In preparation for the forthcoming movie about which all the world seems to be Harry Potter/Twilight Saga/The Avengers-level excited, I have just finished rereading Suzanne Collins’s phenomenally successful YA trilogy, The Hunger Games. The first book, also entitled The Hunger Games, I had already read several times, but its sequels had only been so honored once each, upon their respective releases, and I had felt no need to repeat either experience. This was, therefore, the first time I had read the opening novel knowing full well how the closing one would end—damn you, Mockingjay!—and as I read Book 1, I got to wondering what it was, exactly, that I had so adored about it from the outset. And, in particular, why I had been so drawn to its first-person heroine, the energetic Katniss Everdeen.
As to the novel: look, there’s a lot to like. Post-Apocalyptic Dystopia is a popular science fiction subgenre to which YA has long been happily married; from The Chrysalids to The White Mountains and from Obernewtyn to The Eleventh Plague (to name but a very few), the two work well together, I think, because a world gone mad leaves a lot of scope for a youngster to be believably out on their own, in ever greater peril and defying ever greater odds. You’re not left wondering where the hell these kids’ parents are, or why Child Protective Services hasn’t stepped in long since, and that tends to make for a far more satisfying experience, I find. The fact that Collins then added to this general concept some other long-interesting elements of speculative fiction—the totalitarian regime, the vacuous ruling class, the brewing rebellion—to which she then threw in the ultimate in edge-of-the-seat adrenaline: a prize fight to the death (a la Running Man and Battle Royale), truly makes The Hunger Games a remarkable achievement—if hardly the marvelous wonder of invention that many of its young, SF-novice readers think it. (Sorry, kids, but a lot of this has been done before.)
[Hindsight is 20/20...]