Read and beloved by millions, “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins is a book of brilliant plot, engaging prose, and an unforgettable story. The first book in The Hunger Games series took the literary world by storm in 2008, following a 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen as she voluntarily engages in a televised fight to the death among 23 other teenagers. Collin’s post-apocalyptic world became Amazon’s all-time best selling series in 2012, surpassing Harry Potter in just four years. “The Hunger Games” remains Amazon’s most sold book of all time in the United States. This raises the question: What about this novel creates such an immense, tangible fascination with The Hunger Games world?
I was first introduced to this world not by reading the book but by watching “The Hunger Games” when it was released in theaters in 2012. While I am not sure what made Collin’s tale stick to me, I knew I was hooked onto this YA series. Immediately, I grabbed a copy of the book and delved into Katniss’s hardships and triumphs. Reading the novel filled in the blanks of the story I saw on the screen — building a foundation for my admiration for Collin’s series that has lasted for over ten years. To this day, I continue to give the book a read each summer to revisit the story that has stuck with me for so long.
Fundamentally, Collins created a world of unmistakably interesting lore and plot — making it nearly impossible to forget the story of Katniss Everdeen. In “The Hunger Games,” the United States is known as Panem and split among 12 districts. 74 years before the book takes place, the districts rebelled against the governing body of the utopian city known as the Capitol. In response, the government created a barbaric reminder of their dominance: Each year, 24 tributes, made up of children aged 12 to 18 are sent to fight to the death. The book follows a first-person narration by Everdeen, who volunteers 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 these in innovative ways. Collins places the reader into the perspective of a young girl in an unimaginable situation. And yet, readers can still relate to her struggles of caring for her family and rebelling against those in power. Moreover, these themes are a poignant reflection of the modern United States. The series focuses on gaining freedom from an oppressive Capitol, and while they ultimately escape the corrupt democratic system, they find great difficulty in completing the task.
“The Hunger Games” also reigns superior in its depiction of human nature and relationships; the relationships between characters are dynamic and ever-changing as they navigate the priorities of survival and friendship. A lasting, heart-wrenching relationship that remains at the center of the Games is between Katniss and Rue, a small 12-year-old girl. Collins shines in her ability to create a robust bond between the two and break that connection within the span of less than a hundred heartbreaking pages.
This bond touched me not just because Rue’s innocence makes for a tragic death, but that in such a horrific 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 Katniss singing Rue the song she used to sing to her sister of the same age as she dies in her arms, symbolizing the truly horrific yet intriguing nature of Collin’s world.
Similarly notable, Collins uses the romantic expectations of readers to further shape Katniss’ character. The second half of the Games focuses entirely on the relationship between Katniss and the boy tribute from her district, Peeta Mellark. As he is injured and she cares for him, one could assume that the book would focus on their romance. However, Collins provides a breath of fresh air from traditional romance YA books and their relationship is forged by deception, strategy, and companionship rather than outright love. Through Peeta, readers learn that Katniss is unlike so many female characters in YA before: She has a strength and independence that is not directly connected to 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 release of “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” in May 2020, a prequel to “The Hunger Games.” Most notably in The Hunger Games universe, however, is that “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is currently being filmed for release as a feature film in November 2023. Seen explicitly in this prequel, my favorite parts of reading the series are the brilliantly laid connections and deeper meanings to several important events in the story. Thus, the lore of the characters and of the Games extends into a span of over 100 years and effortlessly reveals more about this fundamentally intriguing plot with each new chapter.
In the years following the book's release, many have attempted to tap into the growing dystopian YA craze. Such books, like “The Maze Runner” and “Divergent,” had well-received releases and even more successful motion picture releases; however, “The Hunger Games” still stands above all others.
As evidenced by the upcoming release of the series’ fifth movie, the Hunger Games holds its spot in popular culture and has remained in the hearts of many — and for good reason. Since 2012, "The Hunger Games” has been and will continue to remain at the top of my bookshelf.
—Staff writer Monique I. Vobecky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @moniquevobecky.