events as they happen.
This probably shouldn't irritate me as much as it does.
2. I mentioned that the lack of malice among most people in the Capitol felt realistic to me, but it was one of the only things that did. It's nothing that I can entirely put my finger on, just that Panem didn't really feel real to me. I don't read much dystopian literature, so I admittedly don't have much to compare it to, but there wasn't a feeling of realness to it. Animal Farm felt more real to me, and seriously, it's about a farm with talking communist pigs.
Everything about Panem --- and the Hunger Games themselves, especially --- seems logically thought out: okay, so there was a rebellion, and the Hunger Games were instituted as a combination punishment/show of power/bread and circuses. Makes sense. But a society doesn't need to just make sense; it needs to feel like something that the reader can imagine themselves living in, and Panem seemed too artificial.
Part of it is that we don't see any real cultural reaction to the Reaping and to the Hunger Games themselves. In a real society, I would expect there to be a boatload of superstitions pertaining to the Reaping: if I see a white dog in the week before, my name will be chosen. Sleeping with an oak leaf under my pillow will prevent my name from being chosen. You know, folksy human stuff like that, because that's what human beings do when they're presented with situations that are so completely out of their control.
And how does it affect family life if it's so rare for someone to volunteer to take the place of a relative like Katniss did? Has anyone ever come home victorious from the games only to slaughter their siblings because they feel like they turned their backs on them? For that matter, why is it so rare for someone to volunteer?
Depending on how removed the people in Panem are from the culture of the times before the rebellion, I would expect the Reaping to develop some kind of quasi-religious significance.
Instead it just seems to be a thing where people dress up and are unnerved all day, and no, I'm just not buying it.
3. Katniss' psychological state during the Hunger Games doesn't ring true to me either. It's not that I wanted her to go insane or something; I can completely see her as someone who would become preternaturally clear-headed in a dangerous situation. Still, I would expect there to be some change. Her normal life isn't the best, but it's not terrible, and it's certainly not the same as being trapped in an arena where everyone is out to kill her. But there's no feeling of her entering a different mind space once the Games begin, and that also seemed flat to me.
To me, Katniss = Dean Winchester. Which I guess makes Prim Sam (or okay fine, maybe Sam can be Peeta?) and Haymitch Castiel. WHICH TOTALLY WORKS DON'T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT.