The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Interest Level Grade 6
Grade Level Equivalent 7
Genre Adventure, Series, Science Fiction

When I told my 11 year old son, Lucas, that I was taking a course on tween literature, he insisted that I read the Hunger Games, his favorite book. I had major reservations regarding him reading the book to start with and I wanted to know if this was an appropriate read for an 11 year old boy. Now that I have read it, I am still unsure.

The book takes place in the future in what was once North America. The country is divided into 13 districts and the capital, which is the ruling class. Each district is known for what it manufactures or harvests. Our heroine, Katniss, comes from a very poor district, in what was once Appalachia. She and her family are nearly starving. Katniss is forced to hunt outside the district fence line to keep her family alive. Her young sister is chosen to fight in the Hunger Games, a game created by the capital class to force a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death. Katniss volunteers to take her place. Her partner is a boy named Peeta, a baker’s son who has been secretly in love with Katniss for years.

After a lot of pageantry, the kids are released into the hunger games arena where they kill or are killed. With few exceptions, the descriptions of the killings are matter of fact and sterile. It is no more graphic than the description of Katniss hunting animals to survive in the beginning. I liken the games to an old time western where the cowboys and Indians are shooting each other. Maybe because it is told in the voice of Katniss, whose father had died violently and mother became inept, who trained herself to survive physically and politically. She had suppressed her emotions years before and only knew how to exist. It is in this tone of endurance that the book is written.

There is also a romance between Peeta and Katniss that will keep the readers guessing and reaching for the next book in the series. Personally, I was more distubed by the passive-agressive Peeta/confused-manipulative Katniss relationship than I was by the violence. My boys thought the romance part was superlative and accused me of being a girl since that part made a impression on me. I actually had to point out that, yes, I am a girl.

I do not like violent books or movies. But, for my son, who had survived the soul sucking Dementors of Harry Potter, I think this book was fine. I know boys who have read this book at age 9, but I find that a bit young. I would say that if your child read through the entirety of Harry Potter, that it is ok for your child to read. That is the exact advice I received from the local librarian. No sex, a few kisses, and a whole lot of arrows finding their mark.

The next two books in the series are Catching Fire and the Mockingjay. There is a movie called the Hunger Games which is rated pg-13.

Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games (1st ed.). New York, NY: Scholastic Press.