Most of you who know me have heard me gush about Unwind! It was one of my favorite YA novels of last year. When I mention it, people ask if I’ve read the The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins. I finally have! It surpassed all my expectations. I wanted something that would hook and disturb me as much as Unwind. AND IT DID!
Katniss lives in a world that was once the U.S. It is now an oppressive society run by the Capital. The Capital rules 12 Districts with intense fear, not unlike 1984. Katniss lives in District 12 which appears to be what’s left of West Virginia. Food is scarce there. After her father dies in a mining accident, Katniss takes up his job as hunter to keep her mother and little sister, Prim fed.
Each year a boy and a girl between the ages of 12-18 from each district must compete in the Hunger Games. It is a reality TV show where the children fight to the death on live television. The children and their families have no choice in this matter. Each year the names of the contestants, or tributes as they are called in the book, are drawn out of bowls on live television. This year the girl is Prim, Katniss’s sister. Knowing this is a death sentence for her sweet sister, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and a boy named Peeta are carted off to the capital where they become instant celebrities with stylists and plenty of good food and luxury. The difference between what Katniss had to eat in District 12 and at the Capital is staggering. Her relationship with Peeta is complicated, which could keep her alive or become the most dangerous part of the game.
One of the things that struck me in the callousness the Hunger Games people treat the tributes. They actually think the tributes should be grateful for this opportunity. The tributes must perform like trained dogs to entertain the Capital audience with interviews and an opening ceremony much like the Olympics. The Hunger Games people remind me of the doctors in Unwind. They are performing horrific acts against fellow human beings, children no less, and barely bat an eye. If you remember, the nurse is not the least bit bothered while she is talking to a boy while he is being unwound. She doesn’t care. How can she think of him as a fellow human being?
It also makes me think a lot about reality TV. We don’t kill people (yet) but we do enjoy their misery and humiliation. Just watch how Simon Cowell reduces kids to tears. We all laugh, but it is still cruel.
There are not any slow spots in this book. I was engulfed the entire time. The characters stick with you and the ending leaves you wanting more. Some ideas for discussing with teens:
1. How does the Hunger Games compare with reality TV? Are today’s audiences as callous as the people in the Capital? People don’t usually die, but viewers take delight in their humiliation.
2. We think District 12 may be somewhere around West Virginia. What do you think your district would be like in your part of the country?
3. Talk about Katniss’s strategy. Is she using Peeta? Or is he using her?
4. What do you think the Capital will do to Katniss after the games?
5. How would you survive in the arena? What would be your weapon of choice?
6. Talk about the pagentry of sporting events like the Olympics and the Super Bowl. How do they compare to the Hunger Games?
Thank goodness this a trilogy! The sequel, Catching Fire, will be released in September of 2009. I can’t wait!