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Considering that ninety-percent of young adult fiction these days is hardly worth the cost of the paper it’s printed on, I was thoroughly shocked when I finished The Hunger Games trilogy and found myself concluding that it was one of the best things I’d ever read.

Stephen E. Ambrose – author of such classics as Band Of Brothers and Undaunted Courage – once observed that reading for pleasure usually gave him an escape from work and on rare occasions something to remember and on a very few occasions a book that he couldn’t put down until he’d finished it and one that he could never forget. And without a doubt, The Hunger Games trilogy falls into the latter category. Well-conceived and written, gripping, poignant, and sometimes downright brutal, it offered me one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in a while.

Among the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. 74 years before the narrative begins, there were thirteen districts. These districts rose in rebellion against the Capitol, but were crushed. District 13 was completely obliterated; the other twelve were forced back into servitude. And to make sure that no such rebellion happens again, the Capitol requires that each district contribute one boy and one girl to the yearly Hunger Games, a type of futuristic gladiatorial contest, where the combatants fight each other on live TV. Only one of them will make it out alive.

In the first book of the trilogy, The Hunger Games, 16-year old Katniss Everdeen, an inhabitant of District 12, volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the Games. She regards it as a death sentence. Then again, Katniss has had near-death experiences before. For her, survival is second-nature, and soon she becomes a serious contender. But to win, she’ll have to start making decisions that pit survival against humanity, and life against love.

Catching Fire is the second installment, and Collins dutifully ratchets things up a notch, creating one of the most intense atmospheres I’ve ever encountered. And the final book, Mockingjay, is simply phenomenal. To call it a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy is an understatement. I won’t spoil these for you. You can read them for yourself and see what I mean.

Collins’ achievement is no small matter. She has succeeded in creating a true trilogy, one where the books mesh flawlessly with each other to form a cohesive, breathtaking whole. Her writing style is entirely lucid and engaging, her pacing is perfect, and she has an astounding knack for unleashing twists and turns that her readers never see coming. Reading the final half of Mockingjay was probably one of the most jarring experiences I’ve had while reading a book. The sheer emotional impact of it was nearly overwhelming.

As far as content goes, these books are pretty clean, though I wouldn’t recommend them for audiences under 15. The themes are dark, intense, and very mature. The violence, though not gratuitous, is quite brutal at times (particularly in Mockingjay), and there are some disturbing scenes of torture, mutilation, and death. There is also some incidental nudity (related to the Games) in the first two books, as well as some mildly suggestive dialogue. And though a love story is woven throughout the trilogy, Collins doesn’t go overboard with it; it actually adds an interesting facet to the story.

Collins, to my knowledge, does not profess to be a Christian, but there’s plenty for Christians to think about as they read The Hunger Games trilogy. Just how far would you go to survive? Is it right to meet brutality with brutality? How does society glorify violence and death in its entertainment? Is murdering children in an arena really any different from killing them in the womb? In what ways is the depraved President Snow – the one who smells of “blood and roses” – like Satan? How do his tactics against the people of Panem resemble Satan’s tactics against our souls? And how often do the very safeguards designed to protect liberty only endanger it?

Do yourself a favor and read these books. Collins’ blend of thoughtful science fiction, suspense, romance and political intrigue won’t disappoint you. Like another critic said, “Whereas Katniss kills with finesse, Collins writes with raw power.”

– Corey P.


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Published on 26 July, 2011. Last updated on

13 Comments

  1. Freya Morris

    Thanks for the review. I had heard about this thrilogy in the past few weeks and was wondering whether to give it a read.

    I thought it sounded alot like Battle Royale (the film) and this put me off a bit. Is it?

    But I might read it for myself now.

  2. Eustacia Tan

    @Freya Morris: Hey, um, I couldn’t help but see your comment about Battle Royale. Actually, Battle Royale, to me anyway, has many parallels to Lord of the Flies, and it was actually a book before it became a movie, so the movie may be inacurrate (I can’t say because I haven’t watched the movie)

  3. Corey P.

    @Jeffrey: You’re welcome! Hope you enjoy the books! 🙂

    @Freya: I have not seen Battle Royale, but from what I’ve read about it, Hunger Games is a lot different. The two may share a slight resemblence (i.e. the scenario of children forced to fight each other), but as Eustacia said, Battle Royale sounds more like a vamped up version of Lord of the Flies. Hope that helps! 🙂

  4. Corey P.

    @Jeffrey: Correct. It’s set to hit theaters sometime in 2012, and from what I can tell so far, it’s lookin’ good. All the more reason to read the books. 🙂

  5. Jennifer

    Nice review. I’ve read all but Mockingjay, and I’m still trying to decide what I feel about them. They definitely bring up a lot of questions to consider.

    I’m wondering what the movie will be rated once it is out. It’s one thing to read a book with not-very-descriptive violence, but a movie? 🙂

  6. Corey P.

    @Jennifer: The books are fairly brutal, but I heard the filmmakers are going for a PG-13, thus making it more “accessible” for younger audiences. Even so, it’ll probably be a pretty violent PG-13 film. I’m curious to see how it will turn out.

  7. Slightly Opinionated Nerd

    I’ve only read the first book in the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy, but I actually didn’t like it. It wasn’t terrible or anything, I was just disappointed that the novel focused more on romance than the far more interesting potential themes. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if Katniss had questioned killing people to survive a bit more often. As it was, she barely gave a thought to those she had killed to survive (I can only recall one example). Even if showed a bit more reluctance towards ending the lives of others would have made the book ten times better.
    I also did not like the way romance was portrayed. Although it is the main focus of Katniss’ thoughts, it was really only a pretend romance for survival. I’m not a fan of teenage romance at the best of times, but this made it even worse. 🙁
    And Katniss was a more reactive character than active. She didn’t seem to mind that for most of the Games she was pretending to be someone she wasn’t. It kind of got on my nerves after a while.
    But from what you’ve said, it sounds like the books get better. So maybe I’ll give them a go.
    Thanks for the review. 🙂

  8. Corey P.

    @Nerd: Like you, I really, really, dislike teen romance books; however, The Hunger Games never came across that way to me. I think the reason romance played as big a role as it did is because, if you’ll remember, Katniss and Peeta were forced to play it up to gain the sympathy of those watching the Games.

    In Catching Fire and Mockingjay, Katniss is genuinely troubled by the fact that the “love” between her and Peeta was survival stunt. Such false romance is never portrayed as a good thing; rather, it’s shown to cause much heartache and bitterness.

    I’m not sure I agree that the book would have been better had Katniss “questioned killing people to survive a bit more often”. I think that would have just added unnecessary melodrama. I actually appreciated that she was as morally-conscious as she was: unlike most of the other constants, she only resorted to killing when her life or Peeta’s life was threatened. Which is, to my mind, completely justified.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts about the book. I appreciate your honesty. 🙂

  9. Jessica Woode

    Thank you so much for this review! I agree with everything that you said about these books. I recently finished reading this trilogy, and I would consider it to be one of the best works that I have read in quite a long time. Although I am very excited that The Hunger Games movie is being released, I’m still not sure that I’ll end up watching it if it ends up being as intense as the books were!

    To sum it up, these books blew me away. The plot was complete and the characters were captivating and real. I was extremely glad that I took the opportunity to read them. 🙂

    ~Jessica

  10. Corey P.

    @Jessica: Glad you agree. I really was surprised at how awesome the series was; I’m glad I gave it chance, since I generally avoid most of secular YA fiction.

  11. Corey P.

    @Jessica: I am anxious to see how the movie turns out. I sure hope they don’t ruin it the way Hollywood does most book-to-film adaptions. 🙂

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