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Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I did it. A 4-day marathon to finish the Hunger Games trilogy.

Picture a bloody video game of violent death after violent death, only one in which you are interested in the lives and development of many of the characters.

This is the modern version of a Roman coliseum, and in case you don’t know… (I assume nothing in a culture that believes Dan Brown conducted meticulous research), the Romans also constructed elaborate and diverse scenes for their coliseum “games” where non-Romans fought to the death and Christians were slaughtered for sport.

This future time features a North American world where the Capitol exercises its control over the districts (different regions of the former U.S.) by keeping them near-starvation, and subjecting their children to a lottery in which the chosen, two per district, must fight in an elaborate annual (Coliseum) game where the victor emerges by killing the rest. These Games are the punishment for descendants of those who originally rebelled against the Capitol.

It is a bleak and stark view of human nature, warfare, and man’s inhumanity to man. The main character, Katniss, gets caught up in it when she volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the Games.

The story is both gripping and emotionally exhausting with its unrelenting violence.

Katniss “wins” the Hunger Game but defies the Capitol by forcing them to allow her fellow competitor, friend, and loving admirer, Peeta, to “win” as well. This earns them both a twisted attention from the bread-and circus crowd at the capitol. Her defiance is punished by an announcement of the 25-yr. “Special” Hunger Games … where all the old “winners” must play again.

Meanwhile, a rebel force has been building, and Katniss becomes, by virtue of circumstance rather than conviction, a symbol of the rebellion known as “Mockingjay.”
Turns out, the rebel’s President is not much better, morally-speaking, than the Capitol President she seeks to dispose, and this moral conundrum is addressed by Katniss when she realizes this and takes out the President of the rebel force.

There are three things to consider when evaluating the reading potential for your tween: consistent blood and violence are a major theme. You’ll get to vicariously visit the Coliseums. That disturbs me as do the proliferation of modern violent video games.

Two other things make this a reading experience one that I would consider for adults/mature teens with parental guidance. First, one of the peacekeepers in Kat’s village/district uses his position to lure starving young women to vie with one another to sleep with him. He also turns out to be a kind-hearted Peacekeeper, relatively speaking.

Second, the character, Finnick, is a winner of one of the Games. He is then sold out as a sex-slave to the highest bidders in the Capitol, one after another. This fate would have likely awaited Kat as well. During the rebellion, Finnick broadcasts secrets about the upper echelons in the Capitol. They aren’t detailed, but the betrayal, incest, and ugliness alluded to are a heavy load.

Kat is Catholic and never realizes it. There is no overt religion here, other than a defiance of the Capitol by Kat when she lines a victim’s body with flowers.

But, Catholic parents, what makes Kat sympathetic and appealing is that her thinking, which is undeveloped in the book, is grounded in Catholic theology. And you can take the hint and develop it to teach your children the hope that answers evil: God’s grace and salvation.
She defended the weak.

She understood “something” made it wrong to kill. (As in…humans are made in the image of God.)

Kat understood that while self-defense and defense of one’s home may be necessary, there were limits. (The Church’s Just War Theory.)

It was, of course, the growing influence of Christianity that ended the Roman games. That doesn't happen here. The stories are a good reminder of the necessity of the gospel and the fullness of the Catholic Faith in order to hope to understand the redemptive power of suffering and the answer to evil. Your child will need your help here; the book only reflects this.

Kat's experience of love with Peeta was a beautiful story of self-sacrifice and love's healing power. It kept me reading to the end. Even Kat, scarred by a difficult childhood, learned through this love to hope, a fulfillment found in having children.

She ultimately chooses the love of Peeta over Gale, though her interest in Gale came first. Gale helped turn her away by doing things like developing a weapon that targeted unsuspecting bystanders, something that he felt justified doing in his hate for the Capitol. This is a direct violation of Catholic teaching as well.

I’d be cautious about this book except for mature tweens with parental guidance: relentless violence, mature sexual themes ensure it is NOT for the sensitive.

SAFETY RATING: 1 Vatican Flag

See Catechism of the Catholic Church: Earthly Peace: 2305; Just War Theory:2309


Anonymous,  September 11, 2010 at 9:59 AM  

I've read all of the three of the books in this trilogy recently, as well. My 12 year old daughter would like to read along, but I'm waiting until she is older to read them along with her and discuss them with her.
I think that the books are an amazing commentary on the media and it's negative influence in our society, as well as many more issues. Ultimately, Katniss learns that love is what brings us hope in a desperate situation. Though religion isn't touched on explicitly in the books, there are definite Christian overtones to the themes of love and sacrifice. I think that the commentary on war and violence is very insightful, as well.
If you'd like to read more insight/analysis of this trilogy, I highly recommend the many posts at The main author at this blog (John Granger) is an Orthodox Christian father of 7 children and I always find his analysis full of insight.
Thanks again for your reviews. Our family has read many of the books you've recommended.


Tween Lit Crit September 11, 2010 at 12:09 PM  

Oh, Thank you, Tabitha. I would indeed like to read more analysis of this book. I think the media comment you made is crucial, and that was a prominent theme in the book that I didn't even mention.
The love and the families and the loyalty of the communities were a big topic of discussion for us as well.
There is a lot to be extracted. My 15 yr. old and I had some interesting discussions on what Christ said about peace and the just war theory after reading this. That was just the tip of the iceberg of what we could have explored.
thanks again...

Tween Lit Crit September 11, 2010 at 7:13 PM  

Thank you. I am glad you prodded me to think a bit more about the book. I revised my ending when I realized that my negativity toward our present culture was influencing my take on the book. It creeps me out when a reality-show loving, abortion-accepting, euthansia-debating society finds coliseum game books fascinating... But that not the book's fault...

Anonymous,  September 17, 2010 at 1:17 PM  

It is creepy. But I think this kind of vehicle can really bring a lot of good discussion with an older teen. I'm thinking 14 or 15 to read this series. What do you think?

I just finished up reading the Shadow Children series with my almost 12 year old. They are a dystopian series by Margaret Peterson Haddix and we really enjoyed them. They have some similarities to the Hunger Games, though they are not as "raw" or violent. The premise is that North America went through famines, so to save food 3rd children were outlawed. I was interested in how this would be handled, but it was handled well. The 6th book has overtly Christian overtones. All of them speak of the dignity of life.


Tween Lit Crit September 18, 2010 at 5:59 PM  

I think you're spot on, Tabitha. I read it with my 15 yr. old. AND we discussed the way the love Kat discovered helped her overcome her past. Another spot-on comment of yours. We also discussed how Hollywood often creates romantic love and its attached feelings as the ultimate goal instead of the end goal being the Eternal Love it points to.

I'm not letting my younger tweens read it yet.

I found a good review of the Shadow Children series by an author I trust, so my oldest tween read them all and is insisting I read at least the first. She liked the series a lot!

Karen E. September 19, 2010 at 8:39 AM  


Thanks for your terrific and thoughtful review. I have also read all three books with my two oldest daughters and they have been the fodder for a lot of valuable discussion. We love this trilogy.

Like you, I think the books warrant caution and guided exploration. If kids read these without guidance and discussion, or dwell on the action and violence (or visit Scholastic's site where they can play "Tribute games" -- ugh) then the horror of the books is lost.

We had some interesting discussion on my blog after I finished Mockingjay. My Hunger Games posts are all here, if you have any interest in joining in. I also agree with Tabitha that the Hogwarts professor is lots of fun to read.

Thanks for your site -- it's terrific!

Tween Lit Crit September 22, 2010 at 3:12 PM  

I would love to check out this discussion (and the one at Hogwarts site). And I will shortly. Right after some recovery time. I spent the last few days away from home making my first profession (nope; I'm not a nun... Holy Family Institute). And I tell you that three days of prayer is what it took to fortify me to come home and commend everyone for keeping it all together so well... said without sarcasm... instead of screaming... How the heck does anything short of an army accumulate this much laundry in 3 days... be joining you soon, and thank you for the invite/comments...

Anonymous,  January 7, 2011 at 11:33 AM  


First off, I would like to state that I enjoyed the majority of your review. And found it useful for myself, a teen, when looking back on the novels after having read them myself. The only qualm I have with the way in which you chose to represent this novel is how you chose to super-impose a deeper religious meaning onto a story that is meant to critique the secular elements of society over anything else.

Furthermore, I find that statemets such as "creeps me out when a reality-show loving, abortion-accepting, euthansia-debating society" demolish any credibilty you may have had in the rest of your review, as it clearly demonstrates your close-minded view of anything outside your faith. I find this particularly disturbing as an atheist looking into a religious culture that condemns literature based upon "blatant bias, slanted historical references, or other failures" while using the exact same methods to push your own point upon others. (Also, the attempted debasement of a thouroughly entertaining novel by Mr. Brown was a comical moment for me personally.)

All personal theologies aside, I disagree with your assessment that these novels are not appropriate for younger teens to read on their own. I hold this view because, in simplest terms, these books do not display overt violence as you portray them too, and would be easily appropriate for a child of any age who is capable of taking a mature view on the things they experience, and who has not been completely sheltered from the world for the majority of their lives (whether indoctrination or otherwise). In addition, I believe that a child or "tween" must be allowed to read this trilogy free of guidance so as to be able to form their own opinions on the events that it contains so as to be able to develop their own sense of morality apart from your own (if that is indeed a goal for you as parents).

What I really want to get across here is- if you chose to condemn something based upon what you called "biased views", or limit readership based upon your own delicate sensibilites, that you do not use your own biased views to affect others, and do not cripple future generations as they try to form their own sense of individuality and morality within the world.

A concerned high school patron,
Colin Baker.

Tween Lit Crit January 7, 2011 at 10:51 PM  

Thank-you for your provocative comments. Please consider my reply...

Your derogatory statement, "…clearly demonstrate close-minded view of anything outside your faith"? implies I am close-minded. I respectfully disagree. Although I might be “close minded," offering a critique of the culture does not "clearly" show this.

(and it did not appear in my review, as you stated, but in my comments)

One thing we do agree upon is the entertaining quality of the Hunger Games. My review was not an attempted "debasement." Rather, it was a review for the discerning Catholic parent. An abortion-accepting, porn-immersed, violent culture like ours… a culture of death, as our late Pope appropriately described it, does creep me out. And, indeed, it is not so far removed from the violence of the fictional world of Kat’s. Debate this intelligently. Remarks about people’s religion are not a sign of intelligent debate. They are a sign of dismissing people’s ideas as unworthy to join in the public forum unless they think like yourself… kind of reminiscent of themes Suzanne Collins brings up. Those with power write the rules.. hmmm?

Your third paragraph is the one I find most agreeable. In fact I whole heartedly agree that teenagers are, "able to form their own opinions on the events that it contains so as to be able to develop their own sense of morality apart from your own".

I would infer that you are arguing against indoctrination; if this is true then we are more similar in our thinking than you may realize. One of the greatest attributes of the Catholic faith is the incorporation of both reason and revelation.
Indoctrination--at least in the pejorative sense--is contrary to human reason and for this reason has no place in the formation of a truly Catholic morality.

We agree that children should not be indoctrinated. My blog assumes that people can and should think for themselves. We both think people should arrive at important morals and truths.

Do you mean to say that atheists believe moral conclusions or lack thereof are most accessible to young, inexperienced tweens without any guidance whatsoever? Or do you think you are competent to say which authors should be shaping their world views unhindered? Surely, a respondent as literate as yourself, does not believe a piece of writing teaches nothing but what the reader takes to it, and the more inexperienced the reader, the more reliable, or reliable enough, their conclusions? That's what you seem to suggest.

An “atheistic” world view is no more free from critique than mine. Your moral imperative is not more valid because you advocate that there is no God.

As the themes of redemption, justice, and love that Collins writes of clearly resonate with you, you may benefit from reading some of the works of the great scholars and saints of the Catholic tradition.

Anonymous,  March 16, 2012 at 9:17 PM  

Chiming in a bit late...

Colin, I find your last two paragraphs so very amusing. Tween Lit Crit has completely fulfilled the stated purpose of her blog in this review - a purpose which obviously eludes your understanding.

Are you a parent keeping watch over your children? Do you have children who develop at different stages and have different sensitivities and mental abilities? Um, no, you are not responsible for the souls of your children -- yet.


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