Review of “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before – and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

What I Heard

Before reading this book, I came across a review by Doug Wilson in my family’s copy of Credenda|Agenda.  (You can read the first part of his review here: What Did Everdeen Ever Do?)  In it, Wilson posits that the moral quandary of the book – kill or be killed – is a false dilemma.  As Christians we don’t have that kind of problem.  We must kill innocent life or be murdered?  Easy!  We get murdered.  It’s as simple as that.

Naturally, much of the killing of the book is of the self-defense variety; I don’t have a moral issue with that, and neither does Wilson.  But he claims that the author had contrived an unrealistic situation where it was impossible not to sin, thus setting Katniss up to do something horrible by the end of the story.

This, of course, only made me more interested in reading the book.

My Take

This is one of those books that is difficult to put down.  Collins’ pacing and writing is spectacular, and I truly enjoyed the experience.  As Nathan Bransford said once on his blog, a really good setting “throws us off kilter and makes us imagine how we’d react if we were placed in that world.  And it makes us wonder whether we have the makeup to thrive within it.”  Panem truly has this effect.  Poor, grubby District 12 made for a fascinating contrast to the glittering luxury of the Capitol.

I also immediately cared about the characters, who were likable from the get-go.  However, my affection for them rapidly decreased as the story continued.  Their attitudes, the way they acted and interacted…it all began to bother me.  Katniss hates the government and how they force kids into their bloody Games, but she entirely expects to kill before the end – even contestants who were once her friends.  She wants to get home to her family, and she won’t get home unless she wins.  Of course, she doesn’t want to kill people, which makes you sympathetic to her plight, but her general approach seems to be “you gotta do what you gotta do”.

 

I honestly didn’t understand how these kids were being “forced” to kill anybody.  Yes, the government put them in an arena to kill each other.  Yes, some of them are bloodthirsty and have grown up aspiring to win the Games.  Yes, we’re all sinners and capable of great depravity.  But I had a hard time believing that all the teens would turn into brutal killers merely because the government expected them to do so.  My issue with the book isn’t that the characters are being “forced to sin” and have no choice.  I don’t think that’s true.  My issue is that they act as though they have no choice.  “We’re all here to kill each other, so…I guess we’ve got to kill each other.”  (Not a direct quote, by the way.)  It didn’t make sense to me.

In the End…

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Phillipians 4:8

Now, I will be one of the last people to say that a story’s purpose is to moralize and teach a lesson.  But I do believe every story has morals and lessons in it – whether they be good or not.  And I believe Christians should take the above verse seriously, not filling our minds with worthless things in the name of “entertainment”.  Do our reading choices draw us closer to God, or hinder our Christian walk?

The Hunger Games is a morbid book.  It’s full of teenagers killing each other.  But, I have to admit – I only realized that after the book was shut.  The violence is not the core of the story.  It really is about “choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.”  Whether Katniss makes the right choices in the end, I’m not going to divulge (“Spoilers!”).  But I don’t feel as though she was even preparing herself to make the right choices, although she does many good, honorable, commendable things along the way.  This is one of those stories where I ached for the main characters to know Christ – to have the assurance that they need only obey God and He would work all things out according to His will.

That being said, I have a lot of admiration for this author.  The Hunger Games is a living, breathtaking story, and I feel I learned a lot from Collins’ skilled pacing.  The “voice” is excellent, too, which is something I admire, as I have a hard time finding my own “voice”.

I hope to continue on to Catching Fire andMockingjay.  As I understand, you learn more about the characters and their motives, and I want to see how (or if) my opinion changes as I continue their story.  Perhaps it will be redeeming after all.

In Short

The Hunger Games isn’t a book about sacrifice or doing the right thing whatever the cost.  It is about a flawed, desperate person and how she dealt with a bad situation.  It doesn’t necessarily have a “good moral”.  And that’s okay (unless you want your stories to have good morals).  So if you read it, do keep that in mind.  It’s merely a gripping story – and a finely-written one at that!

Have you read The Hunger Games?  What are your thoughts?

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12 Comments

  1. Excellent job, Orrie! I agree with a lot of it!

    Reply
  2. Jordan F.

     /  December 5, 2011

    I love the The Hunger Games!It really is breathtaking and I adore how every chapter leaves you hanging.I also have feelings for each character too Bethany.I think Rue has a sweet heart and it saddend me greatly when she died……….Thanks for making this blog Bethany…….See you on Sunday Lord willing.

    Reply
    • Jordan F.

       /  December 5, 2011

      Oh yeah I also would love to read your books someday!I have many worlds of my own that I hold very dear like: Warrior Island,Grimmorack,and My newest one, Emaginarion, which is a world where imagination is endless………………….!

      Reply
      • Hey, Jordan! I’m so glad you like my blog. You know, if you would like to read some of my books just let me know and I can give you some. 🙂 I like the names of your books, especially Grimmorack – that’s a fun one. 🙂 I’d like to hear what they are about…

        See you at church on Sunday, Lord willing!

        Reply
  3. Greytawnyowl

     /  December 6, 2011

    I agree with what you said. I identified with the characters from the very beginning as well, though it did fade quickly. Very quickly with Katniss, I might add. I didn’t like her all that much, unlike some characters that just click with me right away. I didn’t like the ending very much either. There wasn’t enough resolution. Though, of course, since there are two more books afterward, that doesn’t matter too much. But I think first books of a series should be able to stand alone more than Hunger Games does, while still making you hunger (no pun intended) for the sequel.

    One of the things I really liked about the book was that Collins used present tense. That’s rare, to say the least, and could have gone terribly wrong. However, I thought it really suited this book and kept the action moving especially quickly.

    I thought that Katniss and Peeta pretending to be in love for the Games was a bit strange. Of course, I haven’t read the other two books yet either, and I can see how that could be redeemed, but it was a little…embarrassing to read.

    Have you ever read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card? It’s a similar story line, but I like the way that and the other Ender books approached the whole deal of children/teenagers killing people better.

    Reply
    • I agree, I really liked the present tense. It made me want to try that for one of my books sometime!

      I didn’t like Katniss and Peeta’s fake romance at all. It was another case of them doing “what you gotta do”…the ends justifying the means. I suppose it is a life or death situation, so I’m on the fence about whether or not it was wrong of them (it was just acting, after all), but it made me uncomfortable.

      No, I haven’t read Ender’s Game, but thanks for the recommendation! Now I know another book I can check out from the library. 🙂

      Thanks for visiting my blog!

      Reply
      • Greytawnyowl

         /  December 6, 2011

        Ender’s Game is really good! There’s a little bit of language, especially toward the beginning, and there were a few somewhat brutal scenes, but I really liked it other than that. I couldn’t stop reading it, and actually ended up reading it in one five-hour or so sitting. 🙂

        Reply
  4. Greytawnyowl

     /  December 10, 2011

    I just finished reading Catching Fire and am nearly done with Mockingjay. It gets a bit better. I’m enjoying Mockingjay a lot, and Catching Fire was interesting. I think I’m more comfortable (in a way) with the deaths in Mockingjay because it’s actually a war instead of just sticking a bunch of teenagers in the wilderness and watching them kill each other. Catching Fire redeems them just killing each other for no reason somewhat as well, since, again, there is more than one victor. (I won’t say any more so I don’t ruin the story. 🙂 )

    Reply
  5. Jordan F.

     /  January 5, 2012

    Hey Bethany, Have you read The Unwanteds By Lisa McMann……………………..its a really good book(series)…and yes its a dystopian…………..if you have not read it I suggest you read it…………………………….

    Reply
    • I haven’t heard of that one, Jordan! I’m kind of taking a break from dystopians right now, since I’ve been reading a lot of them, but I’ll keep that one in mind. 🙂

      Reply
      • Jordan F.

         /  January 5, 2012

        Ok…….I also like to have a variation of books to read……it was just a thought…;)…..Your blog still has yet to amazes me!!!!!:)

        Reply

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