Black Friday is fast approaching. While the ambitious and sale-savvy among us hit malls mid-November, some of us will be focused instead on literature and film. And by that I mean we will be in line to see the latest Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire, out in theaters November 22nd and already breaking box office records for a November release. The film is based on Suzanne Collins’s second installment, published in 2009 by Scholastic, in her Hunger Games trilogy.
With these books, Collins writes fast-paced, page-turning action that propels readers through her version of the classic hero’s journey. Heroine Katniss Everdeen narrates her story and readers are pulled into her gritty, adrenalin-filled fight for survival. There are many readers who finished the first or second book late at night only to purchase the next installment on an e-reader to continue reading into the wee hours. Or perhaps that’s just among my peers? The sales figures suggest otherwise.
Both the book and the first movie have been wildly popular with a larger audience than their theoretical 12 to 18-year-old target demographic. Over twenty-three million people have now read the first Hunger Games book (Scholastic Press, 2008) and though the first movie was only released in March 2012, it has already grossed nearly $700 billion.
The first movie adaptation was successful both because it stayed true to Collins’s ideas—she co-wrote the screenplay and after screening the film wrote on her Facebook page that she was “really happy with how it turned out”—and because it expanded upon those ideas in ways that were appropriate for a different medium like film. For example, both movies (though Collins did not write the screenplay for Fire) take up a more omniscient point of view. Instead of having Katniss narrate, we pan out so that the audience can see the bigger picture, the behind-closed-doors conversations that reveal more of the political machinations of the Games, and the nation they represent. Instead of experiencing the story from Katniss’s view, the directors give the audience hints of how she becomes an accidental revolutionary well before Katniss herself can comprehend her role in the changes taking place in the wider world. In this way, the first film really sets up the rest of the story, preparing us for the climactic two-parter. Yes, you read that correctly. Mockingjay is slated to be filmed in two parts, a la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
It seems that Young Adult fiction (YA) is the place to be these days, not just for the 12 to 18-year-olds that these books are marketed for, but for scores of adult readers as well. According to an ongoing biannual study from Bowker Market Research of publishing in the children’s market, more than half of Young Adult book buyers are older than 18. In fact, the largest group is Hunger Games trilogy is at the forefront of the trend, but there are many other YA titles that adults are eagerly reading.
Characteristic themes of YA literature appeal to a wide audience, as they are some of the most classic themes in storytelling. Examples include discovering one’s true identity (think also supernatural powers in the more fantasy-driven books); surviving in a hostile world; feeling like an outsider; clear-cut good versus true evil; and just generally kicking ass. Especially with superpowers, which, face it, we all wish we had.
I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that the rise in adults reading YA is largely about escapism. These books, and the movies generated from them, offer action and emotional drama that is engaging, with little “mundane” trappings of adult life. YA is a thrilling break to the monotony of rush hour traffic and laundry. We root for Katniss or Harry Potter, because we can identify with them. At one time or another, most of us felt like outsiders fighting against evil. As teenagers, perhaps evil was the popular kids, or society trying to make us conform, and as adults it’s the drudgery of work, the beautiful monotony of family life, or the evils of a world plagued by disease, homelessness, and war. Either way, Katniss and her ilk give readers of any age an escape into a more exciting world where a few bad-ass kids can change the world for the better.