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 (www.suzannecollinsbooks.com).

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.

Advertisements

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Bibliographic Information: Collins, S. (2009). Catching Fire. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.  ISBN: 0439023491.  391 pages.

Spoiler alert: This review discloses the ending of The Hunger Games.

Plot Summary: In Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark return home to district eight and begin an obligatory Victory Tour throughout the districts.  Katniss is still uncomfortable with, but getting used to, being the center of attention with her stylists and interviews and public appearances.  Katniss and Peeta’s survival of the Hunger Games makes them heroes with many in the outer districts, but Katniss’s manipulation of the games to end up with two victors leaves the capitol angry, and perhaps even vengeful.  When President Snow visits Katniss’s home in Victory Village, he makes it clear that the only way to assuage the capitol’s fury is to make sure all the people of Panem believe that Katniss is desperately in love with Peeta, thus explaining her defiance.  But, Katniss’s relationship with Peter is more complicated than ever and her best friend, and potential love interest, Gail does not help matters, as he seems to be distancing himself from her more and more.  And there are rumors that Katniss and Peeta’s Hunger Games performance has sparked talk of rebellion in the districts.  She survived the Hunger Games, can she survive this next chapter of her life, filled with uncertainty and, just as in the games, the constant fear of punishment by the capitol.

Critical Evaluation: Catching Fire was a much-anticipated follow up to the New York Times Bestseller and hugely popular The Hunger Games.  Though Catching Fire contained many of the most compelling and inspiring characters of The Hunger Games, and it was an interesting story, it did not quite measure up in excitement and suspense to its predecessor; though it is still a worthy read.  Admittedly, it would have been a difficult task for Collins to write book two of the trilogy with the same level of energy and tension as the first.  Catching Fire satisfies the reader’s need to find out what happens next, as Katniss and Peeta return to District Eight and begin their lives as “victors.”  Catching Fire is by no means slow moving, though the pace is more subdued, in parts, than the pace of The Hunger Games, probably due to the fact that much of Catching Fire takes place outside of the arena.  Collins introduces, in Catching Fire, additional – and intriguing – plot twists, and readers’ understandings of the main characters deepen.  There is still plenty of action and adventure and excitement, and The Hunger Games fans will need to read Catching Fire, so that they can then go on to read the final book in the trilogy: Mockingjay.   Critics were mixed about Catching Fire, and, while it did receive many positive reviews, there were others less complimentary.  Also, Catching Fire’s list of honors is significantly shorter than The Hunger Games’, but they include: Time Magazine’s #4 top fiction book of 2009, People Magazine’s #8 Best Book of 2009, and Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Book of the Year for 2009.

Reader’s Annotation: When Katniss and Peeta return home after their Hunger Games victory, more awaits them than they expect.

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 (www.suzannecollinsbooks.com).

Catching Fire is the second in the Hunger Games trilogy, The Hunger Games is the first and the third is Mockingjay.

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:

  • How would you go about proving that you are passionately and deeply in love with someone when this is not true?

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.

Why is this book included? As a sequel to The Hunger Games, I had to read Catching Fire to find out what happened next.  I expect other readers of The Hunger Games will feel the same way, so the entire Hunger Games trilogy deserves a place in a quality young adult collection.