Young adult fiction has a lot going for it in recent years. In the wake of the Harry Potter craze, there’s an entire generation of young people who have grown up with the understanding that reading is a cool way to spend your time and entertain yourself.
Certainly, there has been some fall out from this positive trend. Personally, I can’t stand the Twilight films (although, in fairness, my wife assures me that the novels are much better), which have definitely inherited the youth mania mantle from young Mr. Potter. Vampires and zombies are all the rage, often because it’s what this “Harry Potter generation” seems to be choosing to read.
While the fantasy and young adult horror genres have had commercial success, there’s also been a growth among young adult science fiction. Specifically, dystopian science fiction set in an indistinct future era, focusing mostly on social issues. This sort of “soft science fiction” has long been part of the genre, but it’s really coming into its own withsome of the recent series. Among them was Scott Westerfeld’s fantastic Uglies trilogy (Amazon, B&N), now being made into a film, and Ally Condie’s Matched (Amazon, B&N) and Crossed (Amazon, B&N). These books speak to young people, in part because it resonates with the ever-present sense among the young that the world isn’t fair and that the people with power to make things better don’t care or, even worse, are actively out to get them. In these books, that is often quite literally the case.
Perhaps foremost in popularity among this dystopian sub-genre of young adult fiction – and rightly so – is Suzanne Collins’ stunning The Hunger Games trilogy. In the unspecified future setting of this series, young people are selected through a lottery-style system to participate in a brutal battle to the death, from which only one person can survive. The first full (non-teaser) trailer has released, and to their credit it focuses on story over action and violence. Honestly, both my wife and I were almost moved to tears by it!
It’s not that the premise is inherently that original. If you’re well read, you may even recognize elements of a formula. Take Shirley Jackson’s classic short story “The Lottery,” mix with some of Stephen-King-writing-as-Richard-Bachman’s The Running Man (Amazon, B&N), and make the protagonists teenagers. Though not necessarily evident from the trailer, there is also the requisite angst-filled love triangle.
The brilliance of Collins’ storytelling is that she deftly throws plot twists in left and right, and they all make perfect sense within the story. Not once does it really feel like she’s cheating in how she approaches the characters or their story. She’s set up a premise where it’s almost certain that the majority of the major characters, including some of those that we grow to love, will be killed off … and yet she constantly keeps juggling between offering hope and then yanking it away. Again, there’s little question why this novel resonates so strongly with young adult readers!
Another reason that I love this new soft science fiction move in young adult fiction is that back in the day when I was a young adult reader, I sought out books that made me think. These do that, as evidenced by some of the related material. For example, I jumped at the chance to participate in an anthology about it, The Hunger Games and Philosophy (Amazon, B&N), which is due out in February. In my essay, I use game theory to analyze some of the structure of the Hunger Games, why certain decisions make sense (or don’t) within their world, and how game theory can be used to understand Katniss’ response to the situations. Nor is this collection the only one of its kind. The fantastic Smart Pop Books series has released a great book, The Girl Who Was on Fire (Amazon, B&N), where several popular authors discuss the series.
If I had one complaint about anything in The Hunger Games trilogy, it’s that the final book of the trilogy, Mockingjay, feels a bit rushed. I suspect that if the first two movies go well, they might split Mockingjay into two films, giving time to flesh out some of the conflicts in greater detail from the rapidfire pace of the novel.
This fanboy is looking forward to the film, that’s for sure. Only time will tell how they do with it, but judging from this trailer, they’re hitting all the right notes. The film is due out on March 23, 2012.
- YouTube trailer for The Hunger Games film
- Book 1 – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Amazon, B&N
- Book 2 – Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – Amazon, B&N
- Book 3 – Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – Amazon, B&N
- The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games Trilogy – Amazon, B&N
- The Hunger Games & Philosophy (coming Feb. 2012) – pre-order at Amazon or B&N
- The Hunger Games Companion: The Unauthorized Guide to the Series by Lois Gresh – Amazon, B&N
- Black Gate blog: A Beautiful Trilogy – Uglies Film Announced