I think The Hunger Games might just be the crack cocaine of book series.
Now, hear me out here. I know the writing isn’t overly sophisticated. The characters have weird names. The font is so big you might think you’ve stumbled into a children’s story. But in 10th grade Health class I did a project on crack cocaine (I promise I have never actually done crack cocaine) and wikipedia kindly reminded me that the side effects are as follows: increased heart rate, boosts in energy, decreased appetite, feelings of euphoria, loss of touch with reality, and an ever-growing craving for more.
I have felt probably too many of those things in connection to The Hunger Games to be considered a healthy and functional human being. But a few people (like, a couple million or so) have seen Catching Fire in the last week, so I figure now is as good a time as any to tell you a few ways in which the series is awesome.
1) Plot Line
For the eight people left on the planet who haven’t read the books/seen the movies/googled the plot out of sheer curiosity, let me fill you in. In the futuristic dystopian society of Panem, twelve Districts serve to power, clothe, feed, and entertain the people of the Capitol. The people of the Districts live in poverty, while the people of the Capitol live in utter excess. Every year a boy and a girl, aged anywhere from 12-18, are chosen from each of the Districts to compete in the Hunger Games: a nationally broadcasted, spectacularly orchestrated fight to the death. The winner of the Hunger Games brings food and other necessities back to their home District, thus encouraging support for the “tributes” from the starving Districts.
So the concept alone is crazy. Kids are killing each other on TV, and the people of the Capitol are treating the whole thing like it’s the season finale of The Bachelorette or something. But then there are the details, the blow-by-blow descriptions from Katniss, the series’ narrator, about where her life goes after she volunteers for the Games to save her younger sister. Every chapter– and I mean every chapter– ends with someone’s life hanging in the balance, some terrifying new obstacle coming to life in the arena, some horrific piece of news about Katniss’ friends and family. And yes, it is always horrific news.
It’s not a happy story by any means. About halfway through Catching Fire, the reader comes to a realization: Katniss is screwed. There are exactly zero ways for this to end well. The politics, the danger, the characters… they’re so vivid it’s almost painful. Katniss somehow becomes a centerpiece for an entire revolution, all because she didn’t want her sister to die and her self-preservation instincts made her look really good on TV. The dread you feel for Katniss and the people of Panem is real. Distract-you-from-your-homework, keep-you-up-at-night, make-it-difficult-to-talk-about-anything-but-the-books real. “Addictive” is something of an understatement.
2) Token YA Love Triangle
Peeta loves Katniss. Gale also loves Katniss. Katniss is kind of like ugh I just want to save my family and get out of here, but gives in to loving both of them at different times when she’s not too busy fighting state-of-the-art killing machines and stuff.
Though many people (and by many people, I mean Julie and my mom) report the love triangle to be their least favorite aspect of The Hunger Games, I enjoyed the crap out of it, and the vast majority of pre-teen girls would support me on this one. If the government-versus-people thing isn’t enough to get your blood pumping, the love scenes scattered throughout the series will get you through. (Though 50-60% of them are probably faked for President Snow’s cameras– it’s just so hard to separate reality from fantasy in the arena, you know?)
In addition to these wonderfully convoluted plot lines, the series’ sexual tensions bring us some of the best couple-nicknames since Bennifer and Brangelina:
Peeniss! KatPee! Kale! Gatniss!
Ah, young love.
3) Social Commentary
But more than the cliffhangers, more than the love triangle, even more than the totally badass nature of Katniss herself, there is the importance of what Suzanne Collins is actually trying to say here. The people of the Capitol have everything, or so it seems: food, clothing, homes, gadgets. They fret over clothing trends and party lists and gossip about the Games while the people in the Districts live in constant fear of having to watch their children be slaughtered on national television. It can be a commentary on how a government can use fear to manipulate its people. How humanity treats enemies in times of war. How superficiality and greed can corrupt a society. How economic division can lead to revolution. How “reality” TV can warp the truth so radically that we aren’t even be able recognize it anymore.
This is a real ad, recently released by CoverGirl. The mysterious voice counting down in the background alludes to the countdown that happens before the Games– a countdown to when the young tributes are allowed to start killing each other. The styles in the ad look similar to those showcased in Panem’s Capitol– the ultimate symbol of greed and excess in the books. And these styles are being used to make as much money as possible, here, in real life. It makes you think.
So The Hunger Games offers more than just a story about a girl who wears her hair in a braid while she fights for her life and the people she loves, though it is one hell of a story. It’s romance in wartime. It’s a layered criticism of contemporary society. It’s an excuse to watch Jennifer Lawrence interviews on YouTube for hours on end. And it’s a whole lot better for you than crack cocaine.