A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
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What's the story?
THE HUNGER GAMES is set In the future, after the United States is gone. In its place is Panem, in which the city of Capitol, somewhere in the Rockies, rules over 12 rebellious districts. To maintain an iron grip, the Capitol holds an annual televised reality show, a lethal form of Survivor to which each district must send one boy and one girl. Out of these 24 teens, only one will survive. Katniss, who volunteers to take her sister's place, and Peeta are District 12's competitors, but their competition is complicated by Peeta's announcement that he is in love with Katniss.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of the Hunger Games. Why has it struck such a chord with readers?
How is Katniss and Peeta's story manipulated by the Capitol media? How do they play along? Why is it sometimes essential for their survival? Are there any reality shows you watch that have moments that ring false to you? How can you tell?
Why are dystopian novels so popular? What are some of your favorites?
- Author: Suzanne Collins
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Activism, Magic and Fantasy, Sports and Martial Arts, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
- Publication date: September 14, 2008
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 374
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: May 29, 2020
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