by Pui Kuan Cheah
When thinking about literature in the 2010s, a specific group of books come to mind – the young adult (YA) wave. The commercial success of series like Twilight and Percy Jackson (and one could even say the Harry Potter series) in the 2000s were absolutely pivotal to its rise. While plenty of other books targeting this demographic were undoubtedly big, the biggest successes came from book series – think The Mortal Instruments, Divergent, The Hunger Games, and The Maze Runner.
The fictional worlds painted within the pages of these books kept young people in clutches. Many of these series took place in fantasy or dystopian worlds, with protagonists that were rebelling against a higher-standing body in their society, providing a form of escapism from the real-world.
Even at the time, the Hunger Games stood out from the rest. While many of these YA novels were set in an intricately constructed fictional world, The Hunger Games seemed the most realistic and close to society today. The setting did not seem far-fetched, and its exploration of mature, darker topics like poverty, governmental power, and class issues indicated that author Suzanne Collins was not interested in pandering to a more ‘palatable’ story for her younger readership. In some way, The Hunger Games was a gateway for many adolescents to explore more “complex ideas” regarding the society they exist in, as suggested by Scholes and Ostenson (2013).
Clearly all this worked out in Collins’ favour. Originally consisting of 3 books, with a fourth that came out recently, the story of Katniss and the country of Panem captivated millions worldwide. While the subsequent movies had a big part to play in the increased sales, before that the original trilogy was already racking up 4.3 million copies in 2010 and almost doubling to 9.2 million in 2011. Even the fourth book The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes sold half a million copies in its week of release, coming out in 2020, 5 years after the movie franchise concluded.
The series was also placed on BBC’s list of “100 Novels That Shaped Our World”, under ‘adventure’ alongside The Lord of the Rings trilogy amongst others. It has performed tremendously and outpaced most of the series that came up at around the same period.
The cultural relevance of The Hunger Games stands firmly today. In the way Katniss, a mere teenage competitor in the deadly games, became a symbol of rebellion in Panem, we see many young activists now of around the same age partaking in social movements (and some even spearheading them) that typically take aim at a higher power/entity. The Capitol in the book, where the wealthy are concentrated and distanced from the rest of the country, also parallel the ‘1%’ that we commonly refer to today – think well-known billionaires like Bezos, Musk, and Zuckerberg.
That’s not all though, as one could go on for ages about how The Hunger Games books serve as a literary critique and reflection of our society. They have aged wonderfully, and were written such that people both young and old can enjoy them. Such impact on a whole generation of readers is rarely seen in the literary sphere, and has played a part in how we think about the books of the 2010s.