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Courier Article by Kate Linderman
Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dystopian fantasies offer dizzying take on reality

Last summer, I read an article about a young adult book by Suzanne Collins entitled "The Hunger Games."

I placed it on hold, but when it came in, I let it sit on my desk for awhile and then returned it, unread.

I just wasn't that interested at the time - after all, I am an adult, and it's a book for young adults. After communicating with some other librarians about it on Twitter, I decided to give "The Hunger Games" a second chance over the holidays.

I absolutely loved it, and as it turns out, "The Hunger Games" is book one in a trilogy. (I am now on the second book.) I love a good post-apocalyptic, dystopian story, and this one is a great one.

"The Hunger Games" depicts a dystopian (former) United States of the not-too distant future. The country, now called Panem, is divided into 12 districts and governed by District 1, which is the wealthiest district.

Each year, all 12 districts randomly select two teenage "tributes" to be sent to an "arena" where they will fight to the death until only one is left. We're told, at the beginning, that the Games are punishment for some long-forgotten rebellion of the outlying districts against the capital, which is in District 1.

The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, from District 12 - an impoverished coal mining district (we discover it was once called Appalachia) - sacrifices herself to the games to protect her younger sister. She seems to not have a chance at survival, and following her through the games is a thrill ride adults and teens will enjoy.

The second and third books in the series, "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay," continue the story as it was left off at the end of "The Hunger Games." So as not to provide spoilers, I'm not going to give any more detail than that. I will say that since the book is written generally for young adults, there is a smattering of romance, but its inclusion by no means bogs down the storyline.

Katniss is an intoxicating heroine - a strong, smart, agile female character. You will find yourself rooting for her from the very first page.

Even though "The Hunger Games" is a novel written for young adults (the target ages for young adult fiction is 12-18), it's a series that I know a lot of adults have enjoyed and will enjoy. Word seems to be getting out, via librarians and teens, that this series is a crossover not to miss along the lines of the Twilight and Harry Potter series.

Another young adult book about a dystopian society in the future that was recently recommended to me is "Matched," written by Allyson Braithwaite. The book is about a young girl's trust in the choices made for her by the society in which she has always lived, until those choices are altered and she opens her eyes to opportunities that she may be denied.

Other great YA reads in this genre include "The Giver" by Lois Lowry; "The City of Ember" by Jeanne DuPrau; and "Little Brother" by Cory Doctorow. These novels allow teens interesting perspectives into life as we know it today; they will do the same for adults.

And of course, there are the classics of dystopian fiction - "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley and "1984" by George Orwell, which are much darker in their depiction of the future world, but which raise important and relevant questions for us even today.