REVIEW: "The Hunger Games", "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins

Format: Audiobook download from
Author: Suzanne Collins
Narrated by: Carolyn McCormick (who does a great job)
Published by: Scholastic

Despite all the warnings, I'm a sucker for judging books by their covers. Maybe that's why it took me a while to get around to picking this series up; because to be honest, these covers kind of turned me off. I thought they were a bit dated and dull-looking. 

After reading these books, I wonder if the simplistic, "future-retro" was deliberate? The font and images remind me of dystopian classics like King/Bachman's "The Running Man...", and in many ways, so did the story. That's not a complaint. I loved "The Running Man", and what Suzanne Collins has done is used its premise as inspiration, and created a wonderful dystopian trilogy for YA readers. 

Let's take these one at a time...

WARNING: There will be a few spoliers ahead as I'm discussing a whole trilogy. However, I'll try not to give too much away.

Book One: The Hunger Games. 


Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. But Katniss has been close to death before—and survival, for her, is second nature. The Hunger Games is a searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present. Welcome to the deadliest reality TV show ever...

The first book of the series introduces Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant heroine of the trilogy, and the cold, authoritative society in which she exists. I liked Katniss as a protagonist. She's a strong, tomboyish sort of figure who is a fighter. Growing up under the rigid control of the Capitol has turned Katniss into a girl who has learned to depend on her own wits and instincts for the survival of herself and her family. 

Every year, the Capitol organises the Hunger Games. This is a to-the-death competition in which two "tributes" (one male, one female) from each of the twelve districts under Capitol rule, fight it out in an Arena. The event is broadcast as mandatory viewing to the populous as a reminder of how much they must both rely on and must respect the ruling power. 

No child is exempt from having their name put into the drawing for the games, and in places like District 12 where living essentials are scarce, the children can even sign up to put their name in for additional counts in exchange for extra food and supplies. Such is the cruel, calculating omnipotence of the Capitol reign. 

When Katniss' young sister, Prim, is drawn to be the female Tribute from 12, Katniss steps forward and volunteers to take her place. At first, Katniss considers it a suicidal sacrifice which she is happy to make, but when Prim begs her to at least try and come home alive, Katniss knows she will have to kill or be killed in the Arena. 

One of the most disturbing facets of our heroine's personality, is the fact that killing really doesn't seem to be particularly difficult for her. I found this aspect of her difficult to warm to. Yes, she has learned to hunt in order to be the provider for her family, but there is little refection on what a huge leap there is between snaring a rabbit or shooting a stag, in comparison with taking the life of another person. As the books progress, Katniss is forced to kill more and more people. Eventually (though not in this text), her kill-count catches up with her while she sleeps and we start to see the scars that her years of forced-brutality leave upon her. 

Entering the Arena with Katniss is Peeta, a boy who once saved her life through an act of selfless generosity in a world where such kindness is rare. Peeta is a far more likeable character than Katniss at times. As well as being the least selfish of the characters, he is also warmer, cleverer and wilier. It is his wisdom which prompts his pre-game strategies which he hopes will keep both himself and Katniss alive. I don't want to get overly-spoilerific, so I won't say more. 

What I will say is that this is a book which will appeal to both female and male readers. There is both the brutality involved in the Games, and a complicated love-triangle (between Katniss, her best friend Gale, and Peeta) which begins in this book and which is sustained well throughout the series. It's not a soppy sort of romance, as such a thing would be incongruous within the austere darkness of war and oppression, but it is touching. 

I loved the first book in this trilogy. In The Hunger Games, a cold and bitter world is created through cleverly spartan prose. Katniss' voice is captured in a first-person narrative which will have you both empathising with her and wanting to throttle her on occasion! 

The key conflict of this first instalment comes from the perils of the Games. But a bigger enemy lurks beyond the Arena: The Capitol and its ruler, President Snow. This threat, which remains unconquered and even barely touched upon in book one, will ensure that you reach out for book two as soon as you can!

Book Two: Catching Fire.


After winning the brutal Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen returns to her district, hoping for a peaceful future. But Katniss starts to hear rumours of a deadly rebellion against the Capitol. A rebellion that she and Peeta have helped to create. As Katniss and Peeta are forced to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. Unless Katniss and Peeta can convince the world that they are still lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying... The terrifying sequel to The Hunger Games.

Whereas the first instalment of this trilogy established the dystopian society and then focused on only a small aspect of its tyranny, Catching Fire delves far more deeply into the evil madness of President Snow (a ruler who smells like blood and roses) and the embers of the rebellion which Katniss ad Peeta sparked with their actions in their Games. As the title of the sequel suggests, these embers have caught fire and are beginning to blaze throughout the downtrodden districts under the Capitol's rule. 

However, the Capitol is not about to give up its totalitarian control without a fight, and to demonstrate its dominance it puts a cruel twist on the next Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta are already scarred (both physically and emotionally) from their recent trials. But their fight is only just beginning. 

The middle instalment of the trilogy sees much more development in the confused relationship between Katniss, Gale and Peeta. Katniss might be a strong fighter, a Hunger Games victor and the backbone of her family, but she is also a girl whose emotions are being subjected to torment by two men who love her fiercely. I enjoyed the fact that Katniss did not swoon or revel in these attentions, but instead tried to cast them to one side in favour of fighting a much bigger battle against the Capitol. I often feel that heroines of YA lit are, at times, too concerned with their own romantic endeavours to see the bigger picture. Suzanne Collins creates a much more admirable female protagonist by avoiding such hormonal melodrama, though I've noticed plenty of readers disagree with me on this point. 

More secondary characters are introduced in this story as Katniss is cast back into the Arena, and they are far more rounded and developed than the Tributes of The Hunger Games. I enjoyed the return of the District 12 mentor, Haymitch, a drunken, disillusioned man who is rough and tough on the outside, but bruised and damaged to his core. I liked the introduction of the flirtacious and vain Finnick, along with the other new Tributes who had both Katniss and me scratching our heads over who could be trusted!

On the whole, Catching Fire seemed far "bigger" than The Hunger Games. As the second book of the trilogy, I was expecting to have to slog through it as one often does, in order to reach the finale. This wasn't the case. Katniss' plight is engaging and emotionally charged with few, if any, lulls in the action. In fact there were times when I almost wished for a lull as the poor heroine of the tale seemed to never get a moment of peace in which to think clearly about her own thoughts and desires. She is an innocent girl who has been catapulted to the forefront of a war which will take from her so many of the small list of people who have a claim on her love. 

As is traditional with the second book of a sequel, Catching Fire ends on a note of anxiety and desperation, which will leave you feeling like there is a vice on your throat that can only be eased by finishing the series. 

Book Three: Mockingjay.


Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge... The thrilling final instalment of this ground-breaking trilogy promises to be one of the most talked-about books of the year.

The Hunger Games might be over, but Katniss Everdeen is still fighting for her life. The Rebels have taken up their weapons in a seemingly useless war against the Capitol and its leader, the maniacal President Snow. Katniss has been used as a catalyst for war, manipulated into becoming The Mockingjay: a figurehead of political resistance, by another would-be-totalitarian leader, when all she ever wanted was to protect those she loves and live out a relatively peaceful existence.  

However, the final book of The Hunger Games trilogy offers anything but peace. This is, by far, the most harrowing of the series. The book has received criticism from some for being "too dark", but surely Suzanne Collins needed to be dark in order to deal with the subjects of political oppression, identity crises, PTSD and familial loss? She affords her YA audience the respect of not "dumbing down" the messages of her series.

District 12 is gone. Katniss' best friend, Gale, is slowly becoming as ruthless in his methods as any of the game-makers ever were. And Peeta is gone, his mind "hijacked" by the Capitol so that now whenever he looks at Katniss, he feels the overwhelming urge to kill her. Katniss is slowly losing everything she has and everything she is to the war. And there's more to lose.

If you're looking for happy endings then I can't say that this is a book/series for you. Again, I know that plenty of readers were disappointed that Collins didn't wrap everything up with a pretty pink ribbon at the conclusion of her tale, but again this was really the only possible ending for Katniss' story. After losing so much, fighting so much and both feeling and causing so much pain, how could Katniss get a fairytale "happily ever after"? She's fighting a war and thus there are inevitable casualties... some of them heart-wrenching.

If, however, you're looking for a great read with characters whose plight will keep you gripped, writing which echoes the dystiopia it weaves, and a heroine who is pretty darn cool, then I can't recommend The Hunger Games Trilogy enough!

Hope you enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Mockingjay is poignant, inspired, moving and soul stirring. A worthy conclusion to the greatest trilogy. It makes complete sense and comes full circle. True life is difficult, this book captures that journey. This is a awesome book.


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