Movie Review: The Hunger Games



Directed by: Gary Ross

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Interest Range: 10-adult

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian

Plot: Katniss has volunteered for the yearly government-enforced fight to the death, called the Hunger Games, to save her younger sister from certain death. She is now headed for a brief life of luxury in the Capital while training and world-building for the game are happening, before she is let loose with 23 other Tributes who will fight until only one remains. The Hunger Games are an establishment that the government has put in place to remind their people of the uprising the Districts once attempted. They are a way for the establishment to assert itself over its people every year, and make sure they acknowledge the power that is held over the people of the 12 Districts. But Katniss is special, she has a very clear reason to survive and is willing to do almost anything to get home- and the president has noticed her rebellious streak. Her life will never be the same.

Review: Since these books now appeal to such a wide audience, I was curious to see how they handled the movie. With such a violent and dark topic as a fight to the death among teenages treated as a garrish reality television show, this very easily could have been a R-rated movie. But they did a really good job of making it the least violent possible. Rarely do you see blood- and the most that is seen is from wounds like Katniss’s burn and Peeta’s cut. The most violent scenes are distorted, or sound is removed, so the viewer has an extra degree of separation from the action. Katniss and Peeta’s love story is not graphic, and at times isn’t even obvious (I watched this film with someone who had never read the books and often had to fill him in on the motives of each of the characters). I really do believe that children younger than 13 could watch this film and be ok. I think like with much dystopian writing, much of the more disturbing deeper message will go over kids’ heads due to lack of world experience. And if questions are asked, hopefully a parent will not shy away from having that conversation.

Themes: Dystopia, Inner Strength, Overcoming Challenges, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

First in a film trilogy based on the books by Suzanne Collins. She was also involved in the writing for this film’s screenplay.

Main Characters:

Katniss Everdeen: A 16-year-old girl who is determined to survive the Hunger Games and get back to her family. She has very mixed up feelings regarding her hunting partner, Gale, and now Peeta, who has become her partner in the Hunger Games. Publicly, Peeta and Katniss are pretending to have feelings for each other, but by the end it’s unclear if everyone is still pretending- or if Peeta ever was.

Peeta Melark: The baker’s son, also from District 12. He is Katniss’s male counterpart in the Hunger Games, but obviously not as skilled at survival. He has been in love with Katniss since they were small children, and decides to make that public and play it up for popularity and the help and support of sponsors during the games.

Haymitch: District 12’s only past winner, he is given the task of mentoring all of their Tributes. Since they’ve never had another winner, one could see how this might be a very depressing task. But this year, he sees promise in Katniss and the possibility of a star-crossed lovers storyline. He manages to come out of his drunken haze to help win sponsors for the two Tributes and keep them alive.

Gale: Katniss’s hunting partner back home. Although they’ve never spoken of feelings for each other, it becomes clear that Katniss’s heart seems to lie with him. He’s promised to take care of her sister and mother while she is away.

Bibliographic Info:

Ross, G. (Director), Jacobson, N. (Producer), & Kilik, J. (Producer). (2012). The Hunger Games [Motion picture]. United States: Lionsgate, Color Force.


“The World Will Be Watching”


Discussion: Reading Up

I am a huge believer that The Giver should be required reading, but in high school. Not because I don’t think that middle grade readers can handle it, but because so much more will be gained from reading it at an older age. Being someone who was made to read it as a 10-year-old, I can definitely report that I did not get much out of it as a child. There were whispers of ideas in my head as I read the book, and I definitely enjoyed the experience of it, but even the guided class discussions that we had  in my 5th grade classroom did not shed much light on the ideas of individuality and freedom for me. It wasn’t until I returned to The Giver years later that I realized the depth of the questions that Lowry is posing. But for an inquisitive tween, this book is very much accessible and functions as a great introduction to a dystopian society. I would recommend it highly.

Teens and adults can all appreciate the drama surrounding Katniss and the two young men that she is not yet sure about. And the violence is something that, while disturbing, is nothing that members of these age groups have not seen before. The violence and relationships are the things that make it questionable for a younger audience, but I do not think that they make it completely inaccessible. Tweens want to know about what Teens are feeling and doing. And although this is a fantasy novel set in a futuristic dystopian society, Katniss is still experiencing feelings towards boys that she does not understand, she is still a strong example of someone who is trying to do good and provide for her family but sometimes makes mistakes, and she is still a positive role model for young girls and boys who are trying to figure out who they are. While I would not necessarily suggest The Hunger Games to a middle grade reader, I would also not dissuade them from reading it if they really want to try it out. There would definitely be a conversation about it though, discussing the fact that it is violent and at times disturbing, but an assurance that I would love to hear what they thought of the book and answer any questions they might have about it while reading or after.

I do believe that the dystopian setting of both of these books helps to make their underlying questions more accessible to a wider audience. Because the world is not exactly like our own, it is safe to draw the darkness out and really inspect it. An older or more experienced reader will realize the similarities between the supposedly-fictitious dystopia and their own world, but for children this fictional landscape can create a barrier between the book and their own experience that will make these darker questions more acceptable to think about. When the close the book they can separate the more frightening aspects of the worlds presented in books like The Giver and The Hunger Games from their own and eventually learn to think about those ideas in the context of their own society as they are ready.

I “read up” constantly as a child- the small library available at my religious elementary school was not enough to keep me busy, and the public library did not have the same kind of watchful eye as my teachers. Somehow, I acquired the novelization of the movie Batman (with the Jack Nicholson as the Joker) when in the third grade and devoured it. I loved it so much that the librarian actually gave me my own copy to keep. Now THAT storyline was terribly inappropriate for an eight-year-old, and yet I managed to survive. My heart lies in the realm of: “If the child really wants to read it, let them. If you’re worried about the content, have a discussion with them about it during/after, but don’t try to block them from it. If you make it seem forbidden, they’ll find a way to read it anyway and then you will miss you chance to talk to them about it and see their reaction to it.” In my mind The Giver is not as much an example of reading up as I have a great desire to encourage people to “read down” to it. It was written on a level for the middle grade age group and can introduce some very challenging ideas. But those ideas can be appreciated even more once we’ve experienced more of the world.

A side note from a text I read in another class: This passage is talking about the panic that rises with regard to children and computers or the Internet, but I think it applies also to books that make adults nervous.

“John Springhall (1998) offers a historical context for the current fear surrounding computer games and the Internet, focusing on the phenomenon of “moral panics” that arise in response to youth culture. …Springhall argues that the forms of amusement that adults chose for youth often rely on a romantic ideal of childhood, while the entertainment youth choose for themselves often challenge this ideal, making adults uncomfortable” (Richman, 2007, p 184).

Now tell me, as a child, who didn’t enjoy feeling a little rebellious? And what’s a more widely acceptable act of rebellion than reading a book that someone might find questionable or even attempt to keep you from accessing? There will always be individuals who fear for the morality of those around them, especially children because these individuals tend to also think that as “less-than-adults” these children need more protecting than anyone else. And these individuals are often those who are most worried about “reading up” and children reading about things before they are actually ready to handle them. But isn’t it safer to have the experience first in a book? To see how someone else handles the situation, whatever that situation may be? It’s like doing research on life choices. The more examples you can see before you come into contact with that situation yourself, I think you’re bound to be better prepared.

Quoted research:

Springhall, J. (1998). Youth, Popular Culture, and Moral Panics. New York: St. Martin’s.

From the essay (in our textbook):

Richman, A. (2007). The outsider lurking online. In A. L. Best (Ed.), Representing youth: Methodological issues in critical youth studies (pp. 182-200). New York: New York University Press.


The Hunger Games


Author: Suzanne Collins

Age Range: 11-18 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 10-Adult (based on popularity)

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, Dystopian Fiction

Plot: Once, the Districts rebelled against the Capitol. As punishment, all 12 now have to compete in the yearly Hunger Games. Each District must send two Tributes, one boy and one girl, to compete to the death in the Capitol. The winner will be rich beyond their wildest dreams, but at what cost? To make things worse, the rest of the citizens are required to watch the televised coverage (think Reality TV-style) as their loved ones battle it out and eventually die. This year, Katniss Everdeen has done something unique: against better judgment, she has volunteered to participate in the games to save another citizen from being slaughtered. But will her hunting and survival skills be enough to keep her alive against 22 bloodthirsty strangers and one boy to whom she owes her own life?

Review: A face-paced dystopian novel, this book is simply addictive. I can completely understand why so many people have wanted to read it. Katniss is a strong character, with plenty of flaws, placed in a very precarious situation and the reader will sympathize with her immediately. The story itself is violent (young people being forced to fight to the death is going to be violent no matter how you describe it), and the feelings and emotions that Katniss experiences and describes are things that tweens may only have an inkling of, but I do not think that it is 100% inappropriate for tween readers. Tweens want to read up when the books are popular, and I genuinely think that this book would raise questions for an inquisitive 10-year-old, while flying over the heads of those who are not yet ready to “get it”. Those individuals probably will not enjoy the book as much as their peers anyway and wonder to themselves what all the fuss was about while on the outside they gush about how amazing it was. Would I choose this book for a middle grade reader? No. But would I try to prevent them from having access to it and reading it if they were interested? Also, no.

Themes: Dystopian society, Death, Socioeconomic Issues, Freedom, Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Katniss Everdeen: 16-years-old, a hunter who provides for her mother and sister on a daily basis. It is her (illegal) hunting skills that have kept the family alive and well since the death of her father. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games when her younger sister is picked at the Reaping.

Gabe: Katniss’s hunting partner, an 18-year-old boy. It is his last year for eligibility for the Reaping. Just before the ceremony, he suggests that he and Katniss could run away together into the wild and survive together with their combined skills.

Peeta Mellark: The Baker’s son, and the other tribute from District 12 for this year’s Hunger Games. He has secretly been in love with Katniss since they were small children. He and Katniss align as “Star-crossed lovers” to gain favor with sponsors and earn help in the competition- but for him it’s more than a ruse.

Bibliographic Info:

Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, Inc.


Katniss is a survivor. She has to be.

The Giver


Author: Lois Lowry

Age Range: 12-17 (various retail websites)

Interest Range: 10-Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Plot: Jonas lives in a perfect society. Everyone is equal. Everyone is at peace. And since no one has known life any other way, they are all happy. Every December, children advance in age with their peer group, and this year Jonas’s peer group will be attending the Ceremony of the Twelves. He will be receiving his life-long work assignment and entering a year of training before becoming an officially trained adult the following December. By now, most kids know or at least have some idea of what they will be assigned- for the last three years the Elevens have been required to complete volunteer hours at whatever careers interest them, and this usually gives the Selection Committee the information they need to assign a fitting career. But Jonas has been all over the map, and although there are a few jobs he would be disappointed to receive he has no idea what title will ultimately be chosen for him. Eventually, his new assignment will help him to learn things about his “peaceful” community that make his skin crawl. Will he be able to handle the job of Receiver, or will he fail like the girl before him?

Review: The level of depth in this book is amazing. Another “tween book” that was obviously not written for the 8-12 age range but it often placed there because of the age of the protagonist. I can report with certainty that when I had to read this book in the 5th grade there is no way  I absorbed all of the levels and implications in this novel. Jonas’s society shuns anything that might give you a sense of individualism- they’ve even managed to remove all of the colors.  Anyone that breaks their mold is Released. The citizens of the town are lied to on a regular basis and they often lie to themselves- how else could they live with themselves after “Releasing” small children and old people? They don’t know any better, but does that make it ok? And the amazing burden placed on the Receiver of Memory: to be the retainer for all of the world’s memories of the time before the community existed. To be the only person who knows color, happiness, and love alongside destruction, pain, and war is a burden that no child can completely comprehend or appreciate. As an adult I can only acknowledge that it would be an insurmountable level of pain to have to know those things and have no one to share them with; I cannot even begin to fathom the actual pain itself. A wonderful book that I would never try to dissuade someone from reading, but I would definitely urge older audiences to revisit it to gain a deeper level of understanding from the story.

Themes: Individualism, The Right to Choice, Freedom, Tough Issues, Dystopia

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery Award Winner for 1994

Main Characters:

Jonas: An Eleven who is about to turn Twelve and receive his official work assignment. Jonas is interested in everything and even possesses a special ability to “see-beyond”. But his uniqueness makes him feel like an outsider in the community, and this is reflected in his assignment to Receiver of Memory. Jonas will be responsible for holding the memories of all mankind prior to life in their community was established.

The Giver: The previous holder of all those memories, The Giver must now translate those memories to Jonas. When his job is done, he will be Released from the community.

Gabriel: The newchild that Jonas’s father brings home for extra care. Gabe is having trouble advancing as the newchildren (newborns) should and is threatened with being Released. Jonas’s father believes that with some extra attention this can be avoided. It is eventually Jonas who is able to help the baby sleep through the night and begin to make progress with his growth and development.

Asher: Jonas’s close childhood friend. When the two of them receive their assignments, their friendship becomes strained and they become distanced.

Fiona: Jonas’s favorite female friend. She is kind and loving and is assigned to the House of the Old, where she will help to Release the oldest members of society from the community and into Elsewhere.

Bibliographic Info:

Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. New York: Random House, Inc.


What would you be willing to give up to live in the perfect society?

The Wikkeling


Author: Steven Arntson

Age Range: 10-14 (from Kirkus)

Interest Range: 10-14

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia

Plot: In today’s world, every child has a cellphone attached to them at all times. Their schoolwork is typed directly into a computer and analyzed instantaneously. Results are compiled for each class and ranked across the city within minutes, and parents are immediately sent text messages with your results. Everything you do is recorded. You are never truly alone. This is the world that Henrietta has grown up in, and she isn’t looking for anything else- except maybe a cure to the headaches that single her and a handful of other children out from the rest. But one day, she discovers an attic in her house, and an injured Wild Housecat- thought by everyone to be extinct. From that point on, Henrietta’s life begins to change. She befriends a few other students who also suffer from the headaches and they eventually discover the cause: it is not, as the adults think, House Sickness (from living in a non-plastic home, or a house like those in the Old Town) but a disturbing – and invisible to most – creature called The Wikkeling. Will they find a way to stop it before it gives them more to worry about than a headache?

Review: I think adults would be more deeply affected by this book than children. Arntson has done a fantastic job of describing a future that is probably not too far from the truth. The level at which technology has invaded the lives of his readers is daunting, but not unbelievable, and the consumerism isn’t too far of a stretch from today’s standards. We could very truly see a world like that of The Wikkeling in our own lifetimes if we continue on our current course of advancement. Henrietta and her friends are very much like most children. They trust their teachers and don’t do much to question society. Or at least they didn’t, until they were introduced to the world of the Wild Housecat and the attic and a bunch of books from the past. Once they begin to figure things out for themselves, the three characters become even more inquisitive and imaginitive and they start to wonder who decides what they learn in school and if they really agree with what they are being taught. I think this is a very good mini-dystopia novel to use to introduce children to the idea of that kind of society, or to really let perceptive readers see how close a dystopia could be to our own real-life situations.

Themes: Coming of age, Making new friends

Additional Info:

Main Character:

Henrietta: The worst student in her class, Henrietta suffers from horrible headaches. Society has taught her that this is from House Sickness- caused because her family lives in an older home, made of materials other than plastic. She is not generally inquisitive, but ends up finding great joy in the feeling of being all alone in her attic, reading old books and mulling over her thoughts.

Gary: The best student in Henrietta’s class, the two become friends when Henrietta suffers from a headache and Gary admits that he used to get them too. Gary’s secret: he actually cannot read, and only gets good grades because he cheats (made easier to accomplish because his mother is their teacher). Gary’s other secret: he wants to fail school so that he can move to Old Town and become a garbarge collector.

Rose: A younger student that Henrietta and Gary befriend when she is suffering from a headache. Rose lives illegally with her parents in a secret library housed in an old school. She is very intelligent, having read many of the books that she lives with, and very aware of the state of their society for such a young girl. She is much more used to moving “off the grid” than our other characters, and it is her knowledge of this that helps to save the three children from the Wikkeling.

Bibliographic Info:

Arntson, S. (2011). The Wikkeling. Philadelphia: Running Press Book Publishers.