In his review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Stephen King calls the book “a violent, jarring speed-rap of a novel” and points out that “The winner gets a life of ease; the losers get death. The only ‘unspoken rule’ is that you can’t eat the dead contestants.”
Once kids are in the Hunger Games arena, they fight to the death, and anything goes. The same is true in the second book of the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire.
By the time we get to the third book, Mockingjay, as Nicole Sperling of Entertainment Weekly says, “Collins has kicked the brutal violence up a notch.”
When I first read the books, I was stunned that they were young adult novels. Only a year or two earlier, romantic vampire novels such as Twilight dominated the genre. And before Twilight, we had Gossip Girls, which combined Mean Girls with Sex in the City and tossed in plenty of high fashion, boozing, and partying.
All of a sudden, the young adult genre took a 180-degree twist into the realms of dark science fiction and brutal horror. Fans everywhere went wild. It didn’t matter how young or old you were; when the Hunger Games series came out, you were hooked.
I remember being at a party shortly after reading the Hunger Games series for the first time. I spoke with half a dozen adults ranging from twenty years old up to fifty, all of whom had read the books. We debated aspects of the books for at least an hour. Was Mockingjay too violent? Was Catching Fire exciting enough? Which of the three books was best, and why? All of us were deeply affected by Prim, Rue, and even Buttercup.
That’s when it hit me: adults were reading young adult novels by Suzanne Collins. The books were so popular that people of all ages were staying up at night to read them.
My step-daughter, who was thirteen years old at the time, had also stayed up at night to read the entire series. Like the adult readers, she was deeply affected by Prim, Rue, and Buttercup. We talked for many hours about The Hunger Games, covering many of the same questions posed by the adults.
Clearly, Suzanne Collins’ books stretch across the generations. They provoke similar questions from teenagers and adults, with conversations peppered with topics ranging from love to murder.
I decided to write The Hunger Games Companion to deepen the discussion about the books: the characters, the settings, the storylines, and also about subjects ranging from war to repressive regimes to hunger to the nature of evil itself. Every topic is set against the backdrop of and intertwined with the Hunger Games books and characters.
George Orwell’s 1984 talks about repressive totalitarian regimes of the future with the aim of warning people about the present. Collins’ books also address the important political and social issues that we should all be thinking about now — before it’s too late.
The novels are beautifully written, as I note in various ways throughout The Hunger Games Companion. As a novelist and short story author myself, I admire Suzanne Collins’ work a great deal.
But the Hunger Games trilogy goes far beyond fiction, which is why the books are so important.
They challenge readers to think about truth, about what’s right and what’s wrong. They challenge us to think about superficial attitudes versus getting up and doing something about what’s wrong in our world. And there’s an awful lot wrong in the world today.
When I submitted The Hunger Games Companion in March 2011 to my editor, more than eight million copies of all three books in the trilogy were in print. The first novel, The Hunger Games, had been on The New York Times Bestseller List for one hundred and thirty weeks. Suzanne Collins was one of Entertainment Weekly’s 2010 Entertainers of the Year. The books were #1 USA Today bestsellers and #1 Publishers Weekly bestsellers.
Fast forward to October 2011. Fan blogs and websites have mushroomed all over the internet. Conversations about The Hunger Games are intense and wide ranging. Fans of all ages are gearing up for the March 2012 release of The Hunger Games movie from Lionsgate, with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, and Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne.
I’ll be in the theater on opening day. I can’t wait! But until then, let’s start talking about all things Hunger Games!
Over the next few months, I’ll post tidbits here from The Hunger Games Companion. I welcome your comments.