Monday, March 7, 2011

Writing on Reading: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games hit the world by storm in 2008. Published by Scholastic, it is a YA science fiction novel. The other books in the series are Catching Fire (2009), and Mockingjay (2010). In my opinoin these books are some of the best I've ever read. Let's take a look and see why they work so well...

At first glance, the story of teenagers fighting to their deaths in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world might seem too brutal. But it is precisely this black-and-white good versus evil (often seen in YA) that makes the plotting here so effective. Throughout the three books, the leader of the Capital puts our teenage heroes at risk for his person agenda. The stakes are very high, with the protagonists fighting for their lives, and eventually, the lives of everyone in North America. So, excellent plotting: check.

I think the most effective aspect of these books, however, is the characterization. The protagonist, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen is flawed and yet very sympathetic. Collins uses all the tricks of the writing trade to make the reader care about her. Katniss first shines when she volunteers to take her beloved sister's place in the Hunger Games. Protecting those less powerful evokes sympathy. Check. As I said, Katniss is flawed and she does do some very bad things BUT she feels very bad about them. It's okay with readers if characters do bad things--as long as they regret them. Check. She also defies authority. This is particularly appealing to young readers. Check. Collins uses these techniques masterfully throughout the books, and since readers are emotionally invested, the books' pacing is very fast.

As a kind of literature geek, the influences of, and references to, other cultural works is very appealing. For example, the name of the country in the books, Panem, refers directly to the ancient Roman saying "Panem et Circenses" which means "Bread and Circuses"--appeasing the populace by distracting them via food and entertainment. Collins also claims to be inspired by the ancient Greek story of Theseus and the Minotaur, wherein as punishment for past crimes, Minos forces Athens to sacrifice seven youths and seven maidens to the Minotaur.

But, I don't think we can discuss The Hunger Games Trilogy without comparing it to George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984. There are many obvious similarities between the trilogy and 1984, including governmental control, personal independence and Big Brother watching. In my opinion, the most horrific aspect of 1984 was O'Brien's eventual control over Winston's thoughts and feelings. Without giving too much away, Collin's utilizes this horrible plot point as well. Wow! Very powerful!

Did you read these novels? What did you think?


  1. I have heard so, so much about this trilogy, but haven't read them. With audiences, it seems like they are crossing the line over YA and into adult, as I see these books everywhere!

  2. I am still waiting for my copies to be shipped to South Africa.


  3. I highly recommend them, Joanne and Misha. You'll have to let me know what you think if/when your ead them! :)