Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!
As I write this review, "Catching Fire: The Hunger Games Book 2" has almost 25,000 Audible ratings and, between Audible and Audible UK and electronic and print text reviews, more reviews than I have the time to count or read. I like the reviews by teenagers who are enthralled with Katniss Everdeen. Both of my children read the trilogy at 13, and absolutely loved it - even the one who only reads because her school makes her.
"The Hunger Games" trilogy envisions a post-nuclear North America where, three quarters of a century, teenagers are forced to compete to the death for both the amusement of the conquering 'Capitol' and as a way of keeping the vassal districts in fearful obedience. Katniss, scared and scarred by the avoidable but accidental horrific death of her beloved father, takes on the role of head of provider for her mother and younger sister. She is a tribute (competitor) in Book 1. In "Catching Fire", there is a 'quarter-quell', and the Capitol tries to rid itself of previous Hunger Games victors, who have become quite dangerous to the elite.
Should you 'let' your children read this trilogy? The answer is absolutely, hands down, YES.
Suzanne Collins' books are encoded with references to the Roman Empire (27 BC to 476 AD), and a casual nudge that the names of Capitol citizens ending in 'us' are Latin and have hidden histories will turn a fan reader into a history detective. The plant names Collins uses for the protagonists - Katniss, Primrose, and Hawthorne, for example - are well worth the search.
Katniss is an especially strong character because she has a strong moral base that overcomes her personal fear and doubts - and she knows her weaknesses and works to overcome them. And she's just plain kick-a** with weapons - no squeamishness about them at all.
Setting aside the historical and scientific references, the story is engaging and lively. Period.
The only question about these books is 'When' to let your kids read the books. If they've already seen the movies, of course. The movies are much more graphic. If the standard is nightmares, that won't work - these books gave me nightmares, although they were 'mom' nightmares that my children were tributes. I'd say the emotional standard is being able to tell fact from fiction, and perhaps at least a nascent appreciation of politics and political history. Vocabulary? Seventh to ninth grade, but a 7th grader would know what the words mean, and a 9th grader would understand the concepts.
Suggestion/life hack: if you've got a kid who just doesn't want to read, sit them down with a text copy and Carolyn McCormick's Audible narration. My oldest wouldn't have gotten through Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1929) without Frank Muller's Audible narrative (1994). Perhaps it was Remarque's then-and-still innovative use of the present tense, which Collins uses so adroitly in her books.
"The Hunger Games" Book 1 (2008) is 15 AR (Accelerated Reader) points; "Catching Fire" Book 2 (2009) is 16 AR points; and "Mockingjay" Book 3 (2010) is 15 AR points (source: arreader dot com).
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We all know that reading to our kids is important, but how many times can an adult read Eric Carle's beloved "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" (1969) out loud before, well, you're bored?
A few months into being a mom, I hit upon the idea of reading a kids' book (or three or five, some of them are very short) and then a few pages of a book I loved. I read them J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Hobbit" (1937), followed by "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy (1954); the entire C.S. Lewis "Chronicles of Narnia" (1950-1956); Daniel Handler's "Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events"" (1999-2006); and, of course, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series (1997-2007). If I'd stuck with simple kids books at bedtime, I wouldn't have kept it up reading to them - for a dozen years.
My now teenaged kids and I still listen to books together, but on drives and on Audible. We all love "The Hunger Games", and my kids don't mind hearing it although they've already read the text.
Katniss Everdeen is a strong character, morally certain but with a teenager's inability to see the world beyond what it means and does to her. Katniss doesn't want to be a symbol of the Rebellion, but she is coerced into the role. Suzanne Collins captures that time of life so perfectly that I remembered myself at a 17. I unexpectedly found myself more patient with my kids, and that's not something I expected from a dystopian novel.
The Audible has an Easter egg: there's an interview with Collins after the book ends. It turns out Collins wrote for television for years, which explains her the strong broadcast emphasis.
"Mockingjay" is the most violent and disturbing book of the trilogy, so make sure your kids are ready for it (plot summaries are all over the net).
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"Katniss" is a perennial plant native to North America that flourishes in forrest lakes, ponds and wetlands. It has beautiful, delicate flowers; leafs shaped like arrows; and roots that are easily harvested and eaten like potatoes. Katniss is very difficult to cultivate, so it's generally harvested from the wild (Source: Unites States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sagittaria latifolia Willd, at the USDA gov website, plants tab, 2013). "Ever" can mean always, or at any time - and "deen" is Scottish for "done".
Both names are apt metaphors for the hero of this dystopian novel, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss, after the cruel death of her father in a coal mine explosion in "The Seam" of District 12, becomes the sole support of her shattered mother and younger sister, Prim. Katniss is 11. She becomes skilled at hunting food for her family, and is an expert archer.
When Katniss turns 12, she is entered into an annual drawing to compete to the death with other teenagers. At 16, she takes Prim's place in the nationally televised games, along with Peeta Mellark, the boy tribute from the former Appalachia. Her life is on the line, and winning will guarantee that her mother and sister will never want again.
Katniss Everdeen, as metaphor, is forever beautiful, life sustaining, and wild.
Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" (2008) is the story of that competition. The book reminded me a bit of Paul Michael Glaser's 1987 adaptation of Richard Bachman/Stephen King's "The Running Man" (1982). "The Hunger Games" totalitarian government, Panem, is more even more brutal and horrifying, though - at least game participants in "The Running Man" are adults. "The Hunger Games" was very unlike the Bachman/King novel itself, except in the overall theme of a dystopian future and a game - and those are both found in Shirley Jackson's 1948 short story, "The Lottery."
"The Hunger Games" is written in the present tense, which made it a very difficult text read for me. In fact, I gave up on it halfway through, much to my kids' disappointment. They both loved it, and kept telling me I needed to finish. Listening to the book worked very well for me, and I am glad that I started at the beginning and listened to the whole book. I wasn't enamored about the narration itself, though - Carolyn McCormick sometimes slipped into different Katniss voices, and not when changing tones was appropriate for the narrative.
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