When a teacher you respect recommends a book to your child you do not often question the choice. On this occasion the suggestion was made in order to “stretch” them but from what I had seen of the book in question, I am not sure of its suitability. I am in the process of reading it now.

First I have to deal with the title. “The Hunger Games” first came to my attention a couple of years ago in the run up to the London 2012 Olympics. You may or may not be aware that this was the third time that our capital city were hosts. The previous occasion was at short notice in 1948 a few years after the end of World War II. Rationing was still the order of the day and feeding the athletes was a real challenge. Hence the 1948 Olympics earned the nick-name the ‘hunger’ games because of the food shortages of the time. Overall it was a success. So, when people started waxing lyrical about the Hunger Games and singing the praises of the hero, the girl who overcomes terrible odds to survive, I assume we are talking about the Olympics and sport in general. Not so.

My first bit of research, then was to [insert name of famous online shopping site here] where I could read reviews and see a précis of the film. We are not talking about the film here but the category 12A implies that it is not really suitable for children under the age of 12 even if they are allowed to watch it (accompanied by an adult). A 12-year-old child is more mature than when they were 11 – a year does make a difference to them more so than at, say, 20 or 30 years.

Next I looked at the book reviews. The average rating was 4.9 out of a possible 5 stars and many reviewers wrote positive, exciting pieces. Typically they said that they could not put the book down: it was a page turner. I took a look at the 1 star reviews. I often do this because they can be helpful and do not always put me off a purchase. Some 1 star reviewers do not like the product or are moaning that it was not what they expected etc. Occasionally they warn that the product description is wrong, for instance, thereby saving me trouble and expense. Here the criticisms seemed to be two-fold. First was that the story-line appears to bear a remarkable similarity to another book and the reviewers were quite agitated about this. Not having read the other book I have no idea whether they are either right or fair. The second was a complaint about the quality of writing; namely, that the book was better suited to a 13-year-old rather than to someone 18 years old. That still suggests to me that 11 years old is just that little bit too young.

Now, I have started reading it and it is OK – I would, so far, give it three stars. That is in part due to the violence – it is not graphic, nor has there been too much of it – but the threat of it stalks the background. The scene is a dystopian future North America which is no longer a democracy but a group of vassal states ruled brutally by the Capitol. If you are familiar with Ancient Rome you might note some similarities. The games are a competition where each state, “District”, is forced to select two teenagers to compete a game where the winner is the last one standing – it is to the death. The heroine is one of those in that competition. As the narrative is written in the first person it does rather give the ending away!

This book, to my mind, would “stretch” an 11-year-old and, indeed, could be a good class reader at secondary school for the issues it raises. But is it appropriate simply to raise a younger pupil’s writing standard?

What do you think?

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