Even after the Harry Potter novels shattered sales records and turned a generation of children into avid readers, it was always a little embarrassing to admit that you were an adult who loved young adult fiction. You could explain to your friends that many of the books being written for children and teens today had dark, mature themes (and not just of the sexy vampire variety), but they'd still suspect you of being a little soft in the head. It wasn't until Suzanne Collins published her bleak, seductively sadistic Hunger Games trilogy that grown-ups stopped worrying and learned to love the teen novel—to the tune of some 4 million copies sold in 2010 alone.
The three books in the series—The Hunger Games, Catching Fire,and Mockingjay—are set in a future version of North America, which has degenerated into a totalitarian state split into 12 districts. Every year, each district must send two of its children to compete in a lavish ritual known as the Hunger Games, where they are expected to fight one another to the death in a live, televised spectacular. Collins' heroine is Katniss Everdeen, a grim, hardscrabble girl from one of the poorest districts who begins as an unpromising player and, by the end of the series, becomes an ambivalent political celebrity.
Collins is not only in possession of the most gruesomely inventive imagination since Hieronymus Bosch. (As David Plotz noted in Slate's discussion of Mockingjay last summer, the series is practically a Kama Sutra of violence.) She also has a precision engineer's sense of how to make her complex narrative structures work: Action-movie directors could learn a thing or 10 from her about how to construct elaborate yet perfectly suspenseful plots. But more impressive is Collins' fierceness. No one is safe from the story she wants to tell, and if that means offing some beloved, underage characters in alarming fashion or ending the series on a note she must have known was going to be divisive among her fans, so be it. Collins doesn't talk down to her young readers or sugarcoat her plot for them; she knows they're as bloodthirsty as her adult fans. By combining a bracing ruthlessness with old-fashioned storytelling skills, Collins cracked the code for making truly compelling—and profitable—fiction for all ages.
Read an excerpt from The Hunger Games.
Like the Hunger Games page on Facebook.
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Tina Fey, comic genius
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Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of The Book of Mormon