Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “The Hunger Games” (Sorta.)

Dear Frank,

This week, I’m deviating a bit from our established pattern to tell you about something not so you can skip watching it, but instead to encourage you (and others) to enjoy it. See, Frank, I am fully aware of the fact that you are a cultured man who has read many books, long complex books that use big words. I bet you’ve even finished a David Foster Wallace novel! Maybe not Infinite Jest, because c’mon, but certainly maybe one of his shorter works.

So I understand that young adult fiction might not necessarily be your genre of choice. But The Hunger Games, a post-apocalyptic trilogy of novels written by Suzanne Collins, is a terrific and heart-breaking ride. And you should read it.

I’m making a big thing of this because I first read The Hunger Games about three weeks ago, and the second I started talking about it, it turned out that, like, half of my friends had also read it! And had not told me about how great it was! Which is bullshit! Friends, I mean no offense, I know you lead busy lives, but stuff like this is IMPORTANT, okay? (Sure, this would have all been avoided had I been reading IO9 regularly, but whatever.)

Anyways, here are the basics: In a bleak post-America totalitarian empire called Panem, 12 districts live under the thumb of the Capital, which every year demands a “tribute” of one teenage boy and girl, who are forced to compete in a televised fight to the death. (Yeah, another social commentary on the evils of reality TV, though to Collins’ credit it doesn’t belabor this point too hard.)

So, yes, technically, this is a young adult series, but it’s also a young adult series where, in the first book alone, over twenty children are brutally murdered. These books do not fuck around.

Also, yes, this is kinda like Battle Royale, except, y’know, if noted author Lois Lowry, master of dystopian young adult fiction for young woman, had written it. Because what makes Hunger Games unique from others in its genre? That’s right: A strong female protagonist!

The story is told first-person through the eyes of a 16-year-old named Katniss, who comes from one of the poorest districts and keeps her family alive by hunting illegally in the nearby forest. Katniss is quickly established as tough, smart, loyal and a talented archer, and anyone who’s ever heard a story told shouldn’t be too surprised that she becomes one of this year’s Hunger Games tributes (though there is a nice twist to that moment).

Illustration by Jason Chan, via Hero Complex. For full effect, assume that Katniss is walking away from an explosion that she set off herself. (Because cool guys walk away from explosions.)

But while initially all Katniss cares about is surviving the games, she gets swept up into the politics of Panem, becoming a divisive figure with the power to change the entire nation, her greatest weakness being her feelings for the two boys who support her in different ways through all this shit. Conspiracies, action, tragedy and a love triangle unfold over the three books — it’s compelling as hell.

The fact that Twilight is an international phenomenon, and The Hunger Games (while popular) isn’t, frankly drives me a little bit nuts. Stephenie Meyers’ Mormon-inspired take on vampirism is a story of a girl defined entirely by her relationships, with sexual desire depicted as supernatural metaphor and coded as dangerous and destructive. (Unless you’re getting married immediately after your 18th birthday, of course.)

This bitch's biggest problem is deciding which man will pick her up when she trips and falls. Boy I'm glad a generation of women is letting this franchise define their romantic expectations.

Bella’s biggest problems involve which shirtless supernatural hunk she’s gonna make out with (and that’s pretty clearly not even much of a contest); Katniss, meanwhile, is forced to juggle her feelings for the two guys in her life while also attempting to keep her family safe and escape the enormous burden placed upon her by those in power. She’s a complicated character with flaws but deep inner strength; on the bad-ass scale she’s right up there with Ivanova. And that’s never a bad thing.

So, as part of my campaign to help The Hunger Games take down Twilight, let me encourage Frank and anyone else reading this to check out the first chapter of Book 1 courtesy of Scholastic (apparently working with the motto “the first taste is always free”). Want more, and don’t mind reading stuff on a computer? The Kindle edition of the first book is just five bucks (and in case you didn’t know, you don’t need a Kindle device to read it; there’s a free app you can download).

I mean, Frank, I totally understand if you choose not to join me in this mild obsession (especially given that if it gets worse, I’ll be picketing the premiere of Twilight: Eclipse with a poster saying “GIVE KATNISS A CHANCE!”). But it’s a good story worth checking out. We can always use more of those, even if it’s, you know, “for kids.”


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on February 21, 2011, in Books, No Spoilers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I LOVE ‘the Hunger Games’ trilogy! So much going on, and the characters feel very real. I am disappointed that the last book is so short though – feels like it was pretty mercilessly edited to keep the page-count down. I am very excited to see how the movies shake out.

    I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about these, Liz! I thought I was the one late to the party. If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t hear about the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy until about 5 years ago, and I had exactly the same reaction 🙂

  2. I thought the series got weaker as it progressed but still AMAZING. Ahh Peeta..

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