In anticipation of The Hunger Games movie, all this week ForeverGeek is celebrating the soaring popularity of Young Adult Fiction.
Is all the hype about The Hunger Games books (and movie) justified? We think so! Here are nine reasons why it’s the next big thing — and way better than Twilight.
1. Katniss Everdeen
Harry Potter, “the boy who lived.” Katniss Everdeen, “the girl on fire.” Almost sounds like they’re made for each other.
But make no mistake. The world of The Hunger Games, the tone of these three novels, and the characters who inhabit them, are nothing like the Harry Potter books and films. The only real similarity between the two is that they both subscribe to the mythic story structure known as the “hero’s journey” (though they both interpret and follow it in wildly different ways).
Nonetheless, The Hunger Games books are the best potential successor to the Potter throne yet to appear in literature or in Hollywood, and the reason can be largely summed up in the trilogy’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen. Put simply, she’s one of the best female characters to hit Young Adult fiction (and the big screen) in years.
Katniss is a true original in YA fic, a tragic figure who rises above, an unwilling hero who’s very existence is defined by her hardcore survivalist nature. As a resident of the ultra-poor District 12, she was taught how to hunt by her father at a young age. After her father was killed in a mining accident, her mother was debilitated by a crushing depression, leaving Katniss alone to care for herself, her mom, and her younger sister. So she did the only thing she could do. She ventured outside the fenced-off boundaries of her district, into the wilderness, and hunted wild game for her family’s survival. (Don’t worry, none of this is spoiler material; it’s all backstory that takes place before the first book begins.) It’s this do-whatever-it-takes mentality that she brings into the Hunger Games’ deadly arena, where she faces opponents who are far more skilled at the art of killing.
It also informs her as an individual. Where so many other female YA protagonists spend most of their time obsessing over their conflicted emotions or the boy they want-but-can’t-have, Katniss is concerned only with — as one character points out in the third book — whatever she needs in order to survive. Her pragmatism gets in the way of numerous relationships, but also helps to make her a lightning rod wherever she goes. Unlike Harry Potter, a proactive hero, Katniss is a reactive one. In all three books, she’s used by those in authority in one way or another, ultimately becoming a powerful, living symbol of a faction that she’s not entirely sure she agrees with.
Her raw talent as a survivalist, not to mention her gifted aim with a bow and arrow, are her defining traits. She’s guarded and closed-off, yes, but she’s also selfless and thoroughly moral. And as the narrator of her own story (all three books are written in first-person), she frequently gives us poignant glimpses of her soul — without ever meaning to.
2) Irresistible hook
Walter F. Moudy’s The Survivor. Ib Melchior’s Death Race 2000. Stephen King’s The Running Man, as well as The Long Walk. Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale.
Contestants being forced to fight to the death on reality TV is not a new story. But The Hunger Games‘ angle — not to mention its author’s profound voice — is audaciously original.
Suzanne Collins puts her own spin on the notion of death-as-entertainment, making it not an event that the populace revels in, Gladiator-like, but a feared punishment for a long-ago rebellion that nearly toppled the tyrannical government. The Hunger Games are an annual reminder of the Capitol’s absolute power over its citizens, a way of showing the people what will happen if they ever try to rise up against the Capitol again.
Much like the Harry Potter books, each of the three Hunger Games books unfolds over the course of a year’s time. While the Games play a part in each of the books, the tone and events of them are very different, tracking an expansive story arc that goes from oppression to rebellion and finally to war.
It’s not just a great plot, it’s a great mythology. Utterly epic storytelling.
3) Fully-realized world
There are 12 districts in the totalitarian nation of Panem. Each one is required to send two teenagers called “Tributes” to the Hunger Games every year — one boy and one girl. Each district is the home of a different industry, such as fishing, lumber, textiles, agriculture, and more.
The industry of each district shapes the lifestyles and culture of its citizens. District 12, where Katniss is from, is where mining takes place; as such, the district is a filthy, rundown shanty town with barely any technology and no luxuries of any kind. But as you go up the list, getting closer to District 1, the districts become more refined and sophisticated. District 1 itself is home to the Capitol, where luxury has given way to absolute pretense, with everything from architecture to fashion is ridiculously over-the-top.
The Capitol, the arena, and District 12 play such important parts of the story, they’re practically characters themselves.
4) Realistic cast of fascinating characters
Katniss is surrounded by a colorful cast of characters — a cast that only grows as the three books unfold. All of Panem’s citizens are a product of their circumstances, such as where they live. And each of them fills a classic archetypal role, though the author puts her own spin on each of them.
There’s Haymitch, who fills the classic mentor role. He’s wise to the ways of the Capitol and the Games, and his counsel is often invaluable. But he’s also a pathetic drunk. Or consider Peeta and Gale. These two guys are Katniss’ closest friends, both filling different aspects of the traditional sidekick. But they also represent potential love interests (which I’ll get back to later) and both even become “damsels in distress” for Katniss to rescue at times.
What matters is that everyone in Panem has been touched by the despotic society they live in, and they all react to it in different ways.
5) Confident storytelling
Author Suzanne Collins steers her ship with the steady hand and bravado of a master storyteller at the top of her game. In another writer’s hands, The Hunger Games could have been a dreary, oppressive slog of a read. But somehow Collins manages to tell a story that’s as captivating as it is appalling, and always compulsively readable. She never goes for the obvious storytelling beats, the easy stuff; she goes for the most gut-wrenching developments every time.
Collins creates suspense from the horrific things Katniss is subjected to, but also through Katniss’ own inner turmoil. The whole thing is a graceful tap-dance, where Collins shows us the darkest parts of this world with unflinching realism, yet her touch is a nimble one. Her trilogy is an exciting read full of engrossing emotional journeys and exciting plot twists, and it stays with you long after you put it down (in all the right ways).
But none of this praise I’ve heaped on Collins addresses her most skillful accomplishment. The brilliance of The Hunger Games is that its author never, ever loses sight of the fact that regardless of how hard Katniss fights the machine, she is and always will be, ultimately, a victim to the horrors of violence and war. No one who goes through the things that Katniss goes through could ever completely escape from it, and Collins’ depiction of Katniss reacting to the world around her are what make the whole thing worth reading.
6) There is no love triangle
Regardless if what you’ve heard, The Hunger Games does not prominently feature a love triangle. It’s the anti-Twilight.
Yes, both Peeta and Gale at various points hope to acquire Katniss’ affections. But Katniss has no time or interest in emo pining over “who will I be with?” She’s way too busy trying to survive. There’s never any guarantee that Katniss will actually make it to the end of the story, much less be able to settle down and find happiness with a significant other.
Besides, it’s obvious pretty early in the first book which one of those two guys Katniss is meant to be with. Just saying.
7) President Snow
Every great hero — or heroine — requires a great villain, and The Hunger Games has got one. A story about subjugating a people by forcing its children to fight to the death in a brutal arena on live TV needs a villain who’s not conflicted.
Snow is focused, power-hungry, and absolutely amoral. Like Voldemort or Emperor Palpatine, he has no redeeming virtues and if he has some traumatic childhood backstory, we’re never privy to it. He has a cunning, ruthless mind and he’ll do anything it takes to ensure that he remains president of Panem.
There’s not much of him in the first book (nor in the first movie), but his menacing presence and power are always pulling strings we never even see. The second book is where he steps into the spotlight, asserting himself and showing just how vicious he can be.
8) The movie is impeccably cast
The film’s producers are to be commended, because the cast is filled with one perfect choice after another. Jennifer Lawrence is going to wow us as Katniss. That’s a given. And who but Donald Sutherland could be President Snow?
Elizabeth Banks is a brilliant choice for Effie Trinkett, the insipid public servant who’s job it is to select the District 12 tributes and shepherd them until they reach the arena. Woody Harrelson is the obvious choice for drunk mentor Haymitch; no matter that the book describes the character as overweight. The thought of Stanley Tucci as slimy talk show host Caesar Flickerman just makes me grin. Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson look exactly right as Gale and Peeta.
But Lenny Kravitz as beloved fashion savant Cinna, one of Katniss’ staunchest allies? That one really surprised me, yet the more I see of him in the role, the more I think his might just be the most inspired casting choice of all.
9) Gary Ross
The movie’s director is an unexpected choice, but I think it’s a very smart one. Even though he’s only directed two other films to-date — Pleasantville and Seabiscuit — he’s already displayed the poise of a veteran who’s able to handle spectacle and heart with equal aptitude.
In addition to his directing duties, he’s also credited as a screenwriter on The Hunger Games, and his ingenuity behind the camera might be topped only by his skill with a keyboard. Aside from the two aforementioned films, he’s written other big screen hits that include Big and Dave.
The loss of innocence seems to be the common thread running through Ross’ movies, and if that’s the case, he’s landed a perfect vehicle for his franchise film debut.