Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins


*** Warning: This review contains spoilers!!! ***

Okay, okay, I have to admit, I went into this book with a bias against it. I already knew the premise, and I just didn't think it was appropriate for middle schoolers to be reading about kids killing kids. (Amazon lists the book as being for ages 12 and up.) Once I started reading, though, I saw right away that the killings weren't actually a real focus of the book, so I lightened up. There are explicit descriptions of killings, but they are brief and infrequent, so I guess I can get over it. But, I still don't like the premise, and I still don't think it's appropriate for middle schoolers. Maybe it's okay for high schoolers. 

I do like the idea of parents reading this book along with their kids and having discussions about the bigger themes. When a society is made up of haves and have-nots, how does that affect the attitudes of the people within those populations? What does it say about the range of humanity that in some districts, being chosen as a tribute is feared, but in others, it's an honor? Though the premise of the book involves killings, how does the book actually turn attention to positive human emotions like compassion and loyalty?

The examples of compassion and loyalty were really my favorite parts of the book. I even teared up when District 11 sent a gesture of thanks for Katniss's kindness towards Rue. I really liked Peeta's devotion to Katniss - even though, once they teamed up, Peeta only seemed to weigh Katniss down.

I liked that the book was easy to read; the literary voice of the teenage girl was convincing. As a reader, I got a pretty good understanding of her confusing emotions regarding Gale and Peeta. But, with Katniss narrating, it seemed like there were only a limited number of possible outcomes, and I wonder if a third-person narration would have been more effective. And, after a while, her dense inability to see Peeta's true feelings got kind of annoying.

One thing that really kept bothering me as the book progressed was that even though the author chose to use this controversial premise of kids killing kids, she actually side-stepped all the difficult issues. Once the Hunger Games actually started, it was one cop-out after another: Katniss kills a boy basically in self-defense, after he kills Rue; Peeta accidentally causes the death of Foxface; both Katniss and Peeta "finish off" a dying competitor, presumably putting them out of their misery more than anything else; Cato kills Thresh so they don't have to. Conveniently, neither Katniss nor Peeta ever had to kill anyone in cold blood. Katniss wasn't even ever in a position to face that question head-on. Not that I would necessarily WANT them to be in that position, but for a book based on the premise of kids killing kids, I think it would have been worth exploring the difficult questions of whether or not Katniss or Peeta could have actually brought themselves to kill someone for the sake of killing, or what the psychological aftermath would have been if they did. 

Another thing that really threw me off was the arrival of the mutts at the lake. Where did that come from?! The book suddenly had a weird horror element. The idea of the fallen tributes being turned into monsters - rather than their bodies being sent home to their families - was truly horrifying. It seemed even to go beyond the level of inhumanity previously attributed to the Capitol. I just didn't see the point of that twist. Why not use killer wolf-like mutts without the human connection? Is the author setting the groundwork for something in one of the sequels?

One more thing - I was a little annoyed that the significance of the mocking-jay pin was never revealed. Why was Madge SO insistent that Katniss wear it into the arena? I can only hope it's revealed in a sequel.

Given that the book ended on a clear cliff-hanger, I will be putting the next book in the series on my to-read list. I admit, I'm dying to find out what happens between Katniss and Gale.

Overall, despite my misgivings about the premise, it was entertaining, and it was easy reading - like eating popcorn, Ken says - but I think it ultimately fell short of its potential.


  1. I haven't read the book, but Pete did and Ingrid too, and really enjoyed it. (the 3rd book is called Mockingjay, so maybe that will tell you more about that pin). Anyway, I too was just disturbed by the premise of the book, which is why I didn't want to read it. After hearing people's comments on it, and whether it's appropriate for middle schoolers, I was reminded of Lord of the Flies, which I read in Middle School, which also involves kids killing kids. I think I've come to realize that the premise isn't so much about kids killing kids, but about how low humanity can sink when society/circumstances gets to a certain point, and it's a warning to us, and perhaps a glimmer of hope that NOT everyone would fall into that depraved state. Again, I haven't read it, but I imagine that's why she doesn't get into Kitness actually killing for the sake of's not really a book about exploring the psyche of someone who is forced to kill, but about someone who does everything she can to NOT go down that road. I guess that would make it more acceptable for a middle schooler to read, cuz I think it would be too disturbing and kids shouldn't be reading it if she actually had to kill in cold blood and deal with the aftermath.

    It kinda makes me think of how in most movies, the hero usually doesn't kill the enemy outright. They fall over a cliff, or get caught in some crazy machine or pot of acid, or the enemy's weapon backfires and they end up killing themselves, etc or they're hanging on by a thread...but the hero doesn't commit the killing, they might not help them, or they might try but it doesn't work...but they don't usually have a hero just stab someone or shoot them dead. At least, they previously didn't, I've noticed that some of the more recent ones in the last decade, the hero DOES kill more purposely, and I really don't like that trend. (like in Daredevil). I really do think all the violence as entertainment has led to so much of the violence in real life, with those school shootings, or any kind of mass shooting that isn't directed AT the victims, they just went out and kill randomed people. There's very little respect for life anymore, and movies I think give this message now that 'it's ok that people are killed, it's just part of life.'

  2. I read a few other reviews that made comparisons with "The Lord of the Flies", too! I can't remember anything about that book except bonfires and a boy named Piggy, so I think maybe I would like to re-read it and see how far the comparisons go. On the surface, though, I think LOTF probably DID explore its premise to its farthest extent, because the idea was to ask, "What happens when kids are left to their own devices in the wild?" and you see how it all goes crazy. Like in the context of that story, the author didn't seem to side-step any hard questions! But I don't know for sure, I'll have to re-read it...

    And yeah, definitely for a middle school level book, it's probably all for the best that Katniss is a defensive player (as Shan called it) and never has to REALLY kill someone in cold blood. That would be better explored in an adult novel, for sure, not appropriate for young adult fiction. But that's exactly why I don't like the use of the premise in the first place - to use it fully, it's a premise for adults, not kids, in my mind.

  3. That's true. i don't know if the author ever intended it to be read by kids or young an full grown adult though, i still wouldn't really want to explore too deeply into someone who would kill in cold blood, and I'm even uncomfortable with reading about killing even if it's self-defense or 'putting out of misery', I think that's why I'm not too keen on reading/seeing this, even if it's got a bigger-purpose message behind it, and alot of other good points. Then again, I loved Twilight, even though with vampires, there's killing involved...but at least the main vampires were purposely avoiding killing humans...

  4. I wonder if I should read Twilight! I saw the first couple movies but still haven't read the books... Ken read at least the first, I think, just to see what all the fuss is about, and he says I should read them, too, especially now after Hunger Games so I can compare them!

  5. haha...well, that's definitely a 'heady' reason to read Twilight! it's definitely not a 'heady' read though. Don't expect a great literary experience! but I still loved it, it's more like a Harry Potter read (not that I'm knocking HP, I love HP, it's just a 'easy' read, not too deep.) I loved the 'super-powers', it's like x-men...and I loved the love triangle thing. But it's certainly no commentary on the human condition or society. just fun. you should def read Twilight!