Since I work with teens and am a YA author, I sometimes get requests from readers for recommendations of books for teenagers. There is a lot of fantastic young adult fiction out there right now. The market is growing, interest in literature is up—but that also means there’s a lot of junk to weed through. And, teens are incredibly impressionable, whatever they may argue to the contrary. Busy parents don’t always have the time to screen their kids’ reading material, so they ask advice. From people like me.
Well, fear not, YA book seeker. Today, I have not one but three books to recommend to you: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
16-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 of Panem in what was once North America. There used to be a District 13, but it was obliterated in a rebellion nearly a century ago. In retaliation for their treachery, however, the opulent, iron-fisted Capitol has implemented a way to permanently subdue the other Districts: The Hunger Games.
Each year, there is a reaping in the town square where one boy and one girl from each District is chosen to compete in the Hunger Games. The tributes, all between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are transported to the Capitol City where they are paraded around for the entertainment of the entire nation. After a week of parties and television appearances, the tributes are placed in an arena where they are filmed 24-hours a day—while they fight to the death. The last one standing is crowned the victor, winning a life of fame, leisure, and wealth for themselves and a year’s worth of extra provisions for their half-starved District.
When Katniss’ younger sister, Prim, is chosen as the mining District’s female tribute, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She promises her family that she will try her hardest to win, but she has her reservations about how far that promise can take her when there are healthier, much stronger combatants who have trained for this their whole lives. She’s malnourished. Her mentor is a drunk. And, her District is too poor to afford the extravagant gifts that could mean her survival in the Games. But, Katniss has something the others don’t have. A lifetime of surviving all the odds. A spirit of fire. And Peeta, the unexpected ally she discovers in the friendly baker’s son who is sent along as her tribute counterpart from District 12.
THE FINE PRINT
As might be expected, the series grows darker as it progresses. In a world where human life is treated with such contempt and disregard, what else can be expected? Suzanne Collins unapologetically paints a portrait of the atrocities of war, the depths to which humanity can stoop—and has. It is not, however, propagandistic, though it walks a fine line. Ultimately, it is a story of survival, hope, and the value of a human being.
There is some romance in the books, but nothing graphic. More importantly, as with everything in Collins’ books, the romance is very realistic. Nothing is sugarcoated or made simple. She is as honest about the manipulation and anger that can grow between lovers as she is about describing the glorious stirrings of first love.
Be prepared for a lot of violence. This is, after all, a series about teenagers murdering each other…among others. Proceed with caution. And, be ready to debrief with your teen. Some of the scenes, particularly in the third book, are intense. Know where you stand on the major issues that this book discusses: war, the value or expendability of human life, the choice to have children (or not) in a terrorized world, the justification of killing, righteous anger, extravagance and comfort in a world of poverty and oppression, what happens when personal morals come up against a greater cause.
Some people do not want their teens facing these things. You know your own children best. But, if you do hand over The Hunger Games (and I greatly recommend that you do), you need to be prepared for what they will find. I believe, though, that what they will find is truth, a mirror held up to grim nature, as it were. The world as it could have been, as it has been, as it is for many people. I have never believed in hiding the truth from young adults. Apparently, Collins doesn’t, either.
So, with those words of warning, let me say it one more time: Teens, read The Hunger Games. Parents, read The Hunger Games. Seriously, folks, read The Hunger Games. Oh, and you might want to buy the boxset because there are some gnarly cliff hangers!