Book: The Hunger Games
Reviewed by Callie Gaskins
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 74th annual Hunger Games. May the odds be ever in your favor!” With those fateful words uttered by Hunger Games announcer Claudius Templesmith, the characters Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark’s lives are forever altered. Not only their lives, but the life of author Suzanne Collins as well. Before this hit series was even a thought in the back of her mind, Collins passed time writing for children’s shows such as “Clifford’s Puppy Days.” Did she ever expect that her trilogy of books, “The Hunger Games,” would gain such worldwide popularity? I expect she didn’t, but if you are one of the millions of avid Hunger Games fans, you will understand why these books are so widely read. The plot is tight and the action is unstoppable. The characters are so well formed you identify with them all, even the ones who really are hateful. The heroine, Katniss, is a young woman of strength, self -sacrifice and courage that is hard to imagine in our culture.
The Hunger Games takes place in the twelfth district of a “post apocalyptic North America,” otherwise known as the country of Panem. Readers believe this district to be located in Appalachia. Coal miner’s daughter Katniss Everdeen led a “good” life until her father was blown to bits in a freak explosion, and her mother went into a deep depression. In hopes of keeping her sister Primrose and herself from starvation and out of the government run children’s home, Katniss takes up breaking the most enforced law of Panem: leaving your district to hunt. Katniss spends days out hunting with her friend, a boy just a few years her senior, Gale Hawthorne. They are skilled hunters who are feed their families and earn enough money to keep them alive.
One day, all life as Katniss knew it changed. Reaping Day was the sort of holiday where you pretend that you’re overjoyed that the day has finally come, but really on the inside your heart is crying out in pain, wanting it to be over. This is the day annually when the districts are punished for a previous attempt at revolt against the all-powerful Capital. Each district must select one boy and one girl to battle representatives from the other eleven districts in a gladiatorial fight to the death. The entire country is forced to watch their young children die brutal deaths. These Hunger Games are pure entertainment for the indulgent, wealthy, naïve members of the Capital district. They think it’s great sport to watch these children wage war – almost the same way we enjoy the Olympics. The year of the 74th games was the year that the Everdeen and Mellark families were chosen to offer their children to the Hunger Games.
“Primrose Everdeen! Come on up here sweetheart!” Katniss thought she was hearing things. But then when she saw her little sister slowly making her way towards the stage, she knew she hadn’t. Katniss jumped to her feet to take her sister’s place. “I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute.”
Katniss sacrificed herself to spare her sister, and it was such a simple decision, but it changed the course of her life. She knew that she would probably be killed. If you had the chance to do this for someone you love, would you have the courage? I’m almost positive that I wouldn’t. The Hunger Games is filled with instances where Katniss decides to sacrifice herself for others. Her friend Peeta is also sent to the Games and he is determined to give himself up so Katniss can win. In a surprising turn of events, the two manage to both survive the brutal experience and emerge as victors together. But their victory comes at great cost. Katniss’ goal was to win the Games. Peeta’s goal was not to let the Games turn him into someone he didn’t want to be.
Reading this book makes me wonder about myself and about our world. How am I like these characters? Am I strong? Am I loyal? Am I ignorant of evil that seems enjoyable? How would I face life under these circumstances? What forces make me who I am? This is a gripping novel. It’s a painful one too. It makes you ask hard questions.
*Mother’s Note: When I’m asked about this book and movie, I feel a little awkward saying “This novel, about children killing each other? Actually, I think it’s really great.” That’s a bit hard to swallow. Initially I opened the book because my children were reading it, and I try to keep up so we can converse. A few chapters in, I felt the same way about that The Hunger Games that I felt about Lord of the Flies when I was fifteen. “This is absurd. Surely no one can really be this wicked? This could never happen, right?” But I kept reading and I started realizing as I did back then: the thing is, we as fallen people in a fallen world are not so far away as from our ugly sin as we might think. This could be us. This is children, today, in places we see through a lens or on a screen. This is the world we live in, in many ways, and one might even argue that we are the naïve ones living in comfort while children fight for their lives elsewhere. This is a heavy novel because it deals with heavy things. But it offers young people as examples those who will be fighters: for truth, justice, and their fellow man – against the odds and against a broken system. I want my children to be more than simply aware of suffering, and this is one way to help them see inside of it a little bit. The book does ask hard questions. But it asks them in an intensely readable, well-written way that makes them appropriate for a thoughtful reader, especially if there are subsequent conversations about the broader themes. We did see the movie also, and I feel the same way about the screen version as I do about the book.
Callie (daughter, 14 years) and Allison (mom, somewhat older) Gaskins are parishioners at The Falls Church Anglican.