I decided to review these books as a whole series, rather than individually. There’s problems inherent to doing the review this way (spoilers and hints, so I’ll try to be a bit veiled about it all), but I felt it was important to give a comprehensive review of the series overall. This is for two reasons – the first being that the series attracts many younger readers (I’ve seen kids as young as eleven buy the series) and there’s so much I think it’s important for these kids’ parents to know about what their kids are reading. The other, simpler reason is that these books can be inhaled in the space of a few days each (for me, a slow adult reader) and their moreish qualities mean you’re unlikely to just read one. You’ll finish the series, whether you like it or not.
The first book, The Hunger Games introduces us to our heroine, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss lives in a world ruled by a dictatorship (headed by President Snow in The Capitol), which has split the realm into twelve districts. Each district specializes in providing a good or service to The Capitol and its wealthy population, while the citizens of each district struggle to live. As a yearly reminder of the districts’ dependence on The Capitol there exists “The Hunger Games”. A boy and a girl from every district are thrown together in a huge arena (it could be a desert, a jungle, anything) and forced to kill one another. The last person standing wins the right to live, and a comfortable standard of living for themselves and their family.
Something about the books really reminded me of the Tomorrow When The War Began series – possibly something about young people and survival; really basic instincts mixed with all that comes with being a teenager. I think my enjoyment of the books came from whatever in me enjoyed the Tomorrow… books.
The murder thing is pretty full-on. Katniss is a reluctant participant in The Hunger Games, offering herself up only to spare her younger sister. So not only is there murder, but it’s less malicious than it is “kill-or-be-killed”. The deaths of “tributes” (district children involved in the games) are described in detail, and the gruesome nature of the deaths and the situations created by the gamemakers to torture the tributes is like something out of a nightmare. It’s really good reading, don’t get me wrong. I loved it, in an awful way. But eleven year-olds reading this kind of thing? Heavy.
Both Katniss and her district partner, Peeta, express their desire to stop being a piece in The Capitol’s games. Throughout the series this plants the seeds of a revolution, earning them very dangerous enemies in some camps and friends in others.
The second book (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) sends Katniss and Peeta back to the arena, and the shift in the tributes’ attitudes to killing one another make for some really interesting, often touching, reading. Of the three books, though, I felt like this second book was the least enjoyable. It was still good, but things certainly picked up again in book three.
Book three (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) is based entirely on the final show-down between The Capitol and the districts. This book was really quite troubling for me, with themes touching on murder, refugees, the loss of everything that accompanies war, sexual slavery, genetic modification, trauma… The list goes on.
The Hunger Games series is really tricky – it’s not an adults’ series, it’s not aimed at a regular adult fiction-reading audience. But it’s definitely not something for kids on that bridge between children’s older readers and young adult novels. I can’t stress enough the importance of the maturity warning on the third book. If you’ve got kids below, say, fifteen that are reading this book – read it first.
Interestingly, like a other successful YA book series, The Hunger Games has been released with multiple covers. While they haven’t been expressly marketed as “children’s” and “adults'” covers, one is definitely more acceptable for adults to be seen reading. A strange phenomenon, that…
Okay, the political stuff aside…
Like so many great addictive novels (arguably, every novel, but we’ll not get into that now), there’s a love triangle at the centre of the books. Katniss goes into the arena with Peeta, who makes it his business to keep her alive. Back home awaits Gale, her best friend and possible love interest. While reading this a friend asked me if I was “on Team Peeta or Team Gale?” – and I realized it’s the same love triangle we’ve seen in other grossly popular YA novels, eg Harry Potter (Hermione/Harry/Ron) and Twilight (Bella/Jacob/Edward). That’s not to detract from it at all – it’s great reading, and you’ll find yourself emotionally invested in both the boys, torn as to which Katniss should choose. And with the film coming out on the 23rd of March, the addition of some pretty attractive (is that ok? Are they too young to be attractive?) actors as Peeta and Gale, the Team Peeta/Team Gale question will get even harder to answer.
I did find the wrap-up of the series a bit lacking. In a way, Collins has depicted the effects of trauma really well, leaving Katniss scarred both physically and emotionally. However, it also feels like there’s a bit of a need for a “happy” ending after all the horrors of the books, and I didn’t feel comfortable with the ways a few situations were wrapped up. Actually, throughout the books a few things really displeased me as a reader, such as who died and how they went. My emotional reaction to deaths did prove one thing though – I’d become really invested in what happened to those characters. Perhaps Collins is trying to balance this bad (almost too real) stuff by giving readers some happy closure, but after all the shock and trauma it just doesn’t ring true. But really… A unsatisfying final few chapters after three whole books of Awesome isn’t too bad.
Just a quick note: don’t discount these as disposable crap because of their popularity. I have a habit of doing this, and I’m making a concerted effort to not be a book snob. The Hunger Games seems to be the next big thing post-Twilight, and there’s a reason for that. They’re good.
09/03/2012 at 1:24 pm
Nice review Sam. You do such a good job describing the basic set up of the Capitol and the districts which I always find so difficult to do succinctly! I’m surprised you thought the 2nd book was the weakest. I found the 3rd so much less engaging, maybe because I found the troubling elements you’ve mentioned so confronting. For me the whole concept of the Arena is so badass that I was just stoked she chucked Katniss and Peeta back in there in Catching Fire, even though the circumstances may have been a bit contrived. But yeah, love your review, can’t wait for the movies. Team Sexy Young Boys!
10/03/2012 at 5:24 am
Thanks, Ronnie! Yeah, I don’t mean the second book was super-weak, it didn’t totally let the series down or anything, but it was the least engaging for me… I think it’s about what you said, that it’s a bit contrived. Having said that though, it did have some really lovely moments (Mags walking into the fog… *tear*).
19/03/2012 at 12:28 pm
I really like this post Sam. Some of things you have touched on are so true about the killing and stuff, it’s so graphic. Way more then hp or twilight. Ah well if it gets kids reading right?! I think Collins could have easily written two more books but I reckon she only had a three book contract with the publishers. The third book was the most disappointing as it seemed to jump very quickly and have to skim over stuff. A great thriller book though, she sures know how to get you in. Every chapter is ended with something major so its so hard to put down. Looking forward to more reviews and book suggestions!
08/05/2012 at 1:46 am
Good job on a great review…
I’ve read the series myself and was just wondering how other people felt about it. I loved every minuet of reading it. But I had a conflicting feeling in the end…as I was reading the final chapter where there finally seemed to be some sort of happy ending I found myself still completely numb from reading all the previous chapters in the final book leaving the happy ending almost null and moot…I’ve contemplated re-reading the last couple of chapters since the numbness subsided but i have this feeling that possibly this was Colin’s intention…but I don’t know I will prolly go back and read it again…lol
08/05/2012 at 3:05 am
I like your theory about the effect in the final chapters being intentional. I’d like to give Collins the benefit of the doubt and think that it is intentional, but to me it felt like a really weak moment of panic about tying up all the loose ends of such an epic series… I do hope it was intentional though, that’d make me much happier 🙂
10/08/2012 at 10:44 pm
I just finished Mockingjay (the final book) and I am left feeling depressed and sad as if I am Katniss. The whole series is based in such an unrealistic world, but I still found myself obsessed and constantly thinking about what would happen, who would she chose to be with, etc. I agree with books needing to be considered for a more adult audience. I saw the first movie before I started reading the books. I did not like the movie because of the absurdity of the idea of having children fight for entertainment. I suppose in some realities in this world it is not so far fetched and tugs at the deeper fabrics that make up our inner beings. Now I am left with somewhat sad, scary and perplexing images. I am leaving this imaginary world and I the fake sadness will pass. I don’t think I will reread these books. Once is enough. I do like the poetry and songs! Touching mixed in with the death. I think it would have more of the sappy romance stuff at the end, but I guess Katniss wouldn’t have.
09/12/2012 at 10:27 am
So generous of you to share this !
08/01/2013 at 3:46 am
I was disappointed with the ending of the movie Hunger Games as the directors did not give the mention of Peeta calf wound on his calf and artificial leg below the knee which was critical leading into the next book. That is why he was so slow and noisier in the second book. The movie did stick to the book mostly until the ending. Wish they would have added an extra 20 to 30 min and got the ending better, if they plan on making a second movie. The books are also interesting to people older as myself. I just could not wait to continue reading when I stopped for a break ad I am not usually a book reader per say. The books show emotions and feelings that do not allways come out on the screen. Really enjoyed the series.
08/01/2013 at 8:49 am
Hi Alexander –
Thanks for your comment. I haven’t heard anything about a second film being made, but the first one was so successful, surely they’d be thinking about it…
It’ll be interesting to see how they handle Peeta’s injury being left out, if they do.
17/01/2013 at 7:42 am
They left off, in the film, that in the book the president in the Victors interview that he had the crown made to split into two crowns of which he placed on each victor. Crowning both victors. If they would have put this in it would have had a better effect. I have finished all three books and now wondering what I’ll read next. Have you read any of the other books?
08/07/2013 at 3:49 am
I know this is a bit of a necro-post, but I’ve just finished the series, and also feel this weird sort of let-down from the ending. (SPOILER ALERT)
It didn’t feel right for Katniss’ character, for this whole story to lead up to a romance. I figured she’d be with the new government, creating a better place for everyone to live in, for the sake of her sister (also, a little more focus on Prim would have been nice). I honestly didn’t expect her to “choose” anyone at all; I thought it made most sense for her to have no romance, no marriage, no children. She always seemed so above that to me. I feel like they took a really strong female character (not that a strong lead female /can’t/ have romance), and wizzled her away into a love story. I guess she deserved a break from it all, but after all the growth I saw from her, I expected more.
21/05/2016 at 5:52 pm
I was barely able to put this book down for a second after the first few pages got me completely hooked. Suzanne Collins narrative here has an immediacy to it that, when combined with the very dramatic life-or-death plot, is incredibly compelling. It’s entertaining, and incredibly disturbing all at once. If this was merely a good read, I would have given it 4 stars, but they say great art leaves you changed after you experience it… and this book definitely did that. Suzanne Collins has, with one amazing work, propelled herself onto my top shelf.
Parents, caveat emptor! The storyline is brutal. Even though the writing is geared for young adults, the main characters are teenagers, there’s very little physical romance, and the actual violence would probably count as PG-13 nowadays… it’s probably one of the most terrifying books I’ve read in a very long time! Right up there with George R.R. Martin, if not more so. Remember what we learned from Jaws: you don’t actually need to SEE the shark in order for it to be terrifying. Sometimes not seeing the shark is even worse.
The story is basically about a teenager who is forced to compete in a 24-man-enter-1-man-leaves event. I don’t want to spoil it by saying any more, but if you liked The Running Man, you’ll definitely like this. And if you’re young enough that you don’t remember The Running Man, nor did you get the Thunderdome reference, then I’m just way too old. But take an old fogey’s advice and read this book.
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