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The Hunger Games is a young adult novel by American television writer and novelist Suzanne Collins. It was first published on September 14, 2008, in hardcover, featuring a cover designed by Tim O'Brien. It is written in the voice of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, where the countries of North America once existed. The Capitol, a highly advanced metropolis, holds hegemony over the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of the twelve districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death until only one person remains.
The book received mostly positive feedback from major reviewers and authors, including author Stephen King. It was praised for its storyline and character development, though some reviewers have noted similarities between Collins' book and the Japanese novel Battle Royale (1999), as well as other works. In writing The Hunger Games, Collins drew upon Greek mythology and contemporary reality television for thematic content. The novel won numerous awards, including the California Young Reader Medal, and was named one of Publishers Weekly's "Best Books of the Year" in 2008.
The Hunger Games has been released in paperback and also as an audiobook and ebook. The hardcover had an initial print of 200,000 – twice doubled from the original 50,000. Since its release, the novel has been translated into 26 languages, and rights of production have been sold in 38 countries. The Hunger Games is the first novel in The Hunger Games trilogy, followed by Catching Fire, published on September 1, 2009, and Mockingjay, published on August 24, 2010. A film adaptation, directed by Gary Ross and co-written and co-produced by Collins herself, was released worldwide on March 23, 2012.
Inspiration and origins
Collins has stated that the inspiration for The Hunger Games came from channel surfing on television. On one channel she observed people competing on a reality show and on another she saw footage of the invasion of Iraq. The two "began to blur in this very unsettling way" and the idea for the book was formed. The Greek myth of Theseus served as a major basis for the story, with Collins describing Katniss as a futuristic Theseus, and Roman gladiatorial games provided the framework. The sense of loss that Collins developed through her father's service in the Vietnam War also affected the story, with Katniss having lost her father at age 11, five years before the story begins. Collins stated that the deaths of the young characters and other "dark passages" were the hardest parts of the book to write, but she had accepted that passages such as these were necessary to the story. She considered the moments where Katniss reflects on happier moments in her past to be the more enjoyable.
The Hunger Games takes place in a nation known as Panem, established in North America after the destruction of the continent's civilization by an unknown apocalyptic event. The nation consists of the wealthy Capitol and twelve surrounding, poorer districts united under the Capitol's hegemony. District 12, where the book begins, is located in the coal-rich region that was formerly known as Appalachia.
As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol, in which a 13th district was destroyed, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are selected by an annual lottery to participate in the Hunger Games, an event in which the participants (or "tributes") must fight to the death in an outdoor arena controlled by the Capitol, until only one individual remains. The story is narrated by 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a girl from District 12 who volunteers for the 74th annual Hunger Games in place of her younger sister, Primrose. The male tribute chosen from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, a former schoolmate of Katniss who once gave her bread from his family's bakery when her family was starving.
Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capitol, where their drunken mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, victor of the 50th Hunger Games, instructs them to watch and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the other tributes. They are then publicly displayed to the Capitol audience in an interview with television host Caesar Flickerman. During this time, Peeta reveals on-air his longtime unrequited love for Katniss. Katniss believes this to be a ploy to gain audience support for him in the Games, which can be crucial for survival, as the wealthy audience members are encouraged to send gifts such as food, medicine, and tools to favored tributes during the Games.
While nearly half the tributes are killed in the first day of the Games, Katniss relies on her well-practiced hunting and survival skills to remain unharmed and concealed from the other tributes. A few days into the games, Katniss develops an alliance with Rue, a 12-year-old girl from the agricultural District 11 who reminds Katniss of her own sister. However, the alliance is brought to an abrupt end when Rue is killed by another tribute. Katniss sings to her (at Rue's request) and spreads flowers over her body as a sign of respect for Rue and disgust towards the Capitol.
Supposedly due to Katniss and Peeta's image in the minds of the audience as "star-crossed lovers", a rule change is announced midway through the Games, allowing two tributes from the same district to win the Hunger Games as a pair. Upon hearing this, Katniss begins searching for Peeta. She eventually finds him, wounded and in hiding. As she nurses him back to health, she acts the part of a young girl falling in love to gain more favor with the audience and, consequently, gifts from her sponsors. When the couple remain as the last two surviving tributes, the Gamemakers reverse the rule change in an attempt to force them into a dramatic finale, where one must kill the other to win. Katniss, knowing that the Gamemakers would rather have two victors than none, retrieves highly poisonous berries known as "nightlock" from her pouch and offers some to Peeta. Realizing that Katniss and Peeta intend to commit suicide, the Gamemakers announce that both will be the victors of the 74th Hunger Games.
Although she survives the ordeal in the arena and is treated to a hero's welcome in the Capitol, Katniss is warned by Haymitch that she has now become a political target after defying her society's authoritarian leaders so publicly. Afterwards, Peeta is heartbroken when he learns that Katniss's actions in the arena were part of a calculated ploy to earn sympathy from the audience. However, Katniss is unsure of her own feelings and realizes that she is dreading the moment when she and Peeta will go their separate ways.
In an interview with Collins, it was noted that the books "[tackle] issues like severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the effects of war among others." The book deals with the struggle for self-preservation that the people of Panem face in their districts and the Hunger Games in which they must participate. The starvation and need for resources that the citizens encounter both in and outside of the arena create an atmosphere of helplessness that the main characters try to overcome in their fight for survival. Katniss's proficiency with the bow and arrow stems from her need to hunt in order to provide food for her family—this necessity results in the development of skills that are useful to her in the Games, and represents her rejection of the Capitol's rules in the face of life-threatening situations.The choices the characters make and the strategies they use are often morally complex. The tributes build a personality they want the audience to see throughout the Games. Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) names the major themes of The Hunger Games as "government control, 'big brother', and personal independence." The trilogy's theme of power and downfall, similar to that of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, was pointed out by Scholastic. Laura Miller of The New Yorker finds that the author's stated premise of the Games – an exercise in propaganda and a “humiliating as well as torturous .... punishment” for a failed uprising against the Capitol many years earlier – unconvincing. "You don’t demoralize and dehumanize a subject people by turning them into celebrities and coaching them on how to craft an appealing persona for a mass audience." But the story works much better if the theme is vicissitudes of high school and "the adolescent social experience". Miller writes:
"The rules are arbitrary, unfathomable, and subject to sudden change. A brutal social hierarchy prevails, with the rich, the good-looking, and the athletic lording their advantages over everyone else. To survive you have to be totally fake. Adults don’t seem to understand how high the stakes are; your whole life could be over, and they act like it’s just some “phase”! Everyone’s always watching you, scrutinizing your clothes or your friends and obsessing over whether you’re having sex or taking drugs or getting good enough grades, but no one cares who you really are or how you really feel about anything."
Donald Brake from The Washington Times, as well as Andy Langford, a senior pastor at Central United Methodist Church, states that the story has Christian themes, such as that of self-sacrifice, which is found in Katniss' substitution for her younger sister, analogous to the sacrifice of Jesus as a substitute for the atonement of sins. Brake, as well as another reviewer, Amy Simpson, both find that the story also revolves around the theme of hope, which is exemplified in the "incorruptible goodness of Katniss' sister, Primrose." She also states that Peeta Mellark is "a Christ figure" in the story. Similar to the events in Passion of Jesus, in the Games, Peeta is stabbed after openly warning Katniss to flee for her life, and is then buried in the ground and placed in a cave for three days before emerging with a new lease on life. Moreover, the Christian image of the Bread of Life is used throughout The Hunger Games; in the story Peeta shows up "bearing a warm loaf of bread," and Katniss slowly comes "back to life." A news video starring Fr. Jonathan Morris aired on Fox News discussed the religious themes in the story further. In addition, some pastors have written Bible studies discussing the Christian allegories in the story.
The Hunger Games was first published as a hardcover in the United States on September 14, 2008. An audiobook version was released in December 2008, and is read by Carolyn McCormick. A trade paperback edition of the book was released on July 6, 2010.
An audiobook version of The Hunger Games was released in December 2008. The audiobook is read by Carolyn McCormick, and has a total running time of about eleven hours, ten minutes. The magazine AudioFile said: "Carolyn McCormick gives a detailed and attentive narration. However, she may rely too much on the strength of the prose without providing the drama young adult listeners often enjoy." School Library Journal also praised the audiobook, stating that "McCormick ably voices the action-packed sequences and Katniss's every fear and strength shines through, along with her doomed growing attraction to one of her fellow Tributes."
After writing the novel, Collins signed a six-figure deal for three books with Scholastic in 2006. The Hunger Games originally had a first printing of 50,000 copies, which was then bumped up twice to 200,000 copies. By February 11, 2010, the book had sold 800,000 copies, and rights to the novel had been sold in 38 territories. By November 2008, The Hunger Games became a New York Times Best Seller. By September 2010, The Hunger Games was on The New York Times list for over 100 consecutive weeks, though it subsequently fell from the list. By the time the film adaptation of The Hunger Games was released in March 2012, the book had been on USA Today's best-selling books list for 135 consecutive weeks, and the publisher reported 26 million Hunger Games trilogy books in print, including movie tie-in books.
The Hunger Games and its sequels have also sold exceptionally well in ebook format. Suzanne Collins is the first children's or young adult author to sell over one million Kindle ebooks, making her the sixth author to join the "Kindle Million Club", which recognizes authors who have sold over 1 million paid units in the Amazon Kindle store. In March 2012, Amazon announced that Collins had become the best-selling Kindle ebook author of all time. Amazon also revealed that Collins had written 29 of the 100 most-highlighted passages in Kindle ebooks—and on a separate Amazon list of recently-highlighted passages, Collins had written 17 of the top 20.
The cover of The Hunger Games was designed by Tim O'Brien, featuring a gold mockingjay—a crossbreed bird born from female mockingbirds and genetically engineered male jabberjays—with an arrow engraved in a circle. This is a depiction of the pin worn by Katniss into the arena, originally given to her by the District 12 mayor's daughter, Madge Undersee. The image matches the description of the pin that is given in the book, except for the arrow: "It's as if someone fashioned a small golden bird and then attached a ring around it. The bird is connected to the ring only by its wing tips."
The Hunger Games has been well received by critics. In Stephen King's review for Entertainment Weekly, he compared it to "shoot-it-if-it-moves videogames in the lobby of the local eightplex; you know it's not real, but you keep plugging in quarters anyway." However, he stated that there were "displays of authorial laziness that kids will accept more readily than adults" and that the love triangle was standard for the genre. He gave the book an overall B grade. Elizabeth Bird of School Library Journal praised the novel, saying it is "exciting, poignant, thoughtful, and breathtaking by turns". The review also called it one of the best books of 2008. Booklist also gave a positive review, praising the character violence and romance involved in the book. In a review for The New York Times, John Green wrote that the novel was "brilliantly plotted and perfectly paced", and that "the considerable strength of the novel comes in Collins's convincingly detailed world-building and her memorably complex and fascinating heroine." However, he also noted that sometimes the book does not realize the allegorical potential that the plot has to offer and that the writing "described the action and little else." Kirkus Reviews gave a positive review, praising the action and world-building, but pointed out that "poor copyediting in the first printing will distract careful readers—a crying shame". Time magazine was positive and praised the hypnotic quality of the violence. Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, claims it is the "closest thing to a perfect adventure novel" he has ever read. Stephenie Meyer (author of the Twilight series) endorsed the book on her website, saying, "I was so obsessed with this book ...The Hunger Games is amazing."
The Hunger Games has been criticized for its similarities to the 1999 novel Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami. Collins has stated, "I had never heard of that book or that author until my book was turned in. At that point, it was mentioned to me, and I asked my editor if I should read it. He said: 'No, I don't want that world in your head. Just continue with what you're doing.' " Susan Dominus of The New York Times reports that "the parallels are striking enough that Collins's work has been savaged on the blogosphere as a baldfaced ripoff," but argued that "there are enough possible sources for the plot line that the two authors might well have hit on the same basic setup independently." King noted that the reality TV "badlands" were similar to Battle Royale, as well as his own The Running Man and The Long Walk. Green also pointed out that the premise of the novel was "nearly identical" to Battle Royale. Eric Eisenberg wrote that The Hunger Games was "not a rip off [of Battle Royale], but simply a different usage of a similar idea", pointing out various differences in both story and themes. Robert Nishimura wrote that "it would be a waste of time to defend Battle Royale from plagiarism, since The Hunger Games has an entirely different set of cultural baggage, as well as being a disservice to countless other source material that deal with the exact same subject matter. Collins just happened to tap in to the creative collective consciousness, drawing on ideas that have played out many times before, in addition to her intentional reference to Greek mythology."
The novel has also been controversial; it ranked in fifth place on the American Library Association's list of frequently challenged books for 2010, with the reasons: "sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence."
The Hunger Games received a number of awards and honors. It was named one of Publishers WeeklyTemplate:'s "Best Books of the Year" in 2008 and a The New York Times "Notable Children's Book of 2008". It was the 2009 winner of the Golden Duck Award in the Young Adult Fiction Category. The Hunger Games was also a "2008 Cybil Winner" for fantasy and science-fiction books along with The Graveyard Book. It is also one of School Library Journal's "Best Books 2008" and a "Booklist Editors' Choice" in 2008. In 2011, the book won the California Young Reader Medal. In the 2012 edition of Scholastic's Parent and Child magazine, The Hunger Games was listed as the 33rd best book for children, with the award for "Most Exciting Ending".
In popular culture
Lions Gate Entertainment acquired worldwide distribution rights to a film adaptation of The Hunger Games, which was produced by Nina Jacobson's production company Color Force. Collins adapted the novel for film herself, and her script was reviewed by screenwriter Billy Ray. Collins wrote the script and intended the film to have a PG-13 rating.
The film was directed by Gary Ross with Jennifer Lawrence in the role of Katniss, Josh Hutcherson in the role of Peeta, and Liam Hemsworth in the role of Gale. Production began in late Spring 2011 and the film was released on March 23, 2012. A sequel is due to be released on November 22, 2013. The film's opening weekend brought in a record $152.5 million (USD) in North America.
The Hunger Games Adventures
A social network game called The Hunger Games Adventures was released for Facebook to coincide with the film's release. It is a role-playing video game developed by Lionsgate in coalition with Funtactix.
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- Simpson, Amy (March 22, 2012). "Jesus in 'The Hunger Games'". Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/movies/commentaries/2012/hungergames.html. Retrieved April 1, 2012. "But the most compelling source of hope is Peeta Mellark, Katniss' fellow competitor in the Games and a shining Christ figure throughout the trilogy."
- Simpson, Amy (March 22, 2012). "Jesus in 'The Hunger Games'". Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/movies/commentaries/2012/hungergames.html. Retrieved April 1, 2012. "In the Games, when Peeta is stabbed and left for dead after saving Katniss' life—taking the wound that was initially meant for her—he is buried in the ground and placed in a cave for three days before emerging with a new lease on life."
- Simpson, Amy (March 22, 2012). "Jesus in 'The Hunger Games'". Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/movies/commentaries/2012/hungergames.html. Retrieved April 1, 2012. "Peeta is a baker's son, and he literally gives life to others—most notably Katniss—with his gift of bread. As a young child, he risked his own safety to give Katniss the bread that kept her and her family alive when they were starving. Throughout the series, Peeta evokes images of the Bread of Life, making bread, sharing it, and sustaining the people around him. At one point, with Katniss emotionally dead, Peeta shows up "bearing a warm loaf of bread," and Katniss slowly comes "back to life.""
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- Allbritton, April (March 18, 2012). "‘The Hunger Games’: A Christian’s response". Daily Runner. http://dailyrunneronline.com/?p=2830. Retrieved April 1, 2012. "Some church leaders are developing Bible studies to correspond with the novels. Pastors from North Carolina, Rev. Andy Langford and his daughter Rev. Ann Duncan, created “The Gospel According to ‘The Hunger Games’ Trilogy.” Langford told the “Christian Post,” “Sacrificial love is the most obvious theme throughout all three books, many of the characters have biblical parallels, which seem so obvious to us but most people missed.”"
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- "Winners". California Young Reader Medal. http://www.californiayoungreadermedal.org/winners.htm. Retrieved May 21, 2011.
- "100 Greatest Books for Kids". Scholastic. http://www.scholastic.com/100books/. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
- Lee, Stephan (February 15, 2012). "'Charlotte's Web' tops list of '100 great books for kids'". Entertainment Weekly. http://shelf-life.ew.com/2012/02/15/100-great-books-for-kids-charlottes-web/. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
- "The Hunger Pains". Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Hunger-Pains-Parody-Harvard-Lampoon/dp/1451668201/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317307679&sr=8-1. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
- "Hunger Games Parody". Amazon. http://hungergamesmovie.org/category/hunger-games-parody/. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
- "The Younger Games". Wits End Publications. http://theyoungergames.com/. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
- "The Younger Games on Amazon". Wits End Publications. http://www.amazon.com/The-Younger-Games-ebook/dp/B005HPAKNK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327593513&sr=8-1. Retrieved January 26, 2012.
- "The Younger Games on Barnes and Noble". Wits End Publications. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-younger-games-sd-king/1104945937?ean=2940013125155&itm=1&usri=the+younger+games. Retrieved January 26, 2012.
- "The Hunger But Mainly Death Games". Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Hunger-But-Mainly-Death-Games/dp/0615574092/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324957422&sr=8-1. Retrieved December 26, 2011.
- Sellers, John A. (March 12, 2009). "Hungry? The Latest on 'The Hunger Games'". Publishers Weekly. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/new-titles/adult-announcements/article/8359-hungry-the-latest-on-e2-80-98the-hunger-games-e2-80-99-.html. Retrieved March 14, 2009.
- Fernandez, Jay A.; Kit, Borys (March 17, 2009). "Lionsgate picks up 'Hunger Games'". The Hollywood Reporter. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE52H0LK20090318. Retrieved March 18, 2009.
- Springen, Karen (August 5, 2010). "Marketing 'Mockingjay'". Publishers Weekly. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/44062-marketing-mockingjay-.html. Retrieved September 4, 2010.
- Hopkinson, Deborah (September 2009). "A riviting return to the world of 'The Hunger Games'". BookPage. http://bookpage.com/interview/a-riveting-return-to-the-world-of-%E2%80%98the-hunger-games%E2%80%99. Retrieved June 30, 2010.
- Weinstein, Joshua L. (March 16, 2011). "Exclusive: Jennifer Lawrence Gets Lead Role in 'The Hunger Games'". The Wrap. http://www.thewrap.com/movies/column-post/jennifer-lawrence-gets-lead-role-hunger-games-25482. Retrieved March 17, 2011.
- Sperling, Nicole (April 4, 2011). "'The Hunger Games': Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth complete the love triangle". The Los Angeles Times. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/movies/2011/04/the-hunger-games-josh-hutcherson-and-liam-hemsworth-complete-the-love-triangle.html. Retrieved February 25, 2012.
- Valby, Karen (January 6, 2011). "'Hunger Games' exclusive: Why Gary Ross got the coveted job, and who suggested Megan Fox for the lead role". Entertainment Weekly. http://insidemovies.ew.com/2011/01/06/hunger-games-exclusive-gary-ross/. Retrieved January 8, 2011.
- Valby, Karen (January 25, 2011). "'The Hunger Games' gets release date". Entertainment Weekly. http://insidemovies.ew.com/2011/01/25/hunger-games-release-date/. Retrieved January 25, 2011.
- Schwartz, Terri (November 17, 2011). ""The Hunger Games" sequel eyes a new screenwriter, director Gary Ross will return". IFC News. http://www.ifc.com/news/2011/11/hunger-games-catching-fire-sequel-writers.php. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
- Barnes, Brook (March 25, 2012). "Hunger Games Ticket Sales Set Record". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/movies/hunger-games-breaks-box-office-records.html. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
- "'The Hunger Games Adventures' New Facebook Game". WhatCulture!. March 28, 2012. http://whatculture.com/gaming/the-hunger-games-adventures-new-facebook-game.php. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
- Suzanne Collins's official website
- Scholastic Official Site
- The Hunger Games at the Hunger Games Wiki.
- The Hunger Games on Google Books
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