All a bit tasteless? Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

hungerWhen this was first chosen as our next book club book I was unenthusiastic;  I had previously heard this reviewed on Radio 4’s  A Good Read and I found the idea of reading a book about children killing each other in Gladiator style contests a bit depressing and disturbing.  That said, once I started reading I only stopped once and finished it in two sessions, it is a real page turner but the subject matter is just so horrible that I was left feeling really bleak, so I won’t be reading the next two straight away.

Katniss lives in a futuristic, dystopian land which used to be America.  It is controlled by the Capitol who as a punishment  for a previous rebellion by the surrounding districts hold  televised Games each year where 12 boys and 12 girls from each district have to fight it out to the death.  After her younger sister Prim’s name is drawn  for the competition Katniss volunteers herself in order to save her.  Along with the other district 12 competitor Peeta, they leave their lives of poverty to be feted in the Capitol before taking part in the Games.  Peeta claims to be in love with Katniss but it is unclear if he is genuine or is simply playing the game.

Some people have argued that this book is a condemnation of capitalism, the Capitol is wealthy but leave some of the surrounding districts starving, it  is  as a vacuous, materialistic place in comtrast to Katniss’ daily struggle to feed her family.  The book is also is a critique of reality TV, which has reached its all time low;  in order to win the games Katniss  has to fake a romance, and despite being forced to kill others she cannot show her true feelings as she has to win audience support in order to gain gifts to survive.

Now I am not some righty conservative but the horrific deaths and violence in this book ( victims are stung to death, impaled by spears, ripped apart by wild dogs and battered to death with stones) which is aimed at teenagers made me question whether they would really want to read this.  The answer is  probably.  The teenagers I spoke to generally enjoyed it, although a few did say it was horrible or they thought there was too much romance.  I personally kept hoping that Katniss would rise up and overthrow the system and not take part in the killings, so I  question whether she really is a radical heroine.  Of course because you have to milk a popular idea this is part of a trilogy,  so I have no doubt she will be rebelling against the system in the next book.   I would also question Katniss reason for not wanting to get romantic,  she argues this is because would not want to have a child that in the future could be entered into the games –  is there no contraception in the Capitol?

So my overall question is what is this book really teaching children? (Daily Mail reader alert)  Will teenagers really think about the underlying message (if there is one) or enjoy the gore of teenagers killing each other, I would go with the latter.

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2 responses to “All a bit tasteless? Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

  1. As a fiction editor for a small press, and an author of YA books myself, I have come to distrust what the NY publishers push as literature for young people. However, I found a lot to admire in Collins’ writing. The way she uses Katniss’ immediate perceptions to characterize her and those around her was masterful. Yes, the subject matter is distasteful. However, good speculative fiction explores the answers to questions about what would happen in society if this current trend was taken to its logical conclusion. If our current reality TV shows were taken to the conclusion of Roman-style gladitorial games, informed by the way the US “punishes” the people of defeated enemies, the Hunger Games seems a pretty logical conclusion. Such an exploration may provide a cautionary tale for our next generation. Let’s hope so.

    • I did find it readable but it was interesting that even the people at our book group who really enjoyed it thought that the style of writing was a bit limited. Do you think young people will pick up on the cautionary tale in this book or does it become clearer in the next books in the trilogy?

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