I realize that there are many angles from which to critique this book series (and movie), and here is mine:
Miss T’s Review of The Hunger Games
I use a three-point system to evaluate the stories I read. The first point is a consideration of the themes in the story. A theme is an overarching concept that is being emphasized in the story and always supports the story’s main message. Secondly, I reflect on what happens to me as I read the story. Am I immediately able to identify with the protagonist, even to the point where I become the protagonist? Finally, I consider the impact the story may have on my students. As I listen to their reactions or imagine how they might respond to the story, I reflect on how it will influence or build their character.
The new literary and cinematic rage this spring is Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy. Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, lives in what was once the United States of America. Now it has been divided into thirteen districts, one has been wiped out by a nuclear bomb, controlled by a government in the Capitol. Every year the Capitol hosts the Hunger Games in which twenty-four contestants, two teenagers from the remaining twelve districts, fight to the death. There will be only one survivor. These games are designed to squelch any hint of rebellion by reminding the districts that the Capitol controls every aspect of their lives. Our story opens on the morning of the reaping for the 74th annual Hunger Games and Katniss is about to make a decision that will cost her everything she has.
While there are many minor themes in this series, I identified three sets of major themes. One clear theme set is standing in the gap and leadership. There are several occasions when the protagonists encounter crises and they choose to stand in the gap because no one else will, and in the process they prove to be the leaders their people need. The first theme dovetails with the theme set of heroism and sacrifice. The protagonists do not intend to be heroes but by being willing to sacrifice everything they are and have, they become heroes worthy of respect and loyalty. Katniss and her supporting protagonists remain dedicated to their convictions, even when those convictions threaten the Capitol; and when the Capitol feels threatened, someone is going to die.
The final major theme set I noted was that of identity and relationships. In the beginning of the story we see Katniss content in her identity as Prim’s older sister and provider of their little family following their father’s death. As the adventure unfolds, Katniss forges new relationships with various characters and in doing so she establishes her identity as an individual willing to defend her people and define her convictions. This doesn’t mean that she always knows what she is going to do and she often voices her confusion and insecurities; yet the challenges she faces reveal a hidden core of strength within her and her identity is sealed when she is willing to embrace that strength and face her fears.
A solid story draws me in almost as soon as I open the cover and turn the first page. I enter the story as the protagonist and unconsciously anticipate the decisions the character must make as each crisis arises. In a good story I agree with the protagonist most of the time, and this was the case with Katniss. Her fears rose in my heart; her insecurities weakened my knees; her pain took my breath away; and her courage rallied my spirit. The darkness, grief, and determination to live and guard what’s still good in life became my own experience.
Adolescent readers need shock and awe at this stage of life. They long for extreme sensory experiences that force them to think about what they would do in those situations. Thrill is their sustenance and they thrive on suspense. The Hunger Games trilogy has it all; the thrill, suspense, sensory shock and awe, as well as the values of friendship, love, loyalty, courage, and the willingness to change the world, that every teen treasures most. This trilogy reminds them of what they value and who they respect. If every teen strove to be like Katniss, Peeta, Prim, or even Gale in his better moments, the world would be a better place.
In summary, The Hunger Games trilogy is not for the faint of heart. It is extremely gruesome in many places, with occasional harsh language. Violence is not being condoned, but it is central to the story. The books are not recommended for elementary students; middle school readers should have a trusted adult willing to read the books with them and talk through the disturbing sections. The movie was neatly done, with much less gore than the books; some scenes were rearranged or eliminated in order to condense the story. The movie is based on the first book of the trilogy.
We are coming to a point in history when we may be the ones called to the front. Are you willing to stand in the gap?