Opinion: It’s Time to Give The Hunger Games a Second Chance
We all remember what it felt like to be a preteen. Everybody’s story is different, but if you’re anything like me, you remember being filled with angst because nobody really understood you. How dare these adults try to tell us what to do, as if they knew more than us or something? Completely unfair. Fortunately, I entered this tumultuous part of my life at just the right time: the YA dystopia craze of the 2010s.
There’s no forgetting the chokehold these novels (and later films) had on society during their prime. Even for those who didn’t participate in the trend, it was inescapable. In 2014 alone, theaters were bombarded with the release of four major dystopian blockbusters: Divergent, The Maze Runner, The Giver, and, perhaps most notably of all, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.
While The Hunger Games is far from the first dystopian novel (that title is disputed, but it probably belongs to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We), it was the catalyst for what would become an all-consuming literary trend for the better part of the next decade.
The first novel in the series, authored by Suzanne Collins, was released in 2008, with some attributing its popularity to the Global Financial Crisis that rocked the world around this time. 2008’s teens were growing up in a far less prosperous world than their parents before them, and many were drawn to the cynicism of the novel and its lead character.
The Hunger Games was quickly followed by two sequels, Catching Fire and Mockinjay, released in 2009 and 2010 respectively. The series exploded in popularity, and other authors soon followed suit. The genre quickly became saturated with dozens of series, all targeting the previously untapped teenage audience.
By the mid-2010s, the trend that had once dominated young adult fiction had died. While The Hunger Games is often lumped together with the copycat novels that followed it, as relics of a trend that came and went, it deserves a chance to stand alone.
Don’t get me wrong. The Hunger Games is not a perfect novel. That being said, it’s better than we’ve been giving it credit for. Suzanne Collins tells the story of a post-apocalyptic North America that, in many ways, is an echo of the less pleasant aspects of today’s world. Although the televised spectacle in which children are forced to fight to the death is a bit outlandish, the novel’s campiness is part of what makes it work.
Throughout the novel, Collins hits a near perfect balance between disturbing and compelling. The world in which the story takes place is grim and often upsetting, but this is offset by candid character moments that offer the reader a respite from an otherwise bleak narrative. She tells a story that’s dark without being depressing. It’s not uplifting by any means, but it’s not a total downer either.
Another element that makes The Hunger Games shine is the narration. In spite of the very adult nature of the world she lives in, Katniss still manages to read like a teenage girl. She feels human, a quality that YA dystopian protagonists tend to lack.
One of the biggest criticisms of The Hunger Games and of the genre at large is the emphasis on the love triangle. While this is typically a valid criticism, I feel that it’s been misplaced. There is definitely a love triangle in this series, but (without spoiling too much of the plot) it’s more than what it’s been reduced to. It comes as a manifestation of the Capitol’s exercise of control over every aspect of Katniss’s life. It’s less about the boys she has to choose between and more about the different forces that hope to manipulate her.
If you’ve never read The Hunger Games, you should absolutely give it a chance. If you have read it, it’s still worth a reread, especially if it’s been a long time. It’s a fast read (I reread it in less than three days before writing this article), and you might learn something.
For those who, like me, have already read all three books more times than you can count, a prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, was released in 2020.