Combining the themes of child soldiers with a reality show, author Suzanne Collins created a young adult trilogy that struck gold—and a nerve. In an NPR interview, Collins said she was flipping channels one day and came away with an idea: gladiators.
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay (Scholastic) feature teen heroine Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a future North America, now called Panem, divided into districts and ruled by the sinister Capitol. As a reminder of an unsuccessful rebellion, the Capitol demands that each district send two “tributes,” a boy and a girl, to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a survivalist fight to the death that is also a reality show broadcast across the districts.
These tight, tense novels have moral depth. The Hunger Games trilogy is about the pain of being manipulated, the horror of war, and the horrible choices one is forced to make in such situations, where few are innocent.
The contestants’ suffering may constitute entertainment for the Capitol viewers, but not for the reader. Through Katniss’s eyes, it is evident that life is sacred. Other themes that make the books ripe for discussion include the plight of oppressed people and injustice toward the poor in a consumer society. The cost of survival is also apparent. Given the child soldiers who provided the author’s inspiration, this makes perfect sense and is made painfully clear to the reader.
Dystopian young adult novels are on the rise. Some of the best include Lois Lowry’s Newbery-winning The Giver (Delacorte) and Sharp North by Patrick Cave (Atheneum). A new novel, Matched (Dutton), by Ally Condie, may be the start of the next popular trilogy (read a review at thebanner.org). Global warming, uncertain economic conditions, and instability around the world have entered the consciousness of our children and the literature that they consume.
The Hunger Games trilogy is grim, but it does offer hope and moments of beauty. The hope is found wholly within the power of human beings. As a parent, I’d like to see the hope and beauty show up a bit earlier or in larger doses for my child. Contrarily, as a reader myself, I feel that more hope and beauty would just negate the horror that the characters experience. And let’s not delude ourselves—there are horrors, as well as beauty, everywhere.
Our response? Can we ignore injustice while still appreciating the world’s beauty? And can we constantly view horror, detached and safe, without becoming jaded to what it really is?
The Hunger Games leave us with deep questions and no easy answers. Like many dystopian novels, there is no sense of God. Though these and other books are true to the fact that we do not know what the future holds, it is important that we remind young readers who holds the future.