(Since this review covers the Hunger Games series in its entirety, please be advised that it contains spoilers.)
Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and its two sequels, in this reviewer’s opinion, make up one of the most compelling series published in recent years. The Hunger Games begins in an America that is unrecognizable to the reader, since it has been ravaged by civil war.
The nation is now under total government control and is called “Panem.” In an attempt to keep the people from overthrowing the government, Panem has been split into 12 different districts. Every year, to remind all of the districts of their past “unfaithfulness” to the government (known as the Capitol), each of them must send a male and female to fight to the death in a mysterious and treacherous arena. These games are widely shown across all 12 districts, and cameras are on the tributes at all times as they are “playing” and attempting to outwit and kill each other.
Katniss is a 16-year-old girl who grew up in District 12 in extreme poverty. The only family she has is her mother, who has been depressed since Katniss’s father’s death, and her little sister, Prim, who is the apple of her eye. When it comes time for the “reaping” (the drawing of the tributes for the District Games), Prim’s name is drawn, but Katniss volunteers to take her place because she could not bear to watch her small sister be one of the first to die.
Alongside Katniss stands Peeta, the son of the town’s baker, who has looked out for Katniss in the past and, unbeknownst to Katniss, is in love with her. This “love story” going into the games is something that their trainer, Haymitch, deems beneficial to help the couple stand out amongst the 24 tributes.
However, only one person is allowed to win the games.
Catching Fire picks up almost immediately after The Hunger Games ends, and deals with the fallout of the events from the first story, which have sparked the anger of the Capitol and an uprising among the districts. Mockingjay escalates things even further, as the rebel forces plot to assassinate the president. The story is filled with twists and turns, lies and truth from the most unexpected characters.
It’s made very clear that the games are not child’s play. It deals with death, evil, and the destruction of other humans, to the almost “joy” of those watching and taking bets on the games. (Some readers have brought up a correlation between the description of the games and reality television.) These books do not hide evil under a rock or behind a pretty painting; it is real and it is there for all to see. However, you also see the empathy and sympathy tributes have for others, even for fellow tributes who want to kill them. For some characters, killing other tributes is something enjoyable, but in the eyes of Katniss and Peeta, it is something that takes away their humanity. At times you can sense that they hate themselves for what they have to do to survive and protect each other.
As I said before, this series shows evil for what it is, and in Panem, evil is dark and gritty. Since this is a young adult book, the violence is described, but not in gory details; the romance between characters is honest but not overdone in an erotic manner; and the heart of humanity shown in the series is very real.
It is my belief that evil is not fictional vampires or a wizard who speaks Latin to conjure up spells, but the hearts of humans and what they are capable of in a world without God (which, intentionally or unintentionally, this series depicts). As Christians, we do not need to be blind to the evils depicted in series like The Hunger Games, but rather see evil for what it is and fight against it.
Esther J. Archer is a writer and seminary student in Tennessee.
Image copyright Scholastic Press. Review copies were obtained at the reviewer’s local bookstore.