As one of the few adults in my circle who’s actually read the books, I’ve been getting that question quite a bit this week. I read all three in the past 10 days, in part to prep for my radio show (I knew this week’s film opening would be a hot topic) and in part because I have a 12-year-old son who wants to see the movie and read the books.
I haven’t seen the movie (and here’s a hint about how I feel about the books: I have no interest in seeing it, either), but let me tell you what The Hunger Games books are by telling you what they are not.
First, they’re not Harry Potter or Lord of the Flies. Suzanne Collins isn’t in the same league as C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkein. If you’re letting your kids read The Hunger Games because you want them reading great juvenile fiction, go to your used bookstore now and trade them in for Mark Twain—stat!
This is pure teen escapist fiction, and I don’t mean that as an insult. And the first of the three books is fairly engrossing story-telling, too. The quality of the story begins falling rapidly in the second and third books, alas.
The Hunger Games is also not political. There’s a fair amount of talk on the web about the politics of Panem (the world in which the characters live) and the oppressive central government that forces children into a televised arena to kill each other for the nation’s entertainment (“panem et circenses,” Latin for “bread and circuses,” get it?)
But the politics of the “Capitol” regime and the political goals of the rebels are non-existent in the pages of the book. Is evil President Snow a dictator? Or part of a regime? Is it fascist, or communist, or is the powerful centralized government all that’s keeping post-apocalyptic humanity alive? (There’s some talk in the book of humans being on the verge of extinction.)
Who knows? Suzanne Collins doesn’t say, and the main characters don’t know and don’t seem to particularly care.
Which brings up another problem for The Hunger Games books: They’re not smart. There are plot jerks that make no sense. Actions that seem to have been forbidden on one page suddenly become part of the plot a few pages later. Main characters completely change their personality, then revert to the previous selves through bizarre and annoying plot lines. The adult leaders of the rebellion seem utterly incompetent to handle the whims of a handful of teenagers; while the evil geniuses running the Hunger Games as a form of population control spend most of the first two books using them to whip the populace into a rebellious frenzy.
Not particularly well-written, not insightful and not smart. So what are The Hunger Games books?
Cruel. They are ridiculously, and unnecessarily cruel. If your idea of “escapist fiction” is to watch kids stab, shoot, strangle, poison, chop and bludgeon each other to death—this is the book series for you. If you like reading books about young people getting starved, tortured, burned and maimed—your dream has come true! If you think your 10-year-old should spend her (tween girls are the target demo for these books) time reading about their “heroine” plotting to murder people—and then doing so, graphically and cruelly—you got it in The Hunger Games.
I talked to the mother of a 12-year-old yesterday who is taking her daughter to see The Hunger Games this weekend. Her daughter read the first book at age 10 and, while Mom acknowledge that, yes, “the books are a little cruel and violent,” she was glad her daughter read them because “she needs to learn what the world is really like.”
Uh, no. No, it’s not. We live in a stupid and sometimes cruel world, but we don’t kidnap people’s kids, give them axes, bows and swords and then put them on national TV to watch them kill each other. We don’t watch people have their flesh ripped off by acid or getting ripped apart by backs of genetically-altered dogs for fun.
What we DO do, apparently, is take our 10-year-old kids to movies so THEY can watch all this “fun.”
I almost gasped aloud when this mom told me that she let her daughter read/watch The Hunger Games for the same reason she let her read Night, Elie Wiesel’s eye-witness account of the Holocaust. Many adults find Night a difficult read because of the cruelty and horror inflicted on innocent people by the Nazis.
She gave it to her 10 year old…
Once again, unlike the Holocaust, The Hunger Games didn’t happen. It’s a fictional horror invented to entertain(?) young readers.
But let me ask you this: How would you feel if you walked into a junior high school and found every kid with a copy of Night in his backpack, talking about how it was his favorite book, how he loved the exciting Holocaust storyline?
Personally, I’d go straight home, grab my passport and look for another English-speaking country to make my home.
If you want more info on the movie (as opposed to the books), click here for James Verniere’s review in the Boston Herald. My favorite part is the “warning” for parents at the end of the review: “The Hunger Games” contains scene of extreme violence and the murder of children.
How heart-warmingly naïve. Verniere thinks “the murder of children” might be off-putting to “Hunger Games” fans. In fact, it’s the entire point.