Hunger Games (My Thoughts)

Last week I finished The Hunger Games.

Before I get too far into this review, let me just say that I think there are two types of stories, whether in movies or books – stories that have some sort of driving point (whether inspirational, educational, political, etc.), and then there are stories that are mainly for entertainment, with no clear point.  And I think that’s just fine.  I can really appreciate both types.

When I decided to go ahead and read The Hunger Games, I was under the impression that it was of the first variety – a story with a point behind it.  I heard from multiple sources, people and articles, that The Hunger Games was meant as a “cautionary tale” of what could happen when government or the media get out of control, or of what may happen if we lose our sensitivity to violence as a society.

And I just have to say, having read the book now, I didn’t get any of that.

I see no real point against letting government or media get out of control in the book. Sure, the government and media are out of control in Panem, but I think they have to be to make the plot work. Though I obviously don’t know exactly what the author was trying to portray, as I was reading I didn’t get the feeling the author wrote this book trying to make a point about either media or governmental control. They just seemed like necessary plot elements.

As for the idea that she’s trying to send a message about not losing our sensitivity to violence, if that is so then I think the content of the book is rather counter-productive. Deaths are described in detail, and it’s one of the more violent books I’ve read.  Generally speaking, the more violence we are exposed to in books and movies the more danger we are in of becoming insensitive to it, so I can’t say I think this book is all that helpful on that point.

If a book is going to have a message behind it, there has to be some dialogue or scenes in the book that really drive the point home – and I kept waiting for it, but it never came.  There were vague stirrings of a point here and there, and I kept thinking that maybe this is where “cautionary” message I expected to read would be addressed, but nothing that I would consider solid was ever said. 

If there was a point that the author was trying to make, it was weakly portrayed.  Strictly judging from content, I wouldn’t see any particular intended message behind this book without also reading a commentary on it.  All of those suggested points I mentioned before came from commentators, not from the actual book itself.

I have no problem if commentators or parents want to use the story to help make their own point about out-of-control government or media, or about being insensitive to violence.  But the book itself is pretty neutral and doesn’t exactly say anything against either – the reader is left to draw their own conclusions, if any are to be drawn.

So if this isn’t a book with a particular point (and I just don’t think it is, in and of itself), then it’s main value would lie in entertainment.  Which is absolutely fine.  I’m not one of those people who thinks everything has to have a purpose, and I love a good, entertaining story.

If I’m looking at the book from a strict “entertainment-value” standpoint, then I do have to say that the book is very entertaining.  It’s exciting and suspenseful.  Every time I finished a chapter I had a hard time not starting the next one.  There’s no doubt that it’s well-written.

However, I kept feeling like there was something that was just off.  And I wish I could put my finger on it better.

Maybe it was the fact that I thought Katniss was almost disturbingly good at playing “the game”, and everything she did seemed to be for the camera - we are left to applaud her for her cleverness throughout the story, even though doing things only for the camera shouldn't necessarily be something to aspire to (I don’t think so, anyway). 

Maybe it was the plain old reason that this entertaining story was, in fact, about children being forced to kill other children.  

Maybe it was because I felt that even though the violence in the book wasn’t condoned, it almost seemed to be accepted because that’s “the way things are” in Panem.

Whatever it was, something just didn’t sit right.

I agree with the mom who petitioned to get The Hunger Games off her middle schooler’s reading list from her school - I don’t think this book is appropriate for younger preteens/teens.  Kids that age are so impressionable, and they are still forming their worldviews.  I don’t think it would be beneficial for a child that age to be reading about a world where kids do whatever it takes to survive.  In my opinion, it would be wise to wait until they were a little older and had a bit more practice at thinking critically about this sort of thing before reading this book, if it is indeed a book the parent decides is okay.

I’m not trying to pick on the book or be overly-critical, and I can’t say I thought the book was “bad” . . . but I also can’t say I thought the book was good.  It just was . . . and for a book that just is, I have my doubts.  Though it was hard to put down, and I was dying to find out what happened between Katniss and Peeta, I can’t say I’m really a fan for that reason. 

Thankfully there are lots of reviews with spoilers out there, so I know what happens with Peeta and Katniss without having to read the next books.

Okay, I’m prepared to be pelted with rotten tomatoes now, but that’s my opinion.  Take it or leave it.




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28 comments

  1. lol "pelted with rotten tomatoes."

    Well, the the trilogy builds on itself- to get the author's full intention it is necessary to see the story through until completion- she drives home the point about governmental control/miss use of power in book 2 and 3 as well, culminating in a very clear point at the end.

    As for Katniss- I think we, as the readers, are supposed to struggle internally with being proud of her cleverness and being disgusted w/ the normalcy of the necessity of survival at all costs, because Katniss herself struggles with it through all 3 books!

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    1. I've read some reviews/heard about the next books from friends, and I know there is obviously more in those books that I'm missing. One of my friends who has a similar view as mine on the book though still thought the next books didn't drive the point home enough for her, so rather than get myself frustrated I think I'm going to skip on reading the rest. I like the points in my fiction to be really strongly made, especially when dealing with such a morbid plot, so that's the main reason I wasn't crazy about it. :-)

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  2. I appreciate your review! Originally I loved them and really picked up on the "standing up against the status quo" thing that you referenced that some people get out of it. That so long the wealthy of the world stood and watched suffering like a sport and didn't care if it was wrong (because really, that's kind of what is happening in our world now... not that we watch it as a sport, but that we buy and enjoy clothes, coffee, etc that are made at the expense of others). Anyway, I got that ORIGINALLY. And I think that point is still valid, but I recently read a review about how if Katniss is a real hero she shouldn't have played along with the game. She is just another piece, she should have stood strong against what she hated and found a different. Now I see that and agree with that too. Complex issue!

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    1. That's a good point too! I think points can definitely be drawn from it, but I felt they weren't so strongly made that everyone would draw those points from it, and that was my main problem with it. I like the points in my fiction to be strongly made, especially if we're dealing with such a morbid plot, you know?

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  3. I agree with you that the book is maybe too violent for middle-schoolers. If I had my own children, I would probably make them wait until high school to read the book. However, I do disagree that it's a book purely for entertainment. Maybe it's because I've read the entire series and saw how (slight SPOILER ahead) Katniss and a whole group rose up to revolt against the Capitol. To me it was a story about how we need to think for ourselves and fight back if the government or a higher power is oppressing us. So maybe you have to read the whole series to really get the whole picture. And there was quite a bit of violence in it, but nothing that I thought was too inappropriate for an older young adult or adult. In my opinion, the violence served a purpose, and so I didn't mind it much. Honestly, it was milder than some stories in the Old Testament :-)

    Anyway, all the books are 3 of my favorites, so maybe I'm a little biased. Agree to disagree :-)

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    1. I agree that there are points that can be drawn from it, and I'm sure the next books add to that. My issue was more that it seemed so subjective - I felt the point wasn't strongly made to the point where say, a casual middle-school reader, would pull it out without a commentary or some direction from a teacher/parent - and that's my main issue with it. If my fiction is supposed to have a point to it, I like it to made pretty strongly!

      And sure there are alot of violent things in the old testament, some of them more violent than the occurrences in the book, but I think it's a bit different reading it from the emotional perspective of a main character as opposed to the matter-of-fact descriptions in the Bible, you know?

      I'm okay with agreeing to disagree, like I said, something just didn't sit right for me. :-)

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  4. My husband teaches high school english and LOVES this series! So does his school librarian. I just saw the movie and didn't read the books but in the movie Katniss does stuff "for the camera" but doesn't really seem to enjoy it...it's all to win so she can get back home to her mom and sister. Peeta (is that even how you spell his name? the names in this book are strange) has a "stick it to the man" kind of attitude. I'm still deciding if I should take the time to read them.

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    1. She doesn't seem to like what she does in the books either, but I didn't get Peeta having a "stick it to the man" attitude from the book aside from one comment about him not wanting them to "turn him into something he's not" through the games. I think there are definitely points that could be drawn from it with the direction of a teacher/parent, but I didn't feel like the points were strong enough to be obvious without that direction (unless you go in looking for a point), which was my main problem with it. I like the points in my fiction to be strongly made, especially if we're dealing with such a morbid plot! :-)

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  5. Thanks for the review, Callie! I have the first two books but haven't read either - I don't know if I can handle them because of the violence. I have an overly-active imagination and struggle with anxiety and nightmares. :( Sounds silly maybe, but it's the truth.

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    1. It's not silly! Some people are more sensitive to that than others - I have another friend who is the same way, and she didn't like the book for that reason. :-/ I felt like I wanted to read it so I could form an opinion on it, and I expected a stronger point, so it was disappointing to me. You'll have to let me know what you think if you do read it.

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  6. Callie,
    good review! I see your point and I do agree that it may be too much for middle schoolers... I don't think I'd like my kids reading that till they're older.
    But as for what you said about the book lacking in governmental points... you should read the other 2 books... while it's the same premise, it does go into more detail about the country and the corruption.

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    1. Thanks Nicole! Do you feel the point is made more strongly in the second two books? Based on what I've heard from a friend of mine, it still wasn't made as strongly as she would have liked (and she and I thought alot of the same things about it), so I almost don't want to read the next two, just because I don't want to be frustrated if it still doesn't meet my expectations!

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  7. Good review! I liked the books but I think you make valid points. And no way I don't think they should be on the shelves for preteens/teens...It's definitely an adult book ALL the way. And the complete nonexistence of God in the books is a huge bummer. Personally I did take something of a cautionary tale away from the books when I read them, but I wouldn't read them again. If anyone throws rotten tomatoes at you they are crazy!

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    1. Ha, thanks Kendra! You just never know what people might say, but I'm usually prepared for the backlash when I post something controversial. :-) And I did think there were points that people could draw from it if they wanted to, but I don't think they were obvious enough that everyone would draw those points, you know? Thanks for the support!

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  8. I agree with everything you said! You made some good points I hadn't thought of and after reading all three of the books I still come to the same conclusion as you do.

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    1. Thanks Michelle, I am glad to hear that someone who has read all three books doesn't think I'm completely off! I've heard enough about the other books that I know they wouldn't be satisfying to me either, but it's good to hear it from someone who has read all three too. :-)

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  10. I loved reading your review as I feel we have the same opinions on alot of things. I have no desire to read this series actually, but was still interested in what you had to say. :)

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    1. Thanks Ashley, I appreciate the support! :-)

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  11. Very thoughtful and well written post! I had not read any commentaries on HG before I picked it up and I'm guessing my expectations would have lined up with yours if I had.

    I agree that it was very well written (for entertainment purposes), because I read it in one night!... but it was just too much for me! When I first finished book 1, I was about ready to download book 2. After a little more thought, I realized my sensitivity to the violence was just not worth finishing the story.

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    1. I know what you mean - I felt that some of the descriptions were a little much - like the way the drew out that last death so long. I usually can handle some violence okay, but I think it affected me more than I thought, because I totally had an involved dream about me being in the Hunger Games and people trying to kill me! It affects you more than you know sometimes!

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  12. I had not read any commentaries or anything before picking up the first book. I agree it is a page turner! Very entertaining - but you are right, graphic as far as killing goes - and NOT for middle schoolers. There are so many better books for kids that age :) I enjoyed reading your thoughts and your review gives me lots to think about as I consider reading the next books. (I really want to know what happens with Katniss and Peeta too! No rotten tomatoes here - my mom always taught me if I dont have something nice to say, dont say anything at all :)

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  13. I skimmed through the book, and I wasn't impressed with her use of grammar or some of the descriptions she used like "At least her blood was flowing... " There are a lot of authors who attempt to use medical/biological terms, and use them ineffectively. (As a biologist/vet student, I notice and lose interest).

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  14. great review! I definitely looked at this series as entertainment only...of course most of the time I'm reading for fun anyway so I normally approach books as simply entertainment and try to sheild myself from reading too much into any sort of "agenda" when reading.

    I definitely agree about the age level of these books...I have a hard time understanding why any parent would want their children to read/see books or movies with so much violence directed toward children of the same age. I remember reading lots of worthless "Goosebumps" books when I was a young girl and my mom finally put a stop to that as I was filling my mind with useless thoughts!

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  15. I was really glad when I saw you were doing this review! I have come to respect your opinion about media choices :)

    Why are all the popular teen books so violent and controversial anymore? I would be interested to know more about the love story in the Hunger Games, because I HATE (yes, strong word) the message that Twilight sends (tomatoes for me?).

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  16. I am biased because I really enjoyed the Hunger Games series. I have really gotten back into ready lately and since it a time for me to unwind, i normally only pick books for entertainment value. With that in mind, I didn't read the series looking for huge points to be made. However, the thing that does stick out to me from these series is the amount of unselfishness and sacrifice (Katniss going into the games for her sister, Peeta putting Katniss' welfare ahead of his own in the games, etc). This series actually sparked an interest in dystopian trilogies. If the like the HG books, you might also like the trilogies by Vironica Roth and Lauren Oliver. The one by Roth also contains some violence, but I don't remember much in the one by Lauren Oliver (I felt hers were a little bit slower though)

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  17. I was actually much more critical of the Hunger Games series. I read the series to see what all the hype was about, and I must admit I don't get it. I found the writing pretty amateur - her grammar and use of metaphors and similes was not good. The characters to me were very flat - one-sided. They were either good or bad and when she tried to develop the characters or make them seem more complex, it felt very contrived. I greatly disliked Katniss, to be honest. She came across as a whiner, self-absorbed and just... fake. She was TOO good at the Hunger Games, and the whole thing seemed over the top. My favourite characters were Finnick and Johanna as they were the most interesting and realistic of the bunch.

    I felt somewhat different regarding what drives the novels: I found the author's intention to be far too obvious and she almost treated her readers as if they were too stupid to understand what the novels were about. Some of the dialogue was so contrived, you could tell the author was just including the conversation to really drive the point home.

    On the other hand, there were aspects of the novel that were entirely vague and lacked detail or explanation. All in all, I really disliked all three books, but am not one to start a series and not finish it. I read them all but was very happy to finally be through them. While I think they were better than the Twilight series (because I just hate Twilight), I didn't think the writer's technique was any better than Stephanie Meyers'. In other words, they both have poor grammar, do not write the most interesting dialogue and are somewhat amateurish in their style. Would I recommend these novels? No.

    My sister-in-law thoroughly enjoyed them, and while I think the idea behind the stories was great, I think a more experienced writer may have handled it better.

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