Read and loved by millions, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a book of brilliant action, gripping prose and an unforgettable story. The first book in the Hunger Games series took the literary world by storm in 2008 after 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteered in a televised fight to the death with 23 other teenagers. Collins’ post-apocalyptic world became Amazon’s best-selling series of all time in 2012, surpassing Harry Potter in just four years. The Hunger Games remains Amazon’s best-selling book of all time in the United States. This begs the question: What about this novel creates such an immense, palpable fascination with the world of the Hunger Games?
I was first introduced to this world not by reading the book, but by watching The Hunger Games when it hit theaters in 2012. While I’m not sure what got me hooked on Collins’ story, I knew I was hooked on this YA series. I immediately grabbed a copy of the book and immersed myself in Katniss’s woes and triumphs. Reading the novel filled in the gaps in the story I saw on screen and formed a basis for my admiration for Collins’ series, which has lasted for over a decade. To this day, I continue to read the book every summer to revisit the story that has occupied my mind for so long.
Basically, Collins has created a world with unmistakably interesting lore and plots – making Katniss Everdeen’s story almost impossible to forget. In The Hunger Games, the United States is known as Panem and is divided into 12 districts. 74 years before the book is set, the districts rebelled against the government of the utopian city known as the Capitol. In response, the government created a barbaric reminder of its dominance: each year, 24 tributes, consisting of children between the ages of 12 and 18, are sent to fight to the death. The book follows a first-person narrative of Everdeen volunteering to take her younger sister’s place in The Hunger Games.
While the book consists of familiar, complex themes – such as civil war, political instability and violent wealth inequality – Collins integrates them in innovative ways. Collins puts the reader in the perspective of a young girl in an unimaginable situation. And yet, readers can still relate to her struggles to care for her family and rebel against those in power. Furthermore, these themes are a poignant reflection of the modern United States. The series focuses on breaking free from an oppressive Capitol, and although they ultimately escape the corrupt democratic system, they have great difficulty completing the task.
“The Hunger Games” is also superior in its portrayal of human nature and relationships; Relationships between characters are dynamic and ever-changing as they navigate the priorities of survival and friendship. Katniss and Rue, a little 12-year-old girl, share an enduring, heartbreaking relationship that is the focus of the games. Collins shines in her ability to create a strong bond between the two and break that bond in less than a hundred heartbreaking pages.
This bond touched me not only because Rue’s innocence leads to a tragic death, but also because in such a horrible place both characters were able to protect and care for each other even though they came from different districts. As a reader, one can never forget that Katniss sings the song Rue, which she used to sing to her sister of the same age as she died in her arms, symbolizing the truly terrifying but fascinating nature of Collins’ world.
Equally notable is that Collins uses readers’ romantic expectations to further shape the character of Katniss. The second half of the games focuses solely on the relationship between Katniss and the young tribute from her district, Peeta Mellark. Since he’s hurt and she cares for him, one might assume the book would focus on their romance. Collins, however, breaks new ground in traditional YA love books, and their relationship is forged through deceit, strategy, and companionship rather than outright love. Through Peeta, readers learn that Katniss is unlike so many female characters in YA before her: she has a strength and independence not directly associated with the male protagonist. The book’s lack of romance does itself and the genre a great service.
Recently, the series became a tetralogy with the May 2020 release of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, a prequel to The Hunger Games. What is most notable about the Hunger Games universe, however, is that The Ballad of Songbirds and Serpents is currently being filmed for a feature film release in November 2023. Featured specifically in this prequel, my favorite parts of reading the series are the brilliant connections and deeper meanings made to several key events in the story. As such, the lore of the characters and the games spans over 100 years, effortlessly revealing more about this fundamentally intriguing storyline with each new chapter.
In the years following the book’s publication, many have attempted to tap into the growing dystopian YA craze. Such books as The Maze Runner and Divergent have had well-received releases and even more successful film releases; However, The Hunger Games still stands above all others.
As the forthcoming release of the fifth film in the series demonstrates, The Hunger Games has made its place in popular culture and has stayed in the hearts of many – and with good reason. The Hunger Games has been at the top of my bookshelf since 2012.