SPOLER ALERT: If you haven't read these books and want to, DO NOT read this review!
I admit I didn't know much about these books until some friends suggested we see the movie on a double date one night. I kind of pushed back, thinking Stefan wouldn't like them, but we went, and I was floored. There was so much to these stories that could be used in a classroom, I knew I had to read them myself. When my best friend read my review of the first movie, she handed me all 3 books and told me to take all of them on vacation, since I'd obviously get through all of them. She was right, I plowed through them every chance I got, and I felt like at the end of the week, I had finally got my life back since it had been so consumed with reading 1200 pages in 7 days.
People, I'm about to get real. I am a small step away from fan lit when it comes to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This isn't just a book review, it's a series review. I read these 3 books (each about 350+ pages) within one week, and I was so sad when they were done.
The first story is where we meet all the main characters and figure out that Katniss, who has volunteered as tribute for her little sister, Prim, stands a chance to win the Hunger Games, in which children between the ages of 12-18 participate in a man-made arena to fight for the death and remind the country, Panem, what civil war can do. These stories are extremely fast paced, and although it's not the most well-written story I've ever read, it's quite decent and the story is absolutely gripping. Katniss and Peeta, from District 12, have to unify to stand a chance to stay alive, and the other people they meet along the way range from gentle and understanding to bizarre and frightening.
The story ends with a twist and although our beloved main characters have been saved, the story is not over, as President Snow is just beginning to be watchful over this very radical teenager, Katniss.
In the second book, Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta are given a second chance as a couple together in District 12, if Katniss only sees it as a worthy cause to keep themselves and those they love alive. The readers are swept up into another Hunger Games, as the country celebrates a big year in history--another quarter century has passed in Panem's history.
The Quarter Quell, as it's called (every 25 years, something different happens in the games), gives a disheartening notice: only victors from past Games are chosen in the lot, instead of all children ages 12-18, and since there are only 3 winners ever from District 12, including a drunken mentor named Haymich, Peeta and Katniss are back in the arena.
This book is quite a cliffhanger for the reader as the arena is very different than anything before. Also, our characters are working against other very ambitious people, who have won the games in past years--no small feat. The relationships that develop and we're very aware of political drama and tension building to an all-time high. The people outside of the Capitol are extremely poor, treated horribly, and almost all hate the Hunger Games, but they have accepted this life for fear of retribution from the Capitol and military. This story ends with Katniss being lifted out of the games arena, as it's about to explode from an ally-built electrical device. We have no idea what's coming next, except it can't be good.
The third book, Mockingjay, becomes the triumphal story about the rebellion against the Capitol, how the war takes place, and what happens to our favorite characters within that time. Katniss is lifted to District 13, which is deep underground and that no one knew existed after the first war. Katniss is very important as she is the symbol of the rebellion, and she is reckless with her life. Her only thought is to get revenge on President Snow, whose secrets are revealed in this last book. There are many things that come to a head in this last book, who will win the war? Will the Hunger Games continue with the Capitol forcing poverty among the Districts? Who will Katniss end up with, if she doesn't get herself killed? Will there be any survivors in the districts?
Within the walls of District 13, which is in charge of nuclear production, the people have a chance to win the war against the Capitol, and eventually, like many others, good wins out over evil. Although...in these books, that's a very hard assessment to make. Many of the things the people have to do to achieve this are cut-throat, and very alarming. Katniss also decides to take the decision of a new president into her own hands, and no one guesses the outcome of that!
These books are brutal in the fact that so many of the characters die, the graphic nature of the way they are tortured or killed, and the subject matter of the stories because it involves prostitution, child workers, horrible poverty, slavery, and torture, but they still have something valuable to say. Would I let a child read these? Absolutely not...until they were 16 or so, and could process what all of these things mean, and how we are to use symbolism and apply it through our lens of the world, and how to make a better impact. We have the opportunity to talk with students about these types of things, as surely they go on in the world around us.
How can we raise up the next generation with a level head on their shoulders and with a desire to help those in need, instead of gain power and glory by brute strength or manipulation? I think reading these books with older students and delving into these topics is an excellent way to link popular culture with reality, and what The Hunger Games' extreme symbolism actually breaks down into within our everyday lives.
The Hunger Games definitely reaches a high marking of 4 1/2 out of 5 stars for page-turning, remarkable setting & plot detailing, interesting premise, and accessibility.