The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Bibliographic Information: Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.  ISBN: 0439023483.  384 pages.

Plot Summary: Reality TV.  A competition.  A game.  Contestants fight for scarce resources, form alliances and betray each other, suffer harsh physical environments, confront situational challenges created by the people running the game.  But this is no ordinary reality TV show.  The stakes are much higher.  Win and you’re set for a life of comfort and wanting nothing.  Lose and you’re dead.  And so go the Hunger Games, which take place in the future in a country called Panem, a ruined land that was once North America.  “The Capital” of Panem is a place of excess and great power, as compared to the 12 districts, poor, isolated, and remote, under its control.  It is from these districts that the 24 contestants of the Hunger Games are randomly chosen, one boy and one girl from each district, chosen from all children ages 12 to 18.  When her beloved little sister, Prim’s, name is pulled out of the glass ball for district 12, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her place.  Volunteering is unusual, but not against the rules, so Katniss and her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark, a boy she knows from the town, are off to the capital to prepare for and participate in the games.  There can only be one winner.  How will Katniss play the game?  Will she make it out alive?

Critical Evaluation: The Hunger Games is at once gripping and disturbing, compelling and stark.  Collins manages to bring humanity to inhumane circumstances.  Relationships within the Hunger Games are naturally fraught with mistrust and uncertainty; Collins skillfully presents the complexities of these situations.  The book raises questions about what price is worth paying for survival and what price is worth paying for someone you love.  Collins has created in Katniss, a character with an unusual amount of depth and complexity, leaving readers relating to and empathizing with her one moment and wondering what she could possibly be thinking the next, but always, right there with her.  The book also presents a bleak look into a possible dystopian political, social and environmental future.  With ever-unfolding drama and danger, this is a book most readers will not be able to put down.  Not for the faint of heart, due to its weighty – and brutal – subject matter, The Hunger Games is crammed with topics for thought-provoking class or book club discussions.

Reader’s Annotation: When her beloved little sister, Prim, is chosen, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take Prim’s place in The Hunger Games.  The Games, run by the government, are a brutal competition, broadcast live throughout the country, where the winner of 24 contestants is the only one who comes out alive.

Information about the Author: Suzanne Collins started her writing career in children’s television.  She wrote for several children’s and preschool TV programs and then wrote the first book of a five book series called The Underland ChroniclesThe Underland Chronicles is described as a “fantasy/war series” on Collins’ website (

The Hunger Games is the first of a trilogy and was published in 2008; the second book is Catching Fire and the third is Mockingjay.  The Hunger Games have won Collins great acclaim, selected honors include: YALSA 2009 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2008 Publishers Weekly‘s Best Books of the Year, 2008 The New York Times Notable Children’s Book, School Library Journal‘s Best Books of 2008.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy

Subgenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Survival

Topics Covered: Poverty, Discrimination, Reality TV, Abuse of power, Hunger, Friendship, Love

Curriculum Ties: Social Science, Political Science, Environmental Science, Philosophy, Television Culture

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Imagine yourself in the Hunger Games: Paint a picture for listeners, using Collins’ words, of the scene and the challenge.  Ask, “what would you do?”

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-19 to Adult

Challenge Issues: The issue most likely to be challenged is violence, as the book contains many and varied acts of violence, but the violence is not gratuitous, it is a integral part of the plot.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.  Additionally, The Hunger Games has received many honors, some are detailed above in “Information about the Author.”

Why is this book included? A young adult collection without The Hunger Games would by incomplete.  The Hunger Games is well-written, compelling and exciting, but there is more to it than that.  The Hunger Games has the potential to make its readers think and grapple and even debate with highly significant philosophical, ethical, political and societal issues.  There is a lot of substance packed into this one book.