Monday, January 24, 2011

The Hunger Games: Required Reading?

A couple of months ago my Facebook page was alive with discussions of The Hunger Game series. 

I'm not one to let a good book series go by so I did my research.  I bought the books.  I read roughly 900 pages in four days.  Yep--they are that good!

This three-book, young adult literature series, penned by Suzanne Collins, describes districts enslaved by a desensitized government who forces two children (12-18) from each district to fight to the death in gladiator-styled games in provide both entertainment and control.

The books follows Katniss as she tries to save her life while noting with irony the concessions of humanity she is willing to make to stay alive.  Katniss rises up as a leader and enemy of the government as she seeks to rectify injustice.

Each book is packed with disturbing detail, uncomfortable "real-life" parallels, and enough suspense to make you want to read the next one ... FAST!

A classic dystopia, this series has gotten negative reviews for being too preachy, too graphic, too disturbing ...

In essence, Collins has done such a fabulous job of re-creating current day injustices that people who would normally think nothing of social injustices are uncomfortable.  They don't want to be reminded about starvation, forced labor, and violent dictators--so long as they are well fed and entertained.

Why bother with petty reminders that not all are as fortunate?

Though classified as a dystopia, I'd say this book reeks of reality and that should be enough to terrify us all.  We aren't sending our kids to the arena to fight and die, but some one is.  And generally it is for entertainment.

The themes in these books are mature, to be sure.  As a parent, would I let my young adult (15+) read it?  Yep!  As an educator, would I use this book series in school?  Absolutely.

As Americans we live in a country of wealth, entertainment, and privilege.  We must be reminded that as we struggle to "look thin," other people are starving.

While we have surgeries to look younger, others are wishing their mortality age was much older.

We can't forget that our privileges come with responsibility and sometimes those responsibilities call for us to sacrifice a few of our frills for basic rights for others.

This book series reminded me of Maurice Ogden's classic poem, "The Hangman" (yes, I used this in class) in which people of a town are systematically hung one-by-one while others watch, out of fear, without protest.  Finally all were dead but one.  And the poem recalls:

"You tricked me. Hangman!," I shouted then,
"That your scaffold was built for other men...
And I no henchman of yours," I cried,
"You lied to me, Hangman. Foully lied!" 

Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
"Lied to you? Tricked you?" he said. "Not I.
For I answered straight and I told you true --
The scaffold was raised for none but you. 

For who has served me more faithfully
Then you with your coward's hope?" said he,
"And where are the others who might have stood
Side by your side in the common good?" 

"Dead," I whispered. And amiably
"Murdered," the Hangman corrected me:
"First the foreigner, then the Jew...
I did no more than you let me do." 

Beneath the beam that blocked the sky
None had stood so alone as I.
The Hangman noosed me, and no voice there
Cried "Stop!" for me in the empty square.

This book series ought to be required reading in every high school.  

May the work of fiction be a sound, sobering reminder that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

 Want a bit more conviction?  Watch this OLD animated version of The Hangman.


  1. Sandra has told me she really likes these books but I had no idea what they were about. Now I'm really curious! Currently have a few books to read but this is on my list!

    I've never read that poem before! thanks for sharing! Heavy stuff!

  2. Would you believe I've not read this series. I'm probably the last book blogger out there who hasn't. They are on my list...

  3. I LOVED these books. As you already know (since I borrowed them from you) I read all three books in three days. I could not put them down. I completely agree with you about the "theme" of the books. I think they would be great readings for high school students. Thank you for introducing me to them.


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