A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Beginning with elements of the Theseus myth, Collins mixes in a large dollop of Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, elements of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, reality TV shows Survivor, American Gladiators, and Project Runway, and an extrapolation of contemporary political and social trends. This will be a terrific discussion starter for middle-school literature groups, in which students will quickly make fruitful connections to our own society. Readers also learn a bit about how to survive in the wilderness.
Love of family and loyalty to friends. How compassion, humanity, bravery, and strength of character are the seeds of rebellion and hope for oppressed people. A reminder to beware of sensationalized media. This book shows the media at its manipulative worst, using contestants as pawns to both shock and entertain.
Positive Role Models
Katniss is a strong and capable warrior who bravely takes the place of her younger sister in the deadly competition. At first Katniss has no real political leanings. She just wants to survive and get home to her family so she can go back to providing for them. But her awareness grows during the games. The Capitol may be using her as a pawn and a symbol, but they don't own her spirit and can't crush it.
Violence & Scariness
For a story about 24 teens forced to kill each other, the gore level is lower than expected -- but there is some. Teens are speared, shot with arrows, stabbed, mauled by wild animals, burned, and have their heads smashed and their necks broken. Injuries are realistic, including burn blistering, blood poisoning, and gangrene with plenty of pus. A boy's face is mauled to the point that Katniss describes it as a "hunk of meat where his mouth was" and someone twitches to death from bad insect stings. Mention that a leg had to be amputated. There's talk of past games and what happened with the story of one boy trying to eat the bodies of those he killed. There's also talk of the oppression experienced by those who don't live in the Capitol, with rampant starvation, tongues cut out, public whippings for people trying to eat the food that they grow, and a boy shot for taking a pair of glasses. There are also many mentions of how Katniss' father died in a mining explosion and how her family almost starved afterward.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults drink, and one is a falling-down drunk. Katniss, age 16, tries wine, doesn't like the fuzzy feeling it gives her, and switches back to water.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Hunger Games is a story about a reality show where 24 teens must kill one another until only one survives. The main Hunger Games series of three books was adapted into four movies starring Jennifer Lawrence. Your kid's readiness for this kind of shocking premise depends on their ability to read for a deeper meaning, and there are many layers here to discuss, including how compassion, humanity, bravery, and strength of character are the seeds of rebellion and hope for oppressed people. The main character, Katniss, begins to realize how important maintaining her own humanity is as she's used as a pawn by the Capitol both in the arena and by a manipulative media machine. Even though many teen characters die -- by spear, rock, arrow, knife, fire, animal stings, poisoning, and more -- there are few truly gory moments. Perhaps the worst is when a boy's face is mauled by animals to the point that Katniss says there is a "hunk of meat where his mouth was." There are stories about the daily hardships and violence experienced by everyone outside the Capitol, including how Katniss' father died in a mining explosion. The other mature content is fairly mild by comparison. One adult is an alcoholic and constantly drinking.
Is It Any Good?
For her first young-adult novel, Suzanne Collins has mixed together elements both classical and modern to produce a story that, if not entirely new, nevertheless bears her unique imprint. Beginning with elements of the Theseus myth, she mixes in a large dollop of Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, elements of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, reality TV shows Survivor, American Gladiators, and Project Runway, and an extrapolation of current political and social trends. But she makes it her own, and The Hunger Games avoids feeling derivative through her complex and poignant characterizations of both major and secondary characters, and the bewildering interplay of personal feelings and political machinations.
Collins does all this in the context of an all-out action-thriller told in straight-ahead yet subtle prose with a carefully calibrated level of edgy violence that never goes over the line. A story of teens massacring one another could, in the hands of a different author, have been sensationalistic and even sick but, by keeping the focus relentlessly on the personal, Collins makes it both moving and thought-provoking. This will be a terrific discussion starter for middle-school literature groups, in which students will quickly make fruitful connections to our own society. Her novel Gregor the Overlander series is brilliant. With this second series, Collins shows that she's a major voice in children's and young adult literature.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.