Despite not being able to describe myself as a ‘young adult’ – I recently turned 30, but who’s counting? – YA fiction still appeals to the reading-me. Is it because I’m hopelessly immature? Borderline illiterate? Has moving back to my parents’ house led to some kind of mental and/or emotional regression?
Or are there things about teen novels which make them more generally appealing? Gone are the days when one stopped reading young adult fiction when one left high school. Harry Potter and the Tomorrow When the War Began series proved that, the Vampires continue to prove that. If the story is strong enough, if the characters appeal, if there is a thrill-aspect, if there is something in the writing or narrative which ‘speaks to’ the reader, then a book can be for anyone, no matter its target market or placement in the bookshop, no matter – in this case – the Stephenie Meyer quote on the cover.
H is for Hunger because our book on this occasion is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, a thoroughly enjoyable, well-told adventure tale set in a frightening future-America.
Each year the wealthy, powerful, slightly mysterious Capitol demands tributes from its 12 downtrodden districts. A tribute of 2 children from each district to fight all the other tributes in the annual Hunger Games. Fight each other to death. There can be only one, and that one, after managing to survive the carnage of battle and malevolence of the gamemakers, can return to their district victorious, rich and able to provide for their families and neighbours. Katniss volunteers herself as District 12’s girl-tribute when her younger sister’s name is drawn from the ballot. Peeta is the boy-tribute, the baker’s son who has always been in love with Katniss – or has he?
What follows is a well-conceived story, told with little of the condescension or over-explanation which sometimes weaves its way through novels aimed at readers of a certain age. Suzanne Collins’ novel is smart, intense, emotive and entertaining. The characters have weight to them, the plot kept me guessing, and on a personal note even the dash of teen romance managed to not yuck me out (high praise indeed!).
The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy though you can tell that it was originally written as a complete tale, as there is no narrative reliance on stringing things out. Sure there are plotlines and a couple of stray comments which I can see will be expanded on in the upcoming books but I wouldn’t have finished the story feeling dissatisfied if the end was the end. I’m pleased there are more books to come (the third is published any day now) because I was so entertained and I like the characters, but at the same time I do wonder if ‘we’ sometimes overdo the series-thing. Can’t a good story simply sit on its own without being stretched out or built upon over more and more books? I say this as a reader who occasionally feels overcommitted with all the series I’m trying to keep on top of (books and television!), which I need to try to read before accidentally finding out what happens; either by an enthusiastic friend, oblivious stranger or ill-conceived internet search. As a publishing professional I, of course, understand the advantages of releasing series, especially for the younger folk who will want to ‘collect them all’. My shelves, too, were once lined with Pen Pals and Girl Talk installments, not to mention the crime series I follow now. And as I said I’m glad there are more Hunger Games books to come. In fact, I can’t wait to meet the characters again and see what the evil Capitol has planned and how the good people of its districts will fight against it.
If you enjoy a well-written adventure tale then The Hunger Games may be for you. Despite the teenage characters and illustrated cover, it’s a great read and you may find yourself catching the all-stations train on purpose just so you can get in more reading time. Good stories are for all readers – even those of us who are no-longer-so-young adults.