Reviews of children's and young adult books old and new

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Hunger Games Squared

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I picked up both of these books from the library the other day (actually I had to wait a while to pick them up because so many people had the pitifully few copies on hold) and thought it was about time I read this series. I made one mistake in that the next book doesn't come out until August and now I am stuck in the mother of all cliff hangers. Ugh. That should give you a clue that I liked the books but I will get to that soon enough. Since this is going to be a two book review I will be giving away the ending of at least the first book and probably the second, so I will tell you now that these are great books for 11-15 year-olds and that I highly recommend them in case you don't want to spoil it for yourself.

Hunger Games begins with the reader meeting Katniss, a girl living in what used to be the United States sometime in the future. Things have changed a lot and her world is almost nothing like ours. Katniss lives in District 12, under the ruler ship of the Capitol, there are twelve districts in all and each one is poor and oppressed. Katniss is already something of a rebel, she wants to survive and will do anything to help her family make it, (like hint illegally outside the fence on government property). The day we meet her is the day of The Reaping. Many years ago there was an uprising against the Capitol, when it was crushed the Capitol started the Hunger Games in which each district must send one girl and one boy between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death in an arena. Watching the televised event is mandatory to remind the people that there is no fighting the government. The day of the reaping it is Katniss's little sister that is chosen, Katniss volunteers to take her place and she is shipped off to the arena. The story gets more complicated from there when the boy that was chosen from her district, Peeta confesses his love for her. His announcement though could be what saves her life. In the end when it is just down to the two of them, she suggests poisoning themselves so that there will be no victor. They are stopped just before they swallow the poison, and for the first time ever the Hunger Games has two victors.

Catching Fires starts with Katniss and Peeta being home with their families and their new riches. Katniss is uneasy about her victory since she defied the Capitol to keep Peeta alive. Her fears are confirmed when President Snow pays her a visit demanding that unless she convince the districts that she defied the rules for love, there will be terrible consequences for her and her loved ones. Katniss doesn't realize it but she is now seen as a symbol of rebellion and there is nothing she can do to stop it. But the President has other ideas and when the Hunger Games are announced for that year he states the the competitors will be chosen from the former winners. The only female winner from District 12 was Katniss, she is headed back to the arena. Peeta goes with her as well to protect her and see that she makes it out alive. At this point you really might want to just block out a couple hours and read straight through to the end because you will not be able to stand the tension.

I read these two books over the weekend and I must say I found myself horrified from time to time thinking that children are reading these books. Then I remembered that many children's books cannot be read by adults, we just can't take it. I don't know when that change occurs, when you can easily dismiss anything horrible you read to understanding the deeper implications of what you are reading but sometimes it is a drag. I miss the days of picking up a book and being unconcerned with how morbid it was, or who kills who. Because, of course, we all knew then that in every good story someone dies, right? Putting aside by silly adult tendencies and trying to look at these books as either an educator (different kind of adult) or a young reader I see the absolute brilliance in them. For starters these books are all I could talk about all weekend. My apologies to family who had to listen to me telling them every detail about the gruesomeness of the Hunger Games. But that is exactly what a good book is meant to do, get some sort of reaction from the reader. In this case I am not surprised that they are so popular, I defy anyone to read the books and not tell someone about what you read, you can't do it. The reader is immediately pulled into the story and never given and time to lose interest. From the moment these to books starts you are on a wild ride with these characters and you honestly do not want off until you know what happens next. The character development is very good and as we learn more about each of the characters we like them more and more. I like that for all of Katniss's survival skills she is relatively clueless about people's character's and picking up on subtext. It is the perfect flaw for our heroine. Now I said at the beginning I recommend for ages 11-15, partly due to the content, length of the books, and vocabulary. Of course I enjoyed them immensely so adults feel free to enjoy as well. As I said though, the last book is not out until August, so beware that if you start theses two books you will be left wanting more, much more, until then.


  1. My friend Jeff, who is also apparently a friend of yours, recommended you to me, because I used to work in the children's section of B&N and miss it sooooo much. Have you read King Dork?

  2. I have not read King Dork yet, but I will pick it up. Glad to have you reading. I understanding missing being around kids books, they are fun.