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I didn’t get the popularity of Harry Potter and I don’t get Twilight, BUT I love the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.
This is truly a YA crossover series that is popular with teens and adults alike. It is a fantastic series of books that can also teach us a lot as authors. In this video I explain why. (Text below if you prefer reading)
In the video I explain:
The basic story is of Katniss Everdeen who lives in a District of Panem where children are sent to the Hunger Games every year as tributes to the Capitol, who conquered them in a war. Two children are sent from each area and they have to fight to the death in an arena filled with traps while they are watched on reality TV by the nation. The children have to kill or be killed. The books follow Katniss from being a contestant, to a survivor and eventually the Mockingjay, a symbol of the revolution of the districts against the Capitol.
Why are these books so great and what can we learn?
- Characters are compelling. Katniss is the flawed heroine. The books are written in first person so you are inside her head. She can be mean and cruel as well as heroic, but she doesn’t come across as likeable most of the time – but more of a leader and an inspiration. She cares for her family completely. Peeta is the baker’s son who goes to the games with her, and there’s Gale, her childhood friend. Some of the Capitol characters like Cinna, the stylist are powerful too – so there is no them/us separation – flawed, real people.
- High stakes – the ultimate stakes really as death rules these books. The body count is huge and there are also very inventive ways to kill – the genetically modified mutts are horrific blended from the DNA of killed tributes that eat one of the contestants. The stakes are also for the whole country in Mockingjay with the war.
- Mythological, grand themes experienced at an individual level – from a video of Suzanne Collins she got the idea flicking between Iraq war footage and reality TV, and indeed it brings home the war reality harshly. Grand themes experienced by individuals in great detail. We see Katniss walk through her district after it has been completely destroyed and experience it from her perspective. She also tied in the ideas of the tributes from the ancient Minoan legend of the Minotaur where the couple had to walk into the maze as a sacrifice.
- Thriller pacing. There is always something happening, the pace is very fast. In the games, the deaths come thick and fast and survival from moment to moment. In the war, there are battles and the frontline media campaign from both sides. Blends reality and fiction – reminded me of Ben Elton’s Blind Faith when media rules everything we do.
Interesting how we LOVE the flawed and sometimes unlikeable characters. Because they are like but better in many ways. The Hunger Games series is getting my teen daughter reading and that is the BEST thing I love about the books right now!
Maryan Pelland says
Good points, all. I enjoyed the book – I had the Kindle version. I can see the value of your remarks, but I was puzzled by text errors and formatting problems. The author made her own usage errors with the language, too, (as in using the word “muttants”) but so do most. What I objected to primarily was the character cop out. I didn’t see Katniss have to actually confront the dilemma central to the plot. She did not have to commit a murder to win, luck — or a deus ex machina and Greek Chorus — took her out of the dilemma each time she almost stepped in it. The book was mostly exciting, but I’m not sure it’s the paragon it’s been hyped to be. However, if it brings young adults to books, I’m for it.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Maryan, I actually read this in print so didn’t get formatting issues. I do think words like ‘muttants’ were deliberate changes of language to suit the context.