When I first read The Hunger Games, the bestselling trilogy by Suzanne Collins, it wasn’t really purposeful. A blizzard-induced, lengthy power outage gave me plenty of free time to fill, and the series was languishing on my shelf. To my surprise (though probably not to the books’ fans), I found myself utterly engrossed, literally burning the midnight oil in order to finish Collins’ exciting tale. While the “young adult” label of this science fiction epic may turn some adult readers away, they should not worry; this mature, exciting story is fast-paced, dramatic, and tons of fun.
Collins, a longtime writer for youth television hits like Clarissa Explains It All, began focusing on books at the prompting of children’s author James Proimos, who she met while working on Generation O!, a show on Kids WB. Collins first won fame for her successful series The Underland Chronicles. While her first set of books was certainly popular, her second series, The Hunger Games trilogy, has been an astounding success—it’s basically on the same level as Harry Potter. Translated into 51 languages, The Hunger Games has sold 65 million books in the U.S. alone and has spawned an extremely popular film franchise. Since finishing the series, Collins has gone on to produce a picture book, Year of the Jungle. Who knows what she’ll do next?
To the uninitiated, Collins’ trilogy seems like an oft-told story. Set in a dystopian future version of Earth where climate change and war has torn the world apart, The Hunger Games tell the story of Katniss Everdeen, a resident of the impoverished District 12 in the North American country of Panem, a totalitarian state that punishes the poor for a long-ago rebellion by organizing the “Hunger Games,” a TV spectacle in which “tributes,” two teens from each district, are forced to fight to the death. Certainly, this concept is not unheard of; The New Yorker places it in the context of both Lord of the Flies and television’s Survivor series, while The New York Times points out the premise’s similarity to the Japanese hit comic and film Battle Royale. However, Collins’ books stand out because of her fast-paced plot and fascinating way of building a completely new world.
Naturally, the popular and critical success of a series like The Hunger Games makes it ripe for adaptation, and Hollywood did not disappoint. Collins’ writing should not be underestimated—readers should definitely check the series out before seeing the films—but the films have been a major blockbuster sensation and deserve praise on their own. The first film, which adapted the first novel, had a $680 million global release, and the series as a whole has made some $2.5 billion in box office revenues since its first release in March 2012. However you want to experience The Hunger Games, I think you’ll find a series with a sharp social message, a well-imagined depiction of a frightening future, and a female protagonist who epitomizes strength and resilience in the face of adversity.