Let the 'Games' begin

"The Hunger Games"

By Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Publishing

374 pages

Apop culture event will occur Friday, March 23. The film adaptation of best-seller "The Hunger Games" opens, and countless young fans (and not so young), who have been eagerly waiting, will be in line, tickets in hand.

Most will have read the trilogy, to include "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay," and now yearn to see what will be the first screen adaptation of the astonishingly popular series.

The books and the movie are reminiscent of the "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" franchises: The story has been embraced by tweens and teens in breathtaking numbers. The first run of "Hunger Games" was 50,000 in September of 2008. There are now 2.9 million copies in print in 38 foreign countries and translated into 26 different languages.

Some 1 million Kindle versions have been sold, making author, Suzanne Collins, the best-selling Kindle author of all time. And audiobooks are selling at a fast clip.

Clearly, just when educators and pundits begin to lament that the texting, iPhone, computer gaming, e-connected generation has lost all desire to read narrative fiction, well, "The Hunger Games," once again, proves them wrong.

When a great story is told, with ramped up themes of romance and violence, well, kids will not only find it, but will turn said tale, on the page or on the screen, into a big tent sensation. They'll consume the books voraciously, buy up movie tickets early, stand in long lines, and then sit center row, shoulder to shoulder with their cohorts, as the larger-than-life characters and context are brought to life.

What they'll see is a film employing state-of-the-art CGI, as well as a cast of relatively unknown young actors. It's a synthesis meant to draw the moviegoers into a different world, one that is familiar yet thus far only viewed through imagination.

And this all begs the question: what is "The Hunger Games" about?

Briefly, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in a country called Panem, once known as America. There is one central place, known generically as the Capitol, where the leaders have access to quasi-sci-fi technology, rule the surrounding 12 districts with a totalitarian mailed fist, the citizens reduced to a meager existence and perpetually on the verge of starvation.

Each year, all of the districts are required to participate in what is known as the Hunger Games (this is the 74th) wherein those who are between the ages of 12 and 18 must participate in a lottery. Two are selected from each district, for a total of 24. These young people must then leave home and travel to the Capitol where they will prepare for the Games, meaning they are plied with an abundance of food and weaponry and made ready to fight for survival in a forested area known as the Arena; it's miles in all directions.

The struggle will only reward the last person standing. All others will be killed in a harrowing, cat-and-mouse, gladiatorial fight to the finish, deep in the woods of the Arena. The Games is mandatory television viewing by all citizens of Panem. A perverse brand of reality TV.

The contestants from District 12 are Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. Katniss, 16, is a clandestine hunter (something that is ostensibly illegal), and Peeta, 17, is the son of a baker. They are both terrified at what lies ahead. And they wonder, repeatedly, if it comes down to just the two of them, are they prepared to kill the other.

"The Hunger Games" is an engaging read, not so much character driven as event driven, and the buzz surrounding the film is superb.

We'll see.

What is indisputable is that the first book is a decidedly dark tale, one buoyed by violence and terror: Golding's "Lord of the Flies" melded with Orwell's "1984."

The trilogy has hit the trifecta of worshipful readers, cinema adaptation, and coverage by the media. Let the Games begin.

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