The Hunger Games, Book 1

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Hunger Games, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Exciting, provocative tale of lethal reality show.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 208 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 949 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

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.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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.

Sex

Some kissing.

Language
Consumerism
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.

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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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bycanadianteacher March 12, 2012

My two cents.

I'm going to write this from an educators point of view, but not as a parents. I am by no means the kind of teacher that tries to push boundaries in school... Continue reading
Parent of a 6 and 9-year-old Written byAndy and Lynne March 23, 2012

Not for children, no matter their reading ability!

I have read the entire series and it is a well written thought provoking work. My husband and I spent a week talking it through and digesting all that Collins... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old February 23, 2012

Not as inappropriate as you might think: Please read!

Although the premise of the book (teens killing teens) may cause some parents to turn their noses and shields their tween's eyes, the Hunger Games is not b... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old March 21, 2010

FABULOUS! my fave read

well. WARNING: side effects of reading this book may include: skipping meals and sleep to read it, having socks blown off in awesomeness, and reccomending the b... Continue reading

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? 

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