Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Well, I broke down and read the Hunger Games.  I was hearing all kinds of hype and read a ton of reviews about the movie and I thought, I'd better get in the pool and swim before I comment on the water content.  So I did.

I bought the kindle version and read it in 4 sittings in 24 hours.  It was addicting. 

Here's my plot summary minus spoilers:  
It takes place in a post nuclear war North America that has been divided up into 12 districts that are separated by vast expanses of wilderness, traveled between by train, and walled in by electrified fences. It feels like holocaust Germany to me. There were 13 of these districts, but one of them is a poisoned wasteland that is now uninhabitable after an attempt to overthrow the Capital's harsh rule.   
The Capital of "Panem" is portrayed as a materialistic, ego filled, plastic surgery addicted luxury land of plenty where the people arrogantly live off the enslavement of the other 12 districts and the goods they provide.  For "sport" and as a punishment for the rebellion, each of the districts have to annually send one 12 to 18year old boy and one girl into the "Hunger Games": a large televised reality show drama where 24 teens must fight to the death, emerging one victor who then is paraded around like some kind of hero. It's like the Roman Coliseum really.  
Told from the point of view of the 16 year old teenage heroine, Katniss, she is humble and simple and lives in he poorest of the districts and ends up in the hunger games when she volunteers to take the place of her 12 year old sister who had won the lottery and was surely headed to her death. Enter Katniss Everdeen and cue the rest of the story... 

At first, I didn't really know what it was about it that compelled me so much, but it sucked me in from the beginning and I couldn't put it down.   So I started analyzing my own emotions and here's what I think about the book and why it speaks to so many of the students I work with at least. I haven't seen the movie, so I have no idea about that, but here's my take on this book and what it says about our culture.

FOOD IS A LUXURY BILLIONS CANNOT AFFORD:  I was surprised by how much time was spent on food.  Maybe that's why it's called the Hunger Games.  But there is a theme in this book that reminds the reader that food on a table is a luxury.  Katniss lives in the poorest of the districts where she is a day away from starvation all the time.  The contrast between her life of need and the life of luxury of those in the Capital could not be clearer.  Having personally spent 60 days in Uganda and now having friends who live in mud huts and have very little to eat, with starvation on their door front everyday, this theme spoke loud and clear to me. The food in my fridge is a luxury that literally billions cannot afford.  The articulate reader will find themselves looking at disgust with the people in the Capital and an all too familiar reflection in the mirror.  (Ie: re-read my summary above and think of Panem as the U.S.)

1984 SOMEONE IS WATCHING YOU FACTOR:  There is an erie sense in this book that you're always being watched and that those in control could kill you any minute if they wanted to.   It reminded me of reading 1984 in high school.  It makes you wonder who is really in control of your reality. I think most people wonder this on some level when they think about God. 

THE ABSENTEE PARENT:  Katniss is a young woman who has been forced to grow up faster than most.  Her dad died tragically at a young age in a coal mining accident.  Her mom spiraled into depression and Katniss became the sole provider for herself and her little sister.  To this end, she perfects hunting and cooking and becomes a skilled and capable adult.  She is both mom and dad to her sister really.  And honestly, if you wanted to write a book and have connection with a vast majority of American teens, then write the heroine as a teenage girl in a single parent home without a Dad.  You just described at least 1/2 of the young women I work with today. 

THE LACK OF DESCRIPTIVE VIOLENCE OR SEX: Lots of people die.  In fact 11 on day one of the games.  But that's about all you know.  I think there's only 3 or 4 deaths in the whole thing described with much detail.   Despite the fact that Katniss finds herself naked in the book on several occasions, the author never describes her naked features. Ever. It was really pleasantly surprised.  I don't think the script writers had to work hard to keep it to PG-13.  The book isn't much more than that honestly.

MY CONCLUSION:  At first, I thought I was going to find the book to be morbid.  But what I really found was a book that as I engaged it, reminded me of the power of allegory. I have no idea what the author's primary intentions were.  But I could lead a lot of really great discussions with teens based on the issues that arise in this book.  There are those with noble character to be applauded, there is evil to be identified and called out, there are tests of wills, there is bad stuff that happens to good people, there is  love to be considered and choices to be made.  There is selfishness and selflessness.  Seriously, this book is chalked full of great visuals. Actually would be pretty interesting to do a summer book club or something and invite students to discuss the feelings and issues this book brings to surface when considered as an allegory, instead of merely a novel.  

If you haven't read it, I'd encourage you to.  It's not a chick flick and it's doesn't glorify or patronize the horrors it describes, but it is eye opening and it will help you engage those who read it in some cool ways if you choose to seize them.  Case and point would be the random table discussion I had on it before service with some students last Sunday.  Game on.  


Araborigine 3:32 AM  

Hi Brian,

With your permission, I'd like to share your reflection on the HG movie with my students (in Dubai, UAE). They're first year, ESL students, who are required to write a movie-reflection, and I think yours is a perfect example for them. Please let me know if that's alright :)


brian c. berry 3:58 AM  

Sure Mira. Thanks for asking. You're more than welcome to do this. Hope your students enjoy the project and find this review helpful. This blog post has also been moved to my new blog location. If you're including a link, I'd love it if you chose http://briancberry.com/my-hunger-games-reflection/ instead of this one. Thanks


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