book coversThe Hunger Games are hot right now with the second movie releasing its first previews, but that’s now why I am reviewing this series of three books. I’ve decided to review my way through the NPR’s Top 100 in Teen Fiction and this series ranks number 2 (!) on that list.

Many of you will have read The Hunger Games Trilogy by now or have at least heard of it, but let’s give a short recap of the main story without giving away too many spoilers. The US is a different place and has become a nation called Panem, divided into twelve districts. The Capitol rules the nation with iron hand. In some districts, life is good, but that is not the case for District 12 where 16-year old Katniss Everdeen lives. She has to hunt and trade on the black market to help her mother and sister survive.

Every year, The Capitol organizes the nationally broadcasted ‘Hunger Games’: a fight-to-the-death between 24 contestants, one boy and one girl aged 12-18 from each district. When Katniss’ little sister is picked for the Hunger Games, she takes her place instead. Also chosen is Peeta Mellark, a former schoolmate from Katniss.

The first book (The Hunger Games – the best of the series in my opinion) deals with the Hunger Games and how Katniss and Peeta try to survive the slaughter. Their ‘star-crossed lovers’ ploy is a crucial factor in that.

The second book (Catching Fire) is about the aftermath of the Hunger Games, since Katniss and Peeta have not only seriously angered the government, but have unwittingly inspired an uprising in many districts. As a result, the government orders them to fight in another special round of the Hunger Games, where they take on former winners.

In the third installment (Mockingjay) the uprising spreads and Katniss and Peeta become deeply involved, ultimately resulting in a revolution.

Obviously, there is a lot of violence in these books since the whole goal of the Hunger Games is to kill others and thus survive. The uprising and revolution also inspire violence from both sides. Many people die, including some beloved secondary characters. It’s one of the reasons why you should absolutely read these books before recommending them to someone else, to see if you are comfortable with this level of violence.

The Hunger Games undeniably have a great plot, even though the first two books did more for me than the last one. The romance between Katniss and Peeta is okay, although the idea of choosing between two boys (Katniss’ best friend Gale) is something I’ve seen too often.

My biggest issue was the ending. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way because I’ve seen many people complain about it, but it really spoiled the books a bit for me. It was too dark, unnecessarily so I think. The whole trilogy is dark of course, but I don’t think the plot inevitably led to this ending, Suzanne Collins could have changed the grim ending and still make the plot believable.

The Hunger Games have a message of course, a message of what dictatorial power can look like, a message against of humanity instead of violence, and a message of criticism against reality TV. I do wonder however how clear that message comes across, especially the warning against violence. Can a book that is so violent successfully promote humanity? I wonder.

I liked this series and the first book was especially gripping, you literally cannot put it down. But the weaknesses in the second and especially the third book makes the whole series less than just the first book. I think it’s the newness of the series and the movies that are coming out that makes it rank number 2, I suspect it will drop out of the top ten in the years to come. Still, it’s well worth a read, but I wouldn’t recommend it to young teens and I’d be careful recommending it in general considering the amount of violence.