Book Review: The Hunger Games

I haven’t done a book review for awhile, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading! Dan’s kind enough to feed Lizzy her last bottle of the night, so I can escape to bed a little early and read (he’s done this from very early on, and it’s meant a lot.).

One book series that I’ve been plowing through deserves some attention because it’s certainly gaining a lot of interest from young adult readers. If you have a high schooler in your life, you’ve probably already heard of The Hunger Games.

When I first heard the premise, I thought it sounded revolting. It’s a distopian novel about a future time in North America, where children are forced to battle for their lives in an arena so their families have food. Who wants to read about kids killing each other? But apparently, lots of people do, because these books are flying off the shelves.

If you’ve read my other book reviews, you know my philosophy about reading these books. They are very popular, and therefore, to fully engage the culture, it’s worthwhile to read them. I sort of look at these as the latest fad book in line with Harry Potter and Twilight. And regardless of their entertainment value or even their moral value, these books can function as a lens from which to view our society.

You can find more extensive summaries of the book elsewhere (it’s the first in a trilogy). Here, I merely want to touch on some themes that are worthwhile to consider.

  1. Sacrifice

I don’t want to give any spoilers here, but people offer their lives in exchange for others. This happens a few times in the book. Some of the most climatic and key points in the book focus on these sacrifices. This is by no means a Christian story, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find elements of Truth in it. And what better way to discuss Christ’s sacrifice for our sake than to talk about it in terms of the familiar, how favorite characters willingly offer themselves for others.

2. The “haves” and “have nots”

    Similar to other famous distopian novels, such as 1984 and Brave New World, the government is an all powerful entity that oppresses certain groups of people, creating a “haves” and “have nots” kind of culture. In The Hunger Games, the “haves” live in “The Capitol,” where excess characterizes their lives. The “have nots” live everywhere else, making sprockets for the Capital’s conspicuous consumption while they are starving.

    Let’s not get Marxist over this, about redistribution and the proletariat and all. But let’s think about how despite a recession, we still have a heck of a lot more than most of the world. We’re the conspicuous consumers, the “haves,” benefitting from the back breaking labor in sweat shops. This isn’t a reminder to be thankful for all we have but to think about what we do with it. Are we like the folks in the Capitol, binging and purging just to taste new party foods (a book two reference, but it really hit me hard)? How do we share our bounty to bless the “have nots,” instead of inventing more ways to waste it on unnecessary things?

    3. What is real?

      There’s a lot of deception and strategic double dealing in The Hunger Games. The Capitol stages the games, but there’s a lot of artifice involved, from the created game area, to the way contestants are presented to the public. Those living in the Capitol, getting entertained by the games, aren’t aware of all the behind the scenes work that presents a fraud for a fact.

      On the most basic level, its easy to see how this is like the “reality” TV that is so popular these days. But I also see it as very similar to what it’s like to be a Christian in this world.

      We Christians are in a world that isn’t our home. The games people play here aren’t our games. Chasing after money, sex, power, and the like is the pastime of most everyone else. But we play by different rules, seek different things, serve someone else.

      Katniss, the main character, sees through the artifice in these games and is a citizen of a different world. She has to hold to the very tenuous balance that we Christians have every day, to be in the world of artifice but not be of that world. And it’s not always crystal clear what that means, how to act in this strange place that makes unsavory demands of us. But in the struggle, she has companions to help her, and we have them too: our friends, our Church, God.

      I’d love to hear what others think of this book. It’s due to be out as a movie in a year, meaning it will get even more widespread exposure. Why not dive in now to be ready to discuss it then?

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      8 CommentsLeave a comment

      1. I recently read the trilogy and loved it. I wasn’t comfortable with the brutality involving children and am hoping they make the children older (preferably over 18) when they make the movie, but I believe it was almost necessary to show just how evil the powers that be in the Capitol were. And even just how evil, or close to evil, the future president was/would be. Evil at its worst always goes for our children.

      2. I have always found it strange that books classified as Young Adult have such dire themes. Adult novels are fluff by comparison. I wonder how classroom discussions about the book go, and how often parents preview the contents. Ten years ago my YA lit prof commented that the current themes were dark and expected to get much darker. Suicide seems to be a common plot element. I wish parents would be more aware and engaged about all YA books…and would encourage all adults to browse the YA areas of bookstores and libraries when searching for engaging fiction.

      3. Hi Amy,

        I’m almost finished reading this book and having a hard time with the dark theme of kids killing kids. I don’t usually read YA books and I’m a little sad this is whats out there for teens. I probably won’t read the other books, due to the disturbing violence.

        My teenage daughter is reading it with me and we’ve been able to have some good discussions on what’s happening in the story. I came across your review by searching for christian reviews of this book and you have some great points here and good ideas for more discussion. Thanks for sharing.

        Cathy

      4. I haven’t read it yet but am contemplating it due to the fact that my teenage daughter is wanting to read it. Like you the whole theme is revolting to me and I am having a hard time understanding why this would be attractive “fun” reading to kids. Your thoughts are helpful. Thanks for sharing them!

      5. The summaries of this book are enough to say no this book is not appropriate. A situation where kids are forced to kill other kids. Also beware its a 5.3 reading level in Ar meaning our elementary school kids could be reading this for points for AR. Why is it horrifying and sick and sad when teens kill other teens and we see it on the news, but considered entertainment in books and movies?

      6. I have a question: at what age would you consider your child mature enough to read these books?

        • Al: Thanks for posting Ruth Ann. I think it’s an individual question. I’m not a fan of the whole rating system out there for movies, and I’m not one for book either because I think there are so many factors going into the decision about what’s right for what people. I know 30-year-olds who probably aren’t emotionally or spiritually ready to handle the books. But I also know really mature 12-year-olds with awesome parents who can talk them through the books as they read them, and it would be a great experience for all involved. I can’t say for my daughter. We’ll see when we get there, I guess.

      7. Movie is due out this coming Friday and libraries are well stocked with copies. My husband read through all three books in three days. I will see the movie then decide if I want to fork over the hours to read them too.

        AL: Jill, I’m surprised you’re going in that order! I’m sure you have a lot of books competing for your reading time, though. Bravo to Bernie for the quick read. I tried to pace myself because I was tempted to do the same, and I wanted to spread out the enjoyment a little bit. Hope you enjoy it enough to read them.


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