With the nearly record-setting release of Catching Fire last weekend, The Hunger Games has earned itself a place in the pantheon of great entertainment franchises, right next to Harry Potter. The film — which covers the second book of the trilogy — grossed an estimated $161.1 million its opening weekend, the highest ever for the month of November and, if verified, the fourth-highest opening weekend ever.
The entire trilogy is already out in print, and the uninitiated are encouraged to give it a shot. The final installment of the series will make its way to the big screen in two installments (part good intention, part devious business machination), each timed to be released one year after their predecessor. Mockingjay – Part 1 is scheduled for release November 2014, and Mockingjay – Part 2 is scheduled for November 2015.
In the meantime, bookworms young and old will have to find something else to satisfy their taste for intrigue. Although young adult fiction — which The Hunger Games is — may resonate most profoundly with its target demographic, the best young adult fiction finds traction across all age groups, as The Hunger Games did. In that spirit, if you liked The Hunger Games, here are a few suggestions for some fiction you may find compelling.
1. Discworld by Terry Pratchett
There’s a lot to say about the 40 novels that make up the Discworld series, but it may be best to start with a little information about the author, Terry Pratchett. In 2009, he received a knighthood for his services to literature. That same year, a lifelong fantasy writer at the age of 61, he decided to complete the outfit of knight errant by fashioning and forging his own sword. Speaking to John Gilbey in 2010, Pratchett shared the following story: ”I dug out the iron ore from a field about 10 miles away — I was helped by interested friends. We lugged 80 kilos of iron ore, used clay from the garden and straw to make a kiln, and lit the kiln with wildfire by making it with a bow.”
So there’s the bait. The hook, then, is the work itself. Discworld made Pratchett the U.K.’s best-selling author throughout much of the 1990s with more than 80 million copies of Discworld novels sold worldwide. The first book was published in 1983, and to this day, the series inexorably enjoys a place in lists of the best young adult fiction of all time. The series is inherently comedic, and much of it is satirical of the great, classic work of authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and even William Shakespeare. The enormous scope of Discworld allows it to pull aspects from every corner of the fantasy canon, and Pratchett’s paradox of respectful irreverence makes for a wild read.
The rub here is that Discworld does not really fit into the same well-understood formula that helps make young adult fiction so compelling — and it especially does not fit the formula that makes it ripe for the big screen. At the same time, though, the series’ humor and divergence from the familiar is refreshing, despite the fact that it’s 20 years in the making.
Divergent author Veronica Roth may not be a literary knight or have forged her own sword, but she is notable for producing one of the best works of young adult fiction in the past decade while a young adult herself. Roth published Divergent, the first of an eponymous trilogy, at the age of 23. The final book of the series hit the shelves in October.
Roth’s trilogy falls into a science-fiction dystopian genre that will be familiar to anyone who read The Hunger Games. The trilogy also follows the story of a young female protagonist and, like most good young adult stories, is dense with the kind of introspective decision-making that makes for compelling character development.
That the series is something of a commentary on the way higher education guides students into certain, specialized tracks that have an enormous impact on how they will spend the rest of their lives is somewhat obvious, but that is part of what is attractive about the series. Set in a futuristic Chicago, there’s a lot of implicit and explicit commentary on what society is and what society could be. Like The Hunger Games, Divergent explores a world defined by economic anxiety and thick with themes of class warfare. A film adaptation of Divergent is set to hit the big screen in March.
Audiences may be most familiar with this series through the film adaption of the first novel, The Golden Compass — which is an Americanized title (Pullman, the author, is British). The first book of the series is titled Northern Lights.
His Dark Materials is one of those stories that comes together from two ends simultaneously. It is compelling as a coming-of-age story — following the lives of two protagonists, a boy and a girl — and as an insightful exploration of ideas, ranging from the religious to the scientific. Set against an epic fantasy backdrop, the narrative is quick and attention grabbing but packed with religious undertones and intelligent commentary on society.
These separate ends came to be in part because Pullman initially intended the books to be directed at an adult audience, while his publishers decided that it would be more effective to market the books to a younger audience.
It’s unclear if there will be any more film adaptations after the mixed success of the first movie. The Golden Compass had a production budget of $180 million and grossed just $70 million in the United States. However, the film pulled in over $300 million overseas. It didn’t come close to setting any records, but it wasn’t exactly a train wreck, either. The films received some criticism for watering down some of the adult themes from the books.
In a word, Dune is classic. First published in 1965, Dune is one of the best-selling science fiction novels of all time, and the series has a permanent position in the science fiction canon. At a glance, Dune may seem dated and therefore irrelevant to the modern reader, but we would argue otherwise. Dune combines aspects of the epic, galaxy-spanning science fiction that defined the era in which it was published with a feudalistic social structure and powerful commentary on what human society could look like in tens of thousands of years.
There’s an argument to be made that Dune does not fall neatly under the umbrella of young adult fiction, but it does share the same coming-of-age narrative that helps define most young adult fiction. Dune is as much characterized by its epic environment as it is by the protagonist’s infinitely introspective journey of self-discovery.
Dune did make its way to the big screen in 1984, but the movie received dismal ratings. The story has since been franchised into everything from video games to card games and even a miniseries (which also received bad reviews), and there have been a number of attempts that never even made it to fruition. Most recently, Paramount ended a four-year attempt to create another film.
Ender’s Game was first published in 1985 and recently made its way to the big screen with an October debut. The film, though, suffered from many of the same maladies that other movie adaptations of novels suffer from.
For one, the scope of the story contained within the book simply could not fit into a feature-length film. The book has long been praised for its social commentary and well-paced character development, both of which didn’t really make the feature-film cut. The introspective quality of young-adult fiction is also hard to translate to film — a problem that The Hunger Games has worked hard to overcome, although more by working around it than by solving it — and as a result, the film is more of an adventure story against an interesting backdrop than anything else.
The book, though, has won numerous awards and often finds itself populating the upper echelons of “top 100″ lists in science fiction and young adult literature. The most direct sequel, Speaker for the Dead, won the prestigious Nebula Award in 1986, and another sequel, Xenocide, was nominated.
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