In a future world where the population has been divided in districts and are ruled in a totalitarian regime by the Capitol, a girl from District 12 named Katniss volunteers as a tribute in the 74th annual Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is a fight to the death with only one victor to be chosen from 24 tributes, 2 from each District. The Hunger Games were created after District 13 rebelled 74 years ago and was destroyed and serves the purpose of reminding everyone what would happen if they opposed the Government
Ever since Harry Potter, I have spent my time trying to find books with characters I love as though they were my own friends, and with a plot so real that I felt it could actually be happening. Most books disappoint me in this area and I’ve had to settle for a lot of mediocrity. But not this time. Hunger Games drew me so far into its world I didn’t want to leave!
Hunger Games is set in the future where North America has been turned into a country called Panem, separated into 12 districts and the Capitol. As if constant hunger wasn’t bad enough, the districts are constantly reminded of the “Dark Days”, when they rebelled against the Capitol, by punishing their children in the Hunger Games. Every year each District must send one boy and one girl to the Capitol to take part in these Games where they must fight each other to their deaths. The winner is the child who comes out alive, having presumably killed all the others. The Hunger Games is reality TV at its very extreme; mere entertainment for the wealthy and pampered residents of the Captitol, but torturous for the Districts, who have to watch their children year by year go off to the Capitol to be killed.
This book starts on the day of the Reeping, where the teenagers who will enter the Games are chosen at random throughout the districts. We follow Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl of District 12. Katniss has been scarred deeply by the death of her father in a mining disaster several years ago and since then has been breaking the laws of Panem by hunting animals in the forest in order to feed her starving family. You can’t help but feel for Katniss, who has lost so much and tries so hard to care for her family, and when her little sister Prim is chosen in the Reeping, you can understand why she volunteers to take her place. And so the story follows her, along with fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta, as they head off to the luxurious Capitol, and finally head into the Hunger Games where you will be unable to put the book down, waiting to see if/how Katniss will survive.
This might all sound a bit morbid and violent and that was definitely a big concern for me when the concept of the Games was first introduced. But I read on anyway and was pleased to discover that while yes, people died and yes the idea of the games is horrific, it was so carefully written that it didn’t feel morbid at all. Instead of feeling sick, you’re taken on a journey with Katniss as she wakes up to the idea that the world she lives in is highly unfair. It’s not a constant bloodbath where murder is just something you have to do; Katniss learns quickly the awful consequences of taking someone’s life and death is treated with a heavy heart indeed. It also relates to so many aspects of our own world, and it’s not a far stretch to imagine some time in the distant future a society like this. For that reason, instead of being a morbid tale of death and injustice, it will probably open your eyes to many of the injustices in our own world.
But don’t worry, the Hunger Games won’t leave you feeling completely miserable. The tragic moments are brightened considerably with light-hearted moments and some brilliant characters:
I loved Cinna, the stylist, who is incredibly creative. His dresses sparkle with creativity and are the ones that draw attention to Katniss and Peeta as a couple and they are designed to fit them perfectly (in a psychological manner as well). At the end, when Katniss draws down the anger of the Capitol by attempting suicide with Peeta, he dresses her in a very girly outfit, like a candle flame, that makes her look like a very innocent 14 year-old and not a blood-thirsty rebel.
What I loved most was the initial burning costume they wore during their entry into the Capitol. I think they portrayed it very well in the movie adaptation.
I enjoyed drunken Haymitch, the only Tribute from District 12 who ever came back alive, who is enlisted to help Katniss and Peeta, and has a hidden depth that may surprise you. The reason why he drinks so much is caused by the 30 years of training tributes and 30 years seeing the tributes he trained killed in the arena. He is smart and he rewards Katniss for playing “couple” with Peeta by sending her food and medication when she needs it.
Peeta brings a certain amount of humour to the story, but also a wisdom that is beyond Katniss. I really felt bad for him as he was genuinely in love with Katniss and I loved it when he was telling her how he fell in love with her when she was young, wearing a red skirt and singing a song about the valley. He is a master cake decorator (this is why he was so good at camouflage in the forest!) and he can easily lift bags and bags of flour (this is why he is so sturdy).
Other unmissable people are the Career Tributes, from Districts 1, 2, and 4 who have spent their lives training for the Games and see it as a great honour; a would-be love-triangle; and a main character you will feel for not because she’s pathetic or a damsel in distress character (she’s neither of these things!), but because she is feisty and fighting so hard to find justice in a world that has little, you can’t help but hope she succeeds.
So what with the characters I felt I knew personally, a plot that seemed so real I came out of the book in a daze, and enough pace and action to keep me wanting more, I found myself reading this book at every possible moment and hating every second I spent away from it!
Possibly one of my favourite books of all time, Hunger Games is a trend-setter like Harry Potter and Twilight before it. It will define a generation of books and those who read it; if you don’t read it you will be missing out on a HUGE moment.
About the Author
The author of the famous The Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins is an American novelist and television writer. Suzanne developed an early interest in writing as a young girl. Pursuing her interests, Collins attended the Alabama School of Fine Arts and later completed an M.F.A. degree in Dramatic Writing from New York University.
In 1991, Suzanne Collins began her career as a writer for children’s television. Some of her most significant works include working on the Nickelodeon channel for shows such as Clarissa Explains It All, The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, Little Bear, and Oswald. Significant milestones of her career also include being the head writer at Scholastic Entertainment for Clifford’s Puppy Days and a Writer’s Guild of America animation nomination for co-writing Santa Baby!, a highly acclaimed Christmas special presentation.
Collins was encouraged and inspired to try her hands on writing children’s books after a meeting with children’s author James Proimos, whom she was working with on the Kids’ WB show Generation O!, Suzanne Collins began her career in children’s literature with Gregor the Overlander (2003), the first book of the New York Times bestselling, The Underland Chronicles series. These books were targeted for middle grade readers. Collins produced four more books for the series entitled Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (2004), Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods (2005), Gregor and the Marks of Secret (2006) and Gregor and the Code of Claw (2007). In 2005, Collins also published a rhyming picture book, When Charlie McButton Lost Power followed by a sequel, When Charlie McButton Gained Power, published in 2009.
Collins was first recognized as a distinguished children’s writer when she published her second book, Catching Fire in 2009. This book was the second book of another series entitled The Hunger Games. The trilogy series targeted for ages 12 and above, became an instant bestseller and was placed at the number one position simultaneously on the bestselling lists of USA Today, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly. It remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 60 weeks. In addition to this, the series also made place in a list of Time Magazine’s top ten fiction books of 2009 as well as People Magazine (Top 10) Best Book of 2009 while also receiving the New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice Award. The other two books of the series are The Hunger Games (2008) and Mockingjay (2010). As a result of the popularity Collins gained from this series, she was named amongst Time magazine’s list of most influential people of 2010.
Suzanne Collins has to her credit many prestigious acknowledgements and awards including California Young Reader Medal (2011), Georgia Peach Book Awards for Teen Readers (2010), Publishers Weekly’s, Best Books of the Year: Children’s Fiction, An American Library Association Top 10 Best Books For Young Adult Selection, An ALA Notable Children’s Book, CYBIL Award–Fantasy and Science Fiction (2008), KIRKUS Best Young Adult Book of (2008), A Horn Book Fanfare, School Library Journal Best Books of 2008, A Book List Editor’s Choice, 2008, NY Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, 2004 NAIBA Children’s Novel Award, 2006 ALSC Notable Children’s Recording (audio version).
Currently, Suzanne Collins resides in Connecticut with a cute pair of feral kittens.
Interview with Suzanne Collins
Q: You have said from the start that The Hunger Games story was intended as a trilogy. Did it
actually end the way you planned it from the beginning?
A: Very much so. While I didn’t know every detail, of course, the arc of the story from gladiator game, to revolution, to war, to the eventual outcome remained constant throughout the writing process.
Q: We understand you worked on the initial screenplay for a film to be based on The Hunger
Games. What is the biggest difference between writing a novel and writing a screenplay?
A: There were several significant differences. Time, for starters. When you’re adapting a novel into a two-hour movie you can’t take everything with you. The story has to be condensed to fit the new form.
Then there’s the question of how best to take a book told in the first person and present tense and transform it into a satisfying dramatic experience. In the novel, you never leave Katniss for a second and are privy to all of her thoughts so you need a way to dramatize her inner world and to make it possible for other characters to exist outside of her company. Finally, there’s the challenge of how to present the violence while still maintaining a PG-13 rating so that your core audience can view it. A lot of things are acceptable on a page that wouldn’t be on a screen. But how certain moments are depicted will ultimately be in the director’s hands.
Q: Are you able to consider future projects while working on The Hunger Games, or are you
immersed in the world you are currently creating so fully that it is too difficult to think about
A: I have a few seeds of ideas floating around in my head but—given that much of my focus is still on The Hunger Games—it will probably be awhile before one fully emerges and I can begin to develop it.
Q: The Hunger Games is an annual televised event in which one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts is forced to participate in a fight-to-the-death on live TV. What do you think the appeal of reality television is—to both kids and adults?
A: Well, they’re often set up as games and, like sporting events, there’s an interest in seeing who wins.
The contestants are usually unknown, which makes them relatable. Sometimes they have very talented people performing.
Then there’s the voyeuristic thrill—watching people being humiliated, or brought to tears, or suffering physically—which I find very disturbing. There’s also the potential for desensitizing the audience, so that when they see real tragedy playing out on, say, the news, it doesn’t have the impact it should.
Q: If you were forced to compete in the Hunger Games, what do you think your special skill
A: Hiding. I’d be scaling those trees like Katniss and Rue. Since I was trained in sword-fighting, I guess my best hope would be to get hold of a rapier if there was one available. But the truth is I’d probably get about a four in Training.
Q: You weave action, adventure, mythology, sci-fi, romance, and philosophy throughout The
Hunger Games. What influenced the creation of The Hunger Games?
A: A significant influence would have to be the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The myth tells
how in punishment for past deeds, Athens periodically had to send seven youths and seven maidens to Crete, where they were thrown in the Labyrinth and devoured by the monstrous Minotaur.
Even as a kid, I could appreciate how ruthless this was. Crete was sending a very clear message:
“Mess with us and we’ll do something worse than kill you. We’ll kill your children.”
And the thing is, it was allowed; the parents sat by powerless to stop it. Theseus, who was the son of the king, volunteered to go. I guess in her own way, Katniss is a futuristic Theseus.
In keeping with the classical roots, I send my tributes into an updated version of the Roman gladiator
games, which entails a ruthless government forcing people to fight to the death as popular
entertainment. The world of Panem, particularly the Capitol, is loaded with Roman references. Panem itself comes from the expression “Panem et Circenses” which translates into “Bread and Circuses.”
The audiences for both the Roman games and reality TV are almost characters in themselves. They can respond with great enthusiasm or play a role in your elimination.
I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me. One night I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe?
And on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.
Q: The trilogy’s premise is very brutal, yet is handled so tastefully. Was this a difficult balance
A: Yes, the death scenes are always hard to write. It’s difficult to put kids in violent situations—Gregor (the protagonist in The Underland Chronicles) is in a war, Katniss is in a gladiator game. Characters will die. It’s not fun to write, but I think if you can’t commit to really doing the idea, it’s probably better to work on another type of story.
Given that, you have to remember who you’re trying to reach with the book. I try and think of how I would tell a particularly difficult event to my own children. Exactly what details they need to know to really understand it, and what would be gratuitous.
Q: The Hunger Games tackles issues like severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the effects of war among others. What drew you to such serious subject matter?
A: That was probably my dad’s influence. He was career Air Force, a military specialist, a historian, and a doctor of political science. When I was a kid, he was gone for a year in Viet Nam. It was very important to him that we understood about certain aspects of life. So, it wasn’t enough to visit a battlefield, we needed to know why the battle occurred, how it played out, and the consequences.
Fortunately, he had a gift for presenting history as a fascinating story. He also seemed to have a good sense of exactly how much a child could handle, which is quite a bit.
Q: What do you hope readers will come away with when they read The Hunger Games?
A: Questions about how elements of the book might be relevant in their own lives. And, if they’re disturbing, what they might do about them.
Q: In The Hunger Games, Katniss and Gale have an extensive knowledge of hunting, foraging, wildlife, and survival techniques. What kinds of research did you do, if any?
A: Some things I knew from listening to my dad talking about his childhood. He grew up during the Depression. For his family, hunting was not a sport but a way to put meat on the table. He also knew a certain amount about edible plants. He’d go into the woods and gather all these wild mushrooms and bring them home and sauté them. My mom wouldn’t let any of us go near them! But he’d eat them up and they never harmed him, so I guess he knew which ones were safe, because wild mushrooms can be very deadly.
I also read a big stack of wilderness survival guidebooks. And here’s what I learned: you’ve got to be really good to survive out there for more than a few days.
Q: How long would it take for North America to deteriorate into the world depicted in the books?
A: You’d have to allow for the collapse of civilization as we know it, the emergence of Panem, a rebellion, and seventy-four years of the Hunger Games. We’re talking triple digits.
Q: You have written for television for young children and for middle-grade readers (the New
York Times bestselling series The Underland Chronicles). Why did you decide to write for an
older audience and how was the experience different?
A: I think the nature of the story dictated the age of the audience from the beginning. Both The Underland Chronicles and The Hunger Games have a lot of violence. But in The Underland Chronicles, even though human characters die, a lot of the conflict takes place between different fantastical species. Giant rats and bats and things. You can skew a little younger that way. Whereas in The Hunger Games, there’s no fantasy element, it’s futuristic sci-fi and the violence is not only human on human, it’s kid on kid. And I think that automatically moves you into an older age range.
I find there isn’t a great deal of difference technically in how you approach a story, no matter what age it’s for. I started out as a playwright for adult audiences. When television work came along, it was primarily for children. But whatever age you’re writing for, the same rules of plot, character, and theme apply. You just set up a world and try to remain true to it. If it’s filled with cuddly animated animals, chances are no one’s going to die. If it’s filled with giant flesh-and-blood rats with a grudge, there’s going to be violence.
Q: What was it like to return to the world of the Hunger Games to write Catching Fire and then Mockingjay?
A: Honestly, I feel like I never left it. The revisions of Book I overlapped with the writing of Book II, just as Book II has overlapped with Book III. Since each book feeds into the next, I feel like part of my brain’s been in Panem continuously.
Q: Do you have every book completely mapped out, or do you have a general idea and then take it from there? Did you run into things that were unexpected plot-wise or character-wise?
A: I’ve learned it helps me to work out the key structural points before I begin a story. The inciting incident, acts, breaks, mid-story reversal, crisis, climax, those sorts of things. I’ll know a lot of what fills the spaces between them as well, but I leave some uncharted room for the characters to develop. And if a door opens along the way, and I’m intrigued by where it leads, I’ll definitely go through it.
Q: How do you typically spend your workday? Do you have a routine as you write?
A: I grab some cereal and sit down to work as soon as possible. The more distractions I have to deal with before I actually begin writing, the harder focusing on the story becomes. Then I work until I’m tapped out, usually sometime in the early afternoon. If I actually write three to five hours, that’s a productive day. Some days all I do is stare at the wall. That can be productive, too, if you’re working out character and plot problems. The rest of the time, I walk around with the story slipping in and out of my thoughts.
Q: You are probably getting a lot of fan mail! What is the most surprising feedback you’ve
received for The Hunger Games? (Or, what has surprised you the most about the feedback
you’re getting for The Hunger Games.)
A: Probably how differently people view the book. Some are attracted to the dystopian world, others are there for action and adventure, still others for the romance. The readers are defining the book in very personal and exciting ways.
Q: What were some of your favorite novels when you were a teen?
A: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Boris by Jaapter Haar
Germinal by Emile Zola
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
Contact: Sheila Marie Everett
(212) 389-3786 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This interview has been provided by Scholastic Inc.
It can be reprinted for publication either in full or excerpted as individual questions
provided that they are reprinted in their entirety.