Oct 12 2011 5:30pm

The Roots of The Hunger Games Companion

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.

Lois Gresh is the New York Times best-selling author of The Hunger Games Companion and thriller novel Terror By Numbers.

HG fan
1. HG fan
The violence in The Hunger Games almost scared me off, but the writing was so good that I had to find out what happened to Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. I thought Mockingjay was by far the most violent of the three books. But you know, just the thought that children are killing each other so adults can have fun watching - and control everybody in all the districts -- is sick enough, so once you get past that main idea of the series, the rest of the brutality isn't as horrible as that one main fact.
HG fan
2. matt SF fan
Good post! For me, the books combined horror and all kinds of cool futuristic technologies. Katniss first goes into the arena to save her little sister, who she knows would be instantly killed if she has to fight. So Katniss fights instead. I was glued to these books the way I'm glued to horror movies in the middle of the night. I have to read-watch, I can't stop but I'm horrified teh whole time by what's going on, and in the hunger games, why it's going on. what a messed up soceity and a bunch of messed up adults. kids fighting to the death ! reality is much worse than fiction. at least we haven't reached that point yet!
HG fan
3. SF Loving Teacher
Here's the thing why the books are so perfect for today's teens. They are extremely sophisticated with having information literally at their fingertips. How do I know this? I'm teaching the entire trilogy right now and my students are completely into the books! We're in the middle of Catching Fire and every day my students want to discuss some aspect of the story. They are able to connect to the themes of the books and through discussion and guidance from me (I have 8th grade) I can connect the novel to current events which allows my students to connect with the larger world.

As I told one of my students the other day, current YA is booming right now because publishing houses (I'm sure authors always knew this) have finally realized that teenagers are not babies that need to be protected. They are young adults questioning their world and their literature needs to reflect it. Current YA is now representative of teen's literary wants and desires. It's a fantastic time to be a teen reader, teacher and just YA fiction lover.
Lois Gresh
4. Lois_Gresh
HG Fan,
Well, I'm glad the violence DIDN'T scare you off!
Lois Gresh
5. Lois_Gresh
matt SF fan,
I agree that there are a lot of cool technologies in the books - the arena itself, the high-tech shower, etc. I devote a couple of chapters of the Companion to these subjects… which reminds me… I should post the table of contents here in a subsequent post!
Lois Gresh
6. Lois_Gresh
SF Loving Teacher,

I'm so glad to hear that you're using The Hunger Games in class to connect its central themes to the real world. Teens today are far more sophisticated and know a lot more than adults might assume. I agree that they're not babies who need to be protected.

Teens should be allowed to read books that address their real interests.

As I write in Chapter 1, "If humans aren’t careful, we may blow ourselves into oblivion by wars, cruelty, the lust for power, and greed. Children are the future of the human race. If we kill our children, who will be left?" As noted above, I wrote the 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.

Again, I remind myself to post the table of contents here!

I hope you'll stop by again as I delve into these themes in upcoming posts. I'd love to hear your views and those of your class.
HG fan
7. Robert in San Diego
Dear SF Loving Teacher:

Yeah, people deliberately writing for YA audiences have long known the kids can take it. The earliest example I've read lately is "Emil and the Detectives" by Eric Kastner (who also wrote "The Parent Trap,") which featured theft, economic hardship, and children demonstrating great skill in organization.

There have also been some genuinely horrific novels originally written for general audiences that are often considered "Young Adult" nowadays not because of their writing style or content, but because they're important books that are the subject of High School and Middle School classes: 1984, Tom Sawyer, Kidnapped, All Quiet on the Western Front, and so forth. You might mention this mutability of categories. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories nowadays oft get packaged as juvenile literature, but when they were published, they were printed in The Strand, one of Great Britain's leading literary markets for adults.
Andrew Love
8. AndyLove
SF Loving Teacher: Are you aware of "Reading for the Future" - an organization of teachers, librarians, SF writers and others, that encourages the use of SF in the classroom? If not, please consider checking out

Robert: I loved "Emil and the Detectives" when I was a kid!

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