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A Critical Review of The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Updated on February 18, 2013

The Hunger Games was popular even before it was turned into a popular movie, and the book blog circuit virtually exploded coming straight out of the gate with the popularity of this amazing trilogy. Anyone who read it during its early phases (before the movie was even a twinkling in the eye of its director, Gary Ross) was embraced instantly into an amazing community of readers who represent a truly thriving fandom.

Katniss Everdeen is at the heart of the story of The Hunger Games, but the book is about so much more than her. It is a dystopian novel representing the political oppression of societies similar to Soviet Russia during some of its bleakest times. It is a commentary on the state of the world and where it is going, and it is a bleak look into a dystopian future where children are forced into a vast outdoor arena to fight to the death in order to pay tribute to their Capitol as punishment for daring to rebel against the reining government.

While there is no doubt in anyone's mind that I'm a huge fan of The Hunger Games, I want to take a critical look at these books to try to help other potential readers not only to understand what I loved so much about the books, but also to understand that there are things about these novels that they themselves might not like.

This review does not contain spoilers.


A Brief Summary of the Novel

From The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins:

"The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could be anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins."

Life in District Twelve is abysmal, with little food to go around and the wolf always howling at the door, but Katniss Everdeen survives by hunting in the woods outside of her district. She wakes on the morning of the Reaping for the 74th Hunger Games silently hoping that it isn't her name that they pull from the reaping ball. With twenty entries into the lottery, she's at a high risk for being called. But instead, it's her little sister, Prim, whose name is pulled out. Prim, who had her name in the lottery only once. Prim, who is only twelve years old.

And Katniss utters the now famous words. "I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!"

Thus begins Katniss' experience in the Hunger Games, where she must fight to the death in order to return home to District Twelve as the sole victor. But her situation is complicated by the fact that the boy tribute from District Twelve -- a boy she will have to see dead if she is going to survive -- saved her life five years ago when she and her family were starving. She'll have to fight through physical and emotional pain to make it out of the Arena alive, all the while hating the Capitol and the government of Panem for what it has done to her.

Initial Reactions

I love this book. I've read it three times now, one time reading it aloud to my best friend as we sat curled up on the couch. I devour it every time that I read it, tearing through it page after page. I finally paid for it and downloaded it to my Kindle for fear that I would decimate one of my other two copies of the book. Every time I've read it, I've read it in a different version, from the paperback to the hardback to the Kindle version.

It bears mentioning that when I finished this book, Mockingjay hadn't yet been published. I've been a fan from the beginning. I'll always be a fan. I love this book. It's not without its flaws, but I do so very much love The Hunger Games.

5 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of The Hunger Games

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What I Love about The Hunger Games

I've already told you that I absolutely love this book, so I thought that I'd list out some of the things that I think make it especially spectacular. I understand completely if you disagree with my assessment, and you should be aware that I've included a list of things that are wrong with the books as well, so that you can make your own decisions if you haven't already read it (them).

  • I love dystopian fiction. Call me crazy, or sadistic (or maybe masochistic), but I am a big fan of dystopian fiction, and for that reason I find The Hunger Games and its companions to be incredibly compelling. There's something about reading about a future that is so bleak that has a way of getting people moving toward seeking out a brighter future by taking action now to stop a tyrannical government from taking over completely. As a very political person, I understand what the possibilities are, and I feel that this story represents a good opening dialog to a discussion of the historical significance of the Soviet Union and Stalin's regime.
  • It's intelligent. Opinions differ on this point, but I feel that the themes of the story of Panem are highly intelligent, even if they aren't handled intelligently. There is enough substance in these books to open a dialog, and often that is enough to get people interested in other, similar topics and reading better dystopian fiction (including classics like Orwell's 1984). All it takes is a spark to start a fire (pun intended, for those who've read the books).
  • It kept me reading. These days, most books lose me within a few paragraphs. This book kept me going through not just the entire book, but through the entire trilogy. Then I read all three books aloud to my best friend. Then I read it again. For me, that's enough said. If you enjoy dystopian fiction and books that are relatively easy reads, then this book will probably suit you just fine.
  • The character development in the story is very strong. Even if Katniss isn't the most amazingly likable character in all of fiction, the characters in this story are well-developed, each with his or her own personality. Even in the brief time that we have with each of the twenty-four tributes, the personalities of even minor characters who never receive names beyond (the boy from district nine) have personalities sufficient to the telling of the story. Following my reading of Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks, this was a refreshing reminder of the fact that some authors are better at this than others.


Problems with the Novel

I feel that it would be unfair of me as a reviewer not to tell potential readers about the problems that I found with The Hunger Games and therefore I want to let you know about those things that I disliked about the book and its companions in the trilogy.

  • It's written in first person. While I don't personally abhor a first person narrative, there are many people who absolutely hate it. And the fact of the matter is that a first person novel, with two books to follow it, gives you an idea of who the victor of the 74th Hunger Games has to be. First person can make it easier to get a good visual on the scene that the narrator sees, but a poor visual on everything else going on in the story. This is a problem only depending on your perspective.
  • It's also written in the present tense. In theory, this might help to conceal the identity of the victor of the Games, but the fact of the matter is that it's choppy and irritating, and there are several areas in the book where Collins appears to lose track of which tense she started with, and ventures into past participle and past perfect tenses where she should be using past tense. It's difficult to follow at times (though I recall she seemed to have mastered it by the end of Mockingjay).
  • Katniss is entirely unlikable. This is interesting from the perspective that readers are beginning to more and more identify with the villains of fiction. She's not a very nice person, constantly suspicious and quite cutthroat when all is said and done. This would all be fine if she was somewhat more intelligent, but she isn't even especially smart (though I'd hardly call her "simpleminded" as Cato does in the story).
  • Peeta makes a weak hero. He's stronger in the movie; you'll have to trust me on that. While he's witty and intelligent and likable and everything that Katniss isn't, his personality isn't strong enough to make him the type of hero that this book really needs. This is a missed opportunity, as some Amazon reviewers have pointed out. A very serious political book that is filled with characters who aren't strong enough to pull off their roles in the story is a missed opportunity.

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What about the Movie?

I loved it. I've seen it five times in the theaters (paying for it every time) and the only reason I haven't purchased it on DVD is because of the fact that unfortunately I don't have a DVD player that will play it at the moment. The movie is well worth seeing, though vastly different from the books. I firmly believe that everyone should read the book before seeing the movie because of these differences. There are long periods of little action during the movie during which Katniss would have been doing a lot of thinking in the book.

Still, very definitely worth seeing the movie if you've enjoyed the book. I'm interested to know what you think of it, so feel free to use the comments to share!

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