Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press.
Katniss lives in the fenced-in District 12 with her mother and sister, taking care of them and escaping the district to hunt for wild animals to sell their meat on the black market just to survive. Sixteen-year-old Katniss describes her home zone as a place “where you can starve to death in safety” (p. 6). Because of a past rebellion, all of the districts are punished with the Hunger Games: all children between the ages of 12 and 18 in each district are placed in a lottery. The boy and girl selected from each district must compete for survival against the other children chosen. The winning district is rewarded with extra food for a year. When Katniss’s little sister is chosen for what will almost certainly be her death at the hands of another child, Katniss volunteers to take her place.
Immediately after, Katniss, along with a boy named Peeta who Katniss has a fondness for, are swept off to the Capitol to vie for the affections of their fellow citizens before entering into a battle to the death.
Since there can be only one survivor, Katniss must struggle with deciding whether her fellow tributes are actually friends, enemies or merely plotting to ensure their own survival, while citizens around the country bet on who will die and when.
This dystopian young adult novel is set in the country Panem, in North America. While some technology familiar to the readers remains, the country is over all very different, depending on how well off the various districts are.
This story considers issues of power, class and the human condition. It’s very engaging and tense. So much so, I just may have to add Suzanne Collins to the short list of authors I would marry without question.
The sequel comes out toooooomorrooooooooow! I’ll be posting my review of Catching Fire at 12:01 tonight. My one hint for the time being is that the sequel lives up to the first.
Activities to Do with the Book:
To go a pop culture oriented route, a teacher could recommend various reality shows (with Survivor, American Idol, Miss America Pageant all at the top of the list) for students to compare to the book. Among the things they could contrast are what are the assumptions about the societies driving the various competitions.
Other narratives that can draw comparison include Miss Congeniality, The Truman Show, Lost, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean, Feed by M.T. Anderson, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (Students could explore the different assumptions present about the nature of children in both books). And the list could go on.
While discussing this book in terms of power and class, a teacher could easily transition into discussing various dangerous games conducted by various cultures historically.
“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping” (p. 1).
“The reaping system is unfair, with the poor getting the worst of it. You become eligible for the reaping the day you turn twelve. That year, your name is entered once. At thirteen, twice. And so on and so on until you reach the age of eighteen, the final year of eligibility, when your name goes into the pool seven times. That’s true for every citizen in all twelve districts in the entire country of Panem.
But here’s the catch. Say you are poor and starving as we were. You can opt to add your name more times in exchange for tesserae. Each tessera is worth a meager year’s supply of grain and oil for one person. You may do this for each of your family members as well” (p. 13).
“Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treay of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games” (p. 18).
“Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch—this is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. “Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you” (pp. 18-19).
“And then I see her, the blood drained from her face, hands clenched in fists at her sides, walking with stiff, small steps up toward the stage, passing me, and I see the back of her blouse has become untucked and hangs out over her skirt. It’s this detail, the untucked blouse forming a ducktail, that brings me back to myself.
“Prim!” The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. “Prim!” I don’t need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately allowing me a straight path to the stge. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me.
“I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as tribute!” (pp. 21-22).
“Come on, everybody! Let’s give a big round of applause to our newest tribute!” trills Effie Trinket.
To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps. Not even the ones holding betting slips, the ones who are usually beyond caring. Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim, who no one can help loving. So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence” (pp. 23-24).
“Think of yourself among friends,” says Effie.
“they’re betting on how long I’ll live! I burst out. They’re not my friends!”
“Well, try and pretend!” snaps Effie. Then she composes herself and beams at me. “See like this. I’m smiling at you even though you’re aggravating me” (p. 115).