Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, 2008. 374 pages. Tr. $15.34, ISBN: 978-0-439-02348-1
Plot: Katniss Everdeen is a survivor, a girl who has kept her family alive by hunting and scavenging with her best friend, the similarly resilient Gale. Her mother, crippled by depression, can’t do anything to help the family and it is Katniss’ job to keep her beloved sister alive. She lives in District 12, a destroyed former mining area that has been ravaged by Panem, the capitol city, where everyone is rich and pampered while most of the people in the districts scramble for survival.
Every year, to maintain their control over the districts, Panem holds the Hunger Games, a to-the-death, gladiator-style battle on live television. The warrior/entertainers in this battle are children, some willing combatants and some completely unprepared and starvation-weak. When Katniss’ sister is chosen to compete in the games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Another teen, Peeta, is chosen. A relatively middle class baker’s son, Peeta seems like an unlikely fighter.
The two battle in an arena that is controlled and ever-changing, manipulated by the show producers. They eventually form an alliance that changes the balance in the games in a way that revolutionizes the games.
Critical Evaluation: This book has a slow start, with Collins spending a lot of time describing the setting and developing the strange world of the book, but it soon becomes an action-packed page-turner that is an incredibly rich, rewarding read. The characters are winning or at least colorful – Katniss is wholly winning as a scrappy, sometimes violent survivor, Peeta is almost her opposite (gentle, creative, sensitive), and the other characters are a collection of Technicolor wonders from Panem or weary, destroyed, or battle-hardened victims of the capitol’s pillaging and iron fist rule. The plot moves forward quickly, with the forward movement bringing Katniss closer and closer to the center of the capitol and then to the roiling, ever-changing heart of the games. The tricks of the game-creators will always keep the reader guessing about what new challenge will Katniss have to hurdle, and her amazing capacity to overcome adversity will make readers want to cheer. A fast-moving plot, wonderful characters, a beautifully realized setting, and a political backbone makes Hunger Games as thrilling as it is unsettling.
Reader’s Annotation: When a girl from a ravaged district of what used to be America is forced to fight other kids to the death, will she kill or be killed?
Author bio: The daughter of an Air Force officer, Suzanne Collins traveled quite a bit as a child. A theater major, she went to high school at an Alabama fine arts school and she majored in drama and telecommunications at Indiana University before she began writing for children’s television shows in 1991. She worked for Nickelodeon and Scholastic Entertainment.
She met children’s author James Proimos while working on a show; he convinced her to try her hand at writing books for children. She ended up writing the hit series The Underland Chronicles before penning The Hunger Games books, which became a YA publishing world sensation. Se was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2010.
Genre: Science fiction, adventure.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 and up
Challenge Issues: Violence.
Why Included: This book is a best-seller, it’s great for reluctant readers, and it is an almost perfectly realized science fiction/adventure novel.