The Hunger Games - A Teacher's Review

-Written by Suzanne Collins. Published by Scholastic Inc. New York, NY: 2008.

external image Hg--jacket-330.jpg"Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!"

Happy? Does this seem happy? Having to be faced with the decision that would most likely end in the death of either you or your little sister? Would you step up and sacrifice yourself for her or stand idle as she gets taken away, forced to fight for her life? That is the exact predicament that Katniss Everdeen finds herself in within Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" and she volunteers to be the girl representative of her district in what is the 74th annual Hunger Games, a 24 child battle royale leaving just one victor with an insurmountable amount of wealth and glory. As for the other 23, they find death to be the consolation prize for failure and weakness.
This all began 74 years ago after the then 13 districts led an uprising against the Capitol leaving one district completely obliterated while the remaining 12 struggle with issues of poverty, starvation, and slavery. And what's worse is once a year each district must send two representatives to fight to the death to illustrate how in control the Capitol is over us and dismissing any notions of ever trying to overthrow them again. So happy Hunger Games? You keep telling yourself that Capitol...

The story begins with the selection process when Prim, Katniss' sister, is selected as the female representative of District 12 to partake in the Hunger Games. However, Katniss quickly takes her place and joins Peeta, the male rep, in the perilous journey to almost certain death. During the trip to the Capitol, the two kids are treated as royalty as they begin to unravel a special connection they have shared since Peeta graciously saved Katniss' life by offering her bread when she was on the brink of dying from starvation. Upon reaching the Capitol, the two are acquainted with Cinna and their other stylists who decorate them in the most breath taking costume in Hunger Games history which ultimately pins a target on their back from the get go. Adding to this is the idea of "Star-Crossed Lovers" in which Peeta and Katniss are seen as long time lovers (a strategy that would help them later in The Games).
When it comes to training, Katniss is advised not to demonstrate her secret skill in archery until the final judgement where she steals the show once again by scoring the highest possible by shooting an arrow right at one of the Gamemakers in what can only be viewed as an act of defiance. This leads the reader into the beginning of The Games where everyone makes a mad dash to the Cornucopia which contains many weapons, food, and other valuable supplies. However, Katniss is advised that it is best to stay far away from there as many of the kids die trying to reach it. Instead, she gets to know the environment and works out survival methods such as sleeping up in the trees. It is in this that she realizes that Peeta has joined up with the enemy clan (the Careers) and deduces that he has been playing her for a fool and is now the enemy.
Jump ahead and Katniss gets herself stuck in a tree with all the Careers underneath her but is saved by a little girl named Rue (who reminds Katniss of her sister Prim) who informs her of a Tracker Jacker nest above her which ultimately leads to the death of several kids and knocks Katniss to the brink of death. From there she decides that it is best to team up with Rue and the two work together to stealthily stay alive. However, it is when they decide to split up to sabotage the Careers' food source that Rue is caught and killed. Katniss shows another act of defiance by giving Rue a proper burial with flowers.
Soon after this episode, the Gamemakers announce a rule change and that both representatives of a district are allowed to live if they both survive in the end. Thus Katniss decides that it is in her best interest to unite with Peeta. She finds him, lying in the mud, on the verge of death and uses the "Star-Crossed Lovers" role to win the audience into giving them food and medicine. The drama gets so worked up that Katniss begins to question the exact nature of Peeta's feelings and even her own.
In the final scene of the Games, it is down to Cato (a Career), Peeta, and Katniss who are all surrounding the Cornucopia. In one of the many twist in events, the three are attacked by mutant dogs that possess qualities of those kids who were previously killed in The Games. Cato is slowly eaten to death by these dogs and just when the readers think that Peeta and Katniss have won, the Gamemakers announce that they cannot have two winners, only one can leave. In the moment, Katniss devises a plan that involved both of them eating poisonous berries thus leaving no winners. At the last second, the Gamemakers announce that they both have won, however the reader is assured that there will be repercussions for these actions.
At the post Games interview, the two are advised to play up their love connection as this is the only way for them to save their lives. On the surface, it works. The book ends with them back on the train and Katniss announcing she does not actually love him. End Book.

Overall, Suzanne Collins is able to present some univeresal themes in addition with some serious, political questions. The Capitol is portrayed as the aristocracy keeping the districts inferior by means of strenuous work and controlled food rations. These "proletariat" districts are subjected to cruelty and punishment and Collins uses the Hunger Games as the ultimate symbol of sadistic power and control. Despite the dark themes throughout, Katniss and other characters work to provide silver linings as to what humanity can be capable of in such instances or covering Rue in flowers after her death. However, since this is the first book in the trilogy, it ends with many open questions.

The entire group that read this book was in overall agreement that this book touches on some of the same principles of Dystopic literature but in a fun, new, inventive way. It is a clear change of pace from many of the normally used novels in this genre such as 1984 and Brave New World. Students and parents alike will both enjoy this book (and series) which can help promote family reading discussions and other family driven activities. I personally know many parent-child combos who have read this book and enjoyed it. With its soon break into popular media with a movie release slated for the near future, The Hunger Games appears to be sticking around for quite some time.

More critically, The Hunger Games is a perfect book to be examined through many literary criticism ranging from Marxism to Feminist theory. It constantly reinforces rich over poor and breaks away from the stereotypical 'men as the strong, hero type and women as the weak, helpless figure' and in change portrays Katniss as a strong, independent heroine (a nice change of pace from other YA Novels such as Bella in Twilight).

The other two sequels are: Catching Fire and Mockingjay. After reading the first book in the trilogy, students will want to check these out in order to find out how the story ends!

Recommendations for Teachers
Besides being an interesting and engaging read for adolescents, a teacher could use The Hunger Games in the classroom in a lot of ways. The book is based on a dystrophic society, and has many different themes/elements appeals to adolescents. It also has many parallels to our modern world, and many societies and mythologies in history and other cultures (Such as Greek Mythology's King Minos, the Roman Empire's treatment of it citizens, the death-match killing as a sport in arenas such as the Colosseum This opens the door for a variety of discussions:
  • · Another dystrophic society in literature is the world in George Orwell’s classic 1984, or Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World. The Hunger Games could be paired with either of these two books (or even other ones, there are many out there), for comparison and contrast. In The Hunger Games, The Capital takes complete control over the lives of its citizens. The 12 districts are strictly monitored, people have to always watch what they say for fear of being overheard, and the citizens are kept in line due to fear and intimidation. Everyone expresses absolute loyalty to The Capital outwardly, yet no one knows who is actually loyal and who is harboring rebellious desires. Disloyalty yields severe consequences, either death or life as an unwilling servant punished with mutilation. No one knows exactly what the actions of the government are, as they are done in secret and are covered up afterword. The games themselves remove all privacy for the tributes, as they are continuously televised and monitored. All of this has parallels with 1984, and a discussion regarding these similarities could be about some strong critical thinking about the two novels.
  • · A major theme in the book is outward appearance. The tributes are dressed up in stunning (sometimes ridiculous) outfits, they put on a show for the other tributes and a panel of Judges, and they act out different roles and plots (like a show) for the camera. The citizens also have to hide their true feelings regarding the Capital, always pretending to be “happy” about the games, and “happy” with their subjugated and poverty-ridden lives. This could lead into an interesting discussion regarding the various outward appearances/roles the students display, and why. Why we as a society value our looks, why all of us get dressed up or pretend to be something we are not? How does being on camera constantly affect how the characters respond?
  • · There is a romance between Katniss and Peeta, which is difficult since for most of the book the two are meant to kill each other. There are also hints that the romance between them is solely for the cameras. Katniss also thinks a lot on her friendship with Gale, and whether there should be anything romantic between them. Students (especially girls) will have a lot to say regarding this romance, whether she actually is in love with Peeta or Gale, and who she should choose. This is only a minor plot point, however, and an activity in class regarding this minor issue could really encourage character understanding for many students.
  • · The entire book is basically about one big reality TV show, where the contestants are killed. Students can relate to this. Reality TV has become quite popular in the last few years, and chances are many students in a class regularly watch some reality TV. Comparing the book’s reality TV show to the ones students watch would get them to put an interesting perspective on how the games are viewed. Show the similarities and differences from today’s shows and the novel.
  • · Another major theme in the novel is Trust. The tributes have to learn who they can trust to ensure their survival. Katniss begins to trust another girl named Rue, even though they both know eventually only one of them can survive (they might be forced to kill each other). Yet they form a partnership, and trust each other fully for a time. A different situation occurs for Katniss and Peeta: they begin by not trusting each other, acting against each other, but when an opportunity presents itself for them to not have to kill each other they immediately begin to trust each other. Such a theme could be related to student’s lives, to the people they know they can trust, or the people they know they cannot.
  • · Getting the students to see the parallels between The Hunger Games and the real world. Many of the underlying elements of the novel could be seen in our own world, showing us what such things could lead to. Getting students to make these connections, to see how such a terrible society could come about, could inspire them to get involved in the world, to try and influence some of the powerful changes the world could need. It can be a powerful motivator.
A Second Activity:
This novel involves many different characters, but the only perspective we get is from Katniss Everdeen. As readers of the book, we know there are many other characters within its pages that are important, but we get little insight to their previous lives and backgrounds. In order to get your students thinking about the importance of these other characters, try this activity. It will not only help them to notice the other characters, but will hopefully help them connect personally with their character and the work as a whole.
  • Begin this activity by assigning each student a character from the actual games. You could use a lottery system, let them choose by character name or simply by gender and district.
  • As the students are reading the novel, ask them to keep a diary or journal about their character's experiences throughout the book. The book only takes us through Katniss' journey, so ask them to fictonalize what may have happened at their character's lottery, on the train, in the capitol, etc.
  • Once they have learned their character's name and more about them, encourage them to look back at the previous diary/journal entries to revise. They may now have different ideas about who their character is and their role within the novel.
  • Have the entries coincide with the number of days the contest takes place.
  • Once their character is "out" of the game, have them get creative with their pieces. They could write letters to the family from their deceased character, write letters from the family to the character, write letters to the capitol, write if they really think the character is dead, write letters from the capitol to the family, etc.
  • After the game has finished in the novel, they may stop their entries.
  • After the novel has finished, have the students in small discussion groups, share some of their entries. Do they coincide with other character diaries? Why did they choose different activities for their character? How do their characters fit into the story as a whole?
  • Have the students choose their favorite entry and post it in the room for everyone to share.

This activity will help your students connect personally with the characters, help them become interested in the text, and help them develop their writing skills. There are many different alternatives for this assignment, and it should be crafted to your individual classroom environment.
The Author: Suzanne Collins
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The Hunger Games (September 2008) and the following two books: Catching Fire (September 2009) and Mockingjay (August 2010) may be Suzanne Collins most well-known pieces of work but are by no means her only.
Collins began her professional writing career in 1991, writing for the television show Clarissa Explains it All on Nickelodeon. She also wrote for other familiar Nickelodeon shows like The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, Little Bear, and Oswald. Collins also co-wrote the critically acclaimed Christmas special, Santa, Baby!
It was not until she meet author James Proimos that she became serious about writing children’s books. Her first series was titled, The Underland Chronicles, and was inspired by Alice in Wonderland. The first book in the series, Gregor the Overlander, was very well received and she went on to write four more books for the series, one each during the next four years. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane in 2004, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods in 2005, Gregor and the Marks of Secret in 2006, and finally Gregor and the Code of Claws in 2007. This series was very successful and geared towards younger, middle grade readers. It was not until her release of The Hunger Games Trilogy, that Collins tackled writing for 12 and up.
Currently, The Hunger Games has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for more than 60 weeks in a row. Because of the success of the trilogy, Collins was named one of Time magazine's most influential people of 2010.
The movie rights for the first book, The Hunger Games, have been optioned by Lionsgate Films with Collins rumored to be writing the screenplay. Although there is no set cast for the film, Gary Ross has been selected as the director. The filming is set to begin in late spring 2011.

Related Multimedia
An independent group decided to make a short video of one of the more memorable parts of the book. This scene happens somewhere towards the middle of the book, after the Hunger Games have been going on for awhile. Its about 10 minutes long, and does a great job of capturing the 'essence' of the book. Showing to students, either before reading the book or after, could promote both interest and discussion regarding the portrayal of the short scene.

Below is a trailer for the book (the book, not the movie which is slated to come out in 2012 or 2013). This trailer came out before the book was released, and was used as a promotional tool by Scholastic. It contains a good description as well as some intriguing quotes.

"...riveting, powerful, well-executed romance. Read it, share it, and then count down the days until the sequel." — Family Circle

"It's a can't put-it-down story..." — Newsweek

"Collins hasn't tied her future to a specific date, or weighted it down with too much finger wagging. Rather less 1984 and rather more Death Race 2000, hers is a gripping story...It's a credit to Collins's skill at characterization that Katniss, like a new Theseus, is cold, calculating and still likable...Readers will wait eagerly to learn more." — Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Each new plot twist ratchets up the tension, moving the story forward and keeping the reader on edge. Populated by three dimensional characters, this is a superb tale of physical adventure, political suspense, and romance." — Booklist, starred review

"The plot is front and center here-the twists and turns are addictive, particularly when the romantic subplot ups the ante-yet the Capitol's oppression and exploitation of the districts always simmers just below the surface, waiting to be more fully explored in future volumes. Collins has written a compulsively readable blend of science fiction, survival story, unlikely romance, and social commentary." — Horn Book, starred review

"Collins's characters are completely realistic and sympathetic as they form alliances and friendships in the face of overwhelming odds; the plot is tense, dramatic, and engrossing. This book will definitely resonate with the generation raised on reality shows like Survivor and American Gladiator."— School Library Journal, starred review

"Collins has created a brilliantly imagined dystopia, where the Capitol is rich and the rest of the country is kept in abject poverty, where the poor battle to the death for the amusement of the rich. Impressive world-building, breathtaking action and clear philosophical concerns make this volume, the beginning of a planned trilogy, as good as The Giver and more exciting." — Kirkus Reviews

Additional Resources:
  • Suzanne Collins Home Page - For more information about the author of The Hunger Games Trilogy and a complete list of her works, check out this website.
  • The Hunger Game - Want to see your chances of survival? Play the tribute game to see if you've got what it takes or simply browse the site for current news and additional info.
  • The Hunger Games Movie - Love the book as much as we did? Of course you did! So stay up to date on the release of the movie.
  • Scholastic The Hunger Games Homepage. The publisher is just as important to the book being published as the author is, and here is the website for the publisher regarding the novel. There is information regarding the book, and interview with the author, downloads, games, even other videos regarding the book.
  • UK version of The Hunger Games. Another website for the publisher, for the UK audience. Also includes information regarding the book, downloads, and games.
  • Hunger Games Trilogy - Unofficial Fansite. For the die-hard fans of the series, by the die-hard fans.
  • Mockingjay. One of the first and most popular fan website out there. Includes a ton of information regarding the book, podcasts, forums, videos, information on the movie, favorite quotes, along with many other things.
  • Amazon. To buy the book. Large online book retailer, which has good prices and shipping deals.
  • Discussion Guide - A great document for teachers to promote educational use of the book.
  • The Hunger Games and Marxism- A link to some underlying themes present throughout the books.
  • Why I'm Team Katniss- Love triangle or not, this writer thinks Katniss steals the show
  • "The Hunger Games" vs. "Twilight"- Which heroine do you think is better, Bella or Katniss?
  • Unlocking "The Hunger Games": The Surface, Moral, Allegorical, and Sublime Meanings- This "professor" compares the trilogy to many things, including Dante's inferno.

-Created by Audra Birt, Aaron Yusten, Kurt McCool, Derek Boillat