The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2010).
I had no intention of reading this trilogy until I saw the movie. After reading the back covers in book stores, I’d dismissed the series as teen fiction of the Twilight ilk. Plus, the premise is enough to turn any parent off— in the dystopian future of North America, the nation of Panem annually demands two children lottery “tributes” between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of its 12 districts. The children, some trained warriors and some helpless naifs, are expected to fight to the death in a giant “Survivor”-like fabricated outdoor arena filled with shocking natural and manmade hazards. The Hunger Games are a brutal form of pop culture created by the citizens of the extravagantly luxurious Capital of Panem. This televised punishment is meant to remind the downtrodden surrounding districts, who are forced to watch their children compete and die, to never to rise up in rebellion again.
When Katniss Everdeen’s little sister Prim is picked to represent the poor coal miners of District 12, Katniss, who has kept her family alive by illegally hunting outside the district’s boundaries with best friend Gale, volunteers to take her place. She heads to the games with Peeta, a talented artist and baker’s son whom she barely knows but who once made the difference between life and death for her starving family. Readers follow Katniss through the ridiculous made-for-tv preparation for the games in the Capital and into the horrific games themselves. In the arena, Katniss struggles repeatedly to overcome death and injury. She also must learn how to trust those around her, including Peeta, who has publicly professed his life-long secret love for her on national television.
The startling conclusion of book one ensures more trouble for Katniss with the Capital in the last two books. The districts begin to rise up in rebellion, and the Capital desperately seeks to squelch it. Katniss and her Mockingjay pin become the symbol of hope and rebellion, even while Katniss herself loses nearly everything that is dear to her. Collins does not shy away from brutality and murder and the horrific acts of a Big Brother-type government, but she does so in an unsentimental fashion that is manageable for the adult reader. While we spend perhaps a little too much time in Katniss’ head (as is common in teen fiction), overall the books are a fast-paced and gripping read with a surprising number of well-orchestrated twists and turns.
These books are all the rage with my son’s fourth grade friends right now, but parents of sensitive children will want to set the series aside for a few more years. The content is at times graphic, heart-wrenching, and exhausting. If ever there were candidates for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Katniss and poor Peeta are it. Collins deftly explores the grim realities of war, politics, and power and also reflects many of our society’s most ridiculous impulses back on us in exaggerated form. This may be a good series for parents and older kids to read together and discuss. It’s full of conversation starters, and Collins’ subtle warnings and critiques of our culture are as important to the premise of the series as the action and adventure.
Bookmama is a writer, parent, and avid reader. She likes to think she has good taste in books, but she doesn’t always agree with the literary crowd. Her nine-year-old son is even harder to please, and together they hope to provide occasional reviews of great books for both adults and kids.