The Hunger Games Book Review

The First Book in the Hunger Games Trilogy

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - book cover
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic Press

In The Hunger Games, author Suzanne Collins has created a fascinating dystopian world. The Hunger Games is a compelling novel focusing on life in an authoritarian society in which young people must compete to the death in the annual Hunger Games. The main character, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, volunteers for the Hunger Games to keep her younger sister from being required to participate and her experiences and fight to survive are the heart of the book.

Reading The Hunger Games can lead to interesting discussions about our own world and how reality shows, threats of war, authoritarian governments and obsession with fashion trends influence us daily. Due to the darkness of the story, it is best suited for teens and adults rather than tweens, although many younger kids have read the book or seen the movie or both.

Panem: the World of the Hunger Games Trilogy

While the creation of Panem is not fully fleshed out until the second book, we know that this authoritarian society was the result of a horrible disaster during the Dark Days, resulting in the establishment of twelve districts under the rule of the government in the Capitol. Peacekeepers and a local government are instituted in each district, but the rulers in the Capitol have strict control over everything and everyone in each district.

Each district has its own specialty that benefits the Capitol, such as coal mining, agriculture, seafood, etc. Some districts provide the Capitol with energy or material goods and some provide the manpower to keep those in the Capitol in power. The people who live in the Capitol contribute little to their own sustenance and are concerned mainly with the latest fashions and amusements.

The Hunger Games are an annual tradition directed by the Capitol rulers, not only to amuse the citizens but also to preserve control over the districts by demonstrating the Capitol's dominance. Each year, the twelve districts must send two representatives, a girl and a boy, to participate in the Hunger Games. These representatives are called “tributes” to make people believe that representing their district is an honor, even though each person lives in fear that someone they love will be chosen. And the entire nation must watch as these 24 tributes battle each other to the death until only one is left as the victor.

Having a victor is important to a district — extra food and a few luxuries will be granted to the winner's district. The government has created the ultimate reality show, complete with technological challenges and constant monitoring of the movements of the participants. Each citizen is required to watch the Games until their conclusion, which may take hours or days.

Summary of the Story

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen has been providing for her family since her father’s death in a mining accident. She has done this by illegally hunting beyond the boundaries of District 12 and using the game she kills for food or for barter. Through her skill with a bow and her ability to track and snare rabbits and squirrels, her family has been able to survive.

They have also survived because Katniss signs up for the tessera, a ration of grain that is given in exchange for placing your name in the lottery for the reaping, the ceremony that determines who will be the district’s representative in the Games. Everyone’s name goes in the lottery from the time they reach the age of 12 until they turn 18. Each time Katniss exchanges her name for the tessera, her chances of being the one whose name is called increase. Only it isn’t her name that is called -- it is her sister’s.

Prim Everdeen is the one person that Katniss loves above all others. She is only 12, quiet, loving and on her way to being a healer. She would not be able to survive the reaping and Katniss knows this. When Prim’s name is called, Katniss immediately volunteers to take her place as a tribute from District 12 to the Hunger Games.

Katniss knows that it is not only her own life on the line in the games, but that others will benefit as well if she is the victor and her skills as a hunter will give her an edge in the Games. But her life as a tribute becomes more complicated by the other tribute from District 12. Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, is a boy that Katniss owes a favor because of a kindness that he showed her when she was most desperate and her family’s survival was at stake. And Katniss knows that now her survival will mean his death.

Katniss is whisked away from her family and Gale, her best friend and hunting partner, to the Capitol, where she is prepped and primped to participate in the Games. She and Peeta are to be mentored by Haymitch, the only tribute that District 12 has had who was a winner of the Games. But Haymitch is a reluctant and seemingly inadequate mentor, so Katniss realizes she must rely on her own strengths in order to survive.

As the first book of the trilogy, The Hunger Games is compelling reading and makes the reader want to read the next book immediately to find out what happens to Katniss and Peeta. Katniss is a strong character who solves her own problems and takes charge of her own life. Her struggles with her divided affections between two boys are realistically portrayed but not overwrought. And her tendency to inadvertently create problems can spark many conversations about whether she was right or wrong and whether she stayed true to who she is. Katniss is a character that readers will not soon forget.

About the Author, Suzanne Collins

With the Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins, award-winning author of the Underland Chronicles, brings her talents to a new trilogy aimed at a more mature audience than her books about Gregor, the Overlander. Collins was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010, an honor that was based on the popularity of the first two books in the Hunger Games trilogy. In its popularity and impact, the trilogy has been compared to other popular fantasy novels for young people, such as the Twilight series and the Harry Potter series. Collins’ experience as a television writer enables her to create stories that appeal to tweens and teens. Suzanne Collins also wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptations of The Hunger Games.

Review and Recommendation

The Hunger Games will appeal to teens, ages 13 and up. The 384-page book contains violence and strong emotions so younger tweens may find it disturbing. The writing is excellent and the plot propels the reader through the book at a rapid rate. This book has been chosen by Kansas State University to be given to all of the incoming freshmen to read so that they will all be able to discuss it throughout the campus and in their classes. It has also become assigned reading in many high schools. The book is rich in discussion points not only about governments, personal freedom, and sacrifice but also about what it means to be yourself and not submit to society’s expectations. For information on challenges to the book, see The Hunger Games Trilogy. (Scholastic Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780439023481)

Edited March 5, 2016 by Elizabeth Kennedy

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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