As an adult, I was obsessed with this series, which my 11 year old read and insisted I read, too. It is riveting and extremely thought-provoking and intelligent!
As for age appropriateness, it is definitely very violent and grim. My daughter is more scared than average for movie watching, but was not affected by these books.
I think this is up there with some of the classic dystopian novels I remember reading long ago when i was in 7th grade... Brave New World, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies.
What is wonderful about it? Aside from being a really good story you can't put down... I am THRILLED to have a female hero who is really not at all focused on romance, though the reader is wondering throughout the trilogy if she will end up with Gale or Peeta. But Katniss "knows" early on that she doesn't want to marry, and she spends zero time mooning over boys. It is the boys who are interested in her!
The references to Roman times add to the depth of the novel. I found myself thining about places like North Korea today -- this novel made me realize how incredibly difficult it is for a people to throw off a powerful, totalitarian government.
It also portrays realistic responses to humans exposed to torture and war... they all have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What's neat is we meet Haymitch and initially see him as a drunk and are judgemental of him... Once we are initiated to the Games, we realize he is suffering the inevitable consequences of having survived them.
I found Katniss' decision to assassinate Coin to also be extremely surprising and brilliant and made me really think! Katniss was right, but I would not have been as smart as her. And one can have great discussions about: can one person be judge, jury and executioner? What if the person they are killing will otherwise become an evil dictator who kills children?
While my 11 year old read and loved it, I think this book is better for teens and adults who want to intellectualize away!
And unlike some other reviewers who were disappointed, please re-read Katniss' explanation of why she NEEDS Peeta and not Gale in the end.. Gale represents anger... the anger necessary for a successful revolution Peeta represents hope and rebirth, which is necessary for survival and carrying forward.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Great role models