Rereading the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I have a list of the books I want to reread and one of the constants on it for the last few months has been a reread of the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins. If you don’t know of these books, then they kind of marked a point where young adult literature spilt very firmly into the wider popular culture. A huge amount of young adult literary property kind of became a film very quickly (forgive me, young adult specialists, I’m generalising immensely here!) because a lot of people wanted to recreate the success of the Hunger Games. This year marks ten years since the first film in the series came out, and fourteen years since the debut of the trilogy came out, and then I found the entire trilogy in a local bookshop and thought: well, that’s a sign if ever I saw one.

(Sidebar: The problems of a lovely new bookshop opening up on your way home! The delightful problem of it all!).

And so I read and I devoured because 1. flu but also 2. these books are so good and well-crafted and rather deceptively brilliant. I say deceptive because I’m increasingly convinced that simple and ‘straightforward’ prose is the hardest thing to write. I can write big and emotional and blousy with my eyes closed and as much as that can be a good thing for the right place and the right time, it can also be very problematic. The emotion can dominate. If you’re writing something sad, then it can drain everything else around it. It can weigh down the page. Make it heavy. Make it weigh so, so much to read let alone write.

(The secret is to just write the thing. Just to write the thing. Don’t dress it up, don’t euphemism, don’t dance about it – just write it).

(The secret is also to listen to your agent who tells you to Be More Spock and Less Kirk).

And that’s what Suzanne Collins does on every page in the Hunger Games. She writes the things. She writes the boned and bare truth of it, and even when she’s dealing with worldbuilding detail or some stunningly horrific incident, she gives you it in such a straightforward manner that it can feel like the easiest thing in the world. Here’s the thing. Read the thing. React to the thing.

(oh mags).

But books like this work so, so hard. They work underneath the surface to give you everything in the right way at the right time in the right order. Consider the way that you know things in The Hunger Games, and the way that you know just enough for the world to make sense and the actions to fit. You discover the world with Katniss and Peeta, and you discover it just as they do. The brutality of it. The potential of it. The little moments where it will allow them to be who they are. The awful moments when it won’t.

It’s always interesting to revisit a book because you are, in a way, revisiting the memory of who you were when you read it last (lovely work from Alison Waller on this topic here by the way). There’s something of who you were and something of the person you’re yet to be in it; you know that this rereading isn’t the last of this text. It’s a moment in your time together, and the story will continue. The story does continue. Even now new people are picking up the Hunger Games books and discovering these stories and starting them anew.

(I always find it rather remarkable how stories survive. The way that the form of story – the patterns and structures and textures – can be remade in a thousand different ways – but the story, the essence of it – twists and shifts and survives.)

Next on my list of rereads? Joyce Stranger. I grabbed a handful of her books a few years ago, prior to Covid, from a charity shop in Whitby, and I devoured them, then. Now’s the time to find some more, I think. I could buy them easy as pie online but that’s not the same, is it? The hunt, that’s what matters, the search and the finding and that delicious, delicious moment when they’re all there for you. Waiting for you to reread them. Waiting for you to come home again.

4 thoughts on “Rereading the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

  1. I bought the first volume but then watched its adaptation on screen, which was a mistake! As a result I never got round to reading it to discover its strengths, and gave my copy to two of our granddaughters who were (are still!) voracious readers.

    Still, I’m cheered by the fact you rate the trilogy, which may encourage me to reconsider the titles at some future date!

    1. Oh yay for your granddaughters! I think the key with HG is remembering that these were kind of the blueprint for a *lot* of what came afterwards and they can read a little flatly in light of that – so just, you know, ignore the last fifteen years or so of publishing and you’ll do fine, hahaha 🙂

      1. Of course, there was a sudden glut of YA dystopian titles after these appeared, weren’t there! But I may still decide to at least give the first title a go, maybe when tastes have moved on – after all, we’re always running the risk of such dystopian scenarios coming to pass…

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