The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is about 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take the place of her sister, Primrose, in the Hunger Games run by the Capitol to remind people living outside of the Capitol not to go against their “keepers.” At least, this is what I gathered from reading my advanced fifth grader’s very well-written summary, and from reading the two books after it. I accidentally started reading from the second book, and I could not make myself go back and read the first one. (I had given myself only about six hours to read the three books, and it took me about eight to finish the last two, so…)
This is a violent and emotionally disturbing series, but one with enough action to keep the attention younger readers who may not understand all of the political maneuvering that goes on, which may leave them unsatisfied with the ending. My fifth grade student hasn’t finished the last book yet (they had a project due at school today), but he keeps asking for time to read it.
I have never quite read dystopian literature willingly (although I read a lot either for class or with my students), and even this series was sitting on my bookshelf for months before I finally sat down and plowed through it. I never would have read it if my students hadn’t been reading it and my sister hadn’t recommended it and then borrowed the books from her old roommate (again, because I didn’t read them the first time she borrowed them) for me. Part of me will always prefer the fluffier, less-depressing books that now seem to be middle grade, because YA is leaning towards edgier stuff like this.
That said, I have a lot of respect for Suzanne Collins for putting in so much politics without once making me feel like I wanted to skip ahead to the action. The politics was part of the action, and Collins gave us enough emotional reason to be invested in the politics as well as the fighting. I think it would be a great read for any high schoolers studying Plato’s Republic. I don’t remember it at all from my own experience in high school, but I read parts of it with one of my high schoolers last year. (Having a Plutarch in the book keeps making me want to call Plato “Pluto,” even though I know all three names refer to different things…) I also enjoyed the reference to panem et circenses (bread and circuses), which I vaguely remember from my history classes in high school.
I did a quick search online to see if people recommended this for middle school, and I found that reviews by the kids themselves seemed to agree that this was a book for ages 12+, even if they (or someone they knew) read it at a younger age.
Recommended for middle school and up, although older elementary students may be interested. It contains a lot of graphic violence with a side of romance and kissing (nothing too explicit, and most of it is overwhelmed by the twisted nature of the games, anyway…). Parents of younger readers interested in the book may want to read or skim the book first.