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<< Special Coverage << Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

  • Lois Rabey
  • 2011 1 Sep
The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 2008, 374 pp., $8.99

Reality TV goes murderous in The Hunger Games, the young adult novel that has become a global bestseller since it was published in 2008. The book has inspired two sequels (Catching Fire and Mockingjay) and a movie that will hit theaters next March.

The sales of The Hunger Games trilogy also has brought new attention to young adult fiction, a category that has been growing in popularity as adults express concerns about the adult content and themes that often appear in these novels.

First, let's look at the book that started The Hunger Games phenomenon.

The World of Hunger Games
North America has collapsed and a new nation, Panem, now reigns and rules over 12 districts of harshly treated subjects. The Capitol hosts the Hunger Games once a year and demands that each district send one girl and one boy (12 to 18 years old) to compete in a battle of wits and physical prowess that terminates with the death of all participants except the final survivor. The murders of these youths are broadcast on live TV for the eager consumption of Panem's population.

The Games are played in a large area with varying terrain—a Romanesque arena, lakes and forests—and are scrutinized constantly by the "Gamemakers" who control the entire environment. They can destroy anyone they chose in an instant.

Each district cheers on tributes, as the contestants are called; and the Capitol celebrates each victory of the Careers, heinous pursuers of the tributes.

As the narrator Katniss Everdeen says, "The real sport of the Hunger Games is watching the tributes kill one another."

Katniss lives in District 12, a poor area, the population of which hangs on the edge of poverty and starvation. Before the Hunger Games, she spent her days hunting for food with her friend Gale and taking care of her emotionally distant mother and 12-year-old sister, Prim. Katniss' father was killed in a mine explosion, leaving her to keep the family fed and together.

The book follows Katniss' struggle to survive the Hunger Games as the female tribute from District 12. She faces innumerable death-threatening challenges while struggling with her emotions—fear, frustration, grief, desire.

While a fast read for the most part, The Hunger Games bogs down a little in the middle with so many challenges that the reader may become anxious to get to the conclusion. One 14-year-old reader said, "I liked the story, but the style of writing got boring."

The story is low on dialogue because Katniss is alone for much of the story. She narrates exciting episodes, but it might be more engaging if she were more often relating with others.

Of course, her solitary quest to survive is a major part of the plot, so a good story may trump a little bit of a drag in the middle. The story ends with a tease about an unresolved love triangle, which undoubtedly appears in the next book of this trilogy.

Hunger Games and the YA Phenomenon
Culture watchers say The Hunger Games books may become as big as Twilight. That's serious. What makes the books so popular? Critics cite good writing, exciting stories, a believable 16-year-old lead character, and timeless themes such as the struggle for survival and the willingness to sacrifice one's life for others.

The books in The Hunger Games Series are some of the most popular YA books released in recent years. YA fiction is designed for young readers, but often takes these readers into adult conflicts and problems.

That's a good thing, say adults who believe the books can help teens become more mature by imagining what they would do in similar circumstances. That's a bad thing, say adults who fear the adult nature of many YA books is forcing kids to grow up too soon or destroying their innocence.

The debate continues, but Hollywood isn't debating. It is betting big money on other YA books and series. A recent article in Entertainment Weekly looked at 10 YA properties that have been optioned by major studios for future movies.
• The Beautiful Creatures Series (book three of the five-book series was just published) injects spiritual elements into the boy-girl formula by having its lead male character fall in love with a girl who appears in his dreams.
• The City of Bones Series shows how a young girl learns about the supernatural from a male friend.
• Delirium is the first book in a three-book series about a bleak future world where love has been outlawed.
• Divergent features the forbidden love between a teen girl and an older, bad-boy type.

Haven't heard of these and other YA novels? Then ask your kids what they're reading, and talk to them about the themes and issues they find interesting or disturbing.