Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Hunger Games

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Hunger Gamestrilogy of books. Thank goodness for recent snow days as I was able to complete the entire edge-of-your-seat series in about a weeks time. Author Suzanne Collins takes her readers on a thrill-ride adventure full of twists, emotions, and thought-provoking themes: war, politics, reality television, fashion, celebrity-ism, family, sacrifice, love, violence, and survival. Although, it is a dystopian story that takes place in the future, after the United States had destroyed itself, it is also a story that is relevant to the present and continues the ideas of the Fall and the breaking world in which we live. It lets you see how much control  a corrupt government can wield over a complacent citizenry. The country that replaces the United States in this series is called Panem, referring to "Panem et Circenses" which translates into "bread and games"...

...the writer was saying that in return for full bellies and entertainment, his people have given up their political responsibilities, and therefore their power."  from Mockingjay

The author plays around with the notion of what it takes to survive in such a place that is both distant and futuristic, as well as familiar and historical, think of ancient Rome and the United States today. It is a trilogy that makes you think and reflect as well as a series that keeps you turning the pages (or clicking the Kindle buttons like I did) in anticipation of what happens next.

The first book The Hunger Games introduces the chief protagonist Katniss Everdeen who volunteers to replace her younger sister Prim in the Hunger Games of the title. The Hunger Games are an annual televised "Survivor" type  game run by the government where 24 children are selected through a lottery to fight to the death. There can only be one winner. We also meet two boys who become romantically linked throughout the series to Katniss: Gale, Katniss's best friend and hunting companion, and kind Peeta, who is also "chosen" to compete in the hunger games. An unusual ending concludes the book.

The second book Catching Fire returns Katniss to the Hunger Games (but a special anniversary games-where former game champions must meet and kill each other). Again it is a fight to the death with another unusual ending (no secrets given out here).

The third book, Mockingjay places the characters in a new type of "game" this time not set up by the government, but rather against the government. The violence is upped and beloved characters are lost (due to death or other circumstances). In the end, it is hard to imagine if Katniss will actually achieve her one wish: to kill the governmental leader, President Snow. Again, the ending is a surprise and we also find out with whom a "damaged" Katniss falls in love.

As a fifth grade teacher, I wouldn't really recommend the  story to my students. There may be a few fifth graders up to the challenging ideas presented in the trilogy of books, but I do think these are books that they should definitely choose to read as they get older and are able to handle and understand the themes and challenges presented with more clarity. I would recommend the books to any adult who loves to read a good story. At no time did I think the story was silly, juvenile, or contrived, but instead they thoroughly captured my imagination. Due to the severe conditions placed on children throughout the books, there is little "hope" offered to readers beyond the "kill or be killed" nature of the series. However, the books are a reminder to not damage our children with our "Panem et Circenes" world of entertainment and governmental policies. There is a epilogue at the end of the book and all that I will say is that the author makes it clear that "children" are our hope. And I can't wait for the movie!