The Hunger Games movie was released on March 21st, and has already made over 300 million dollars in box office sales in North America alone. It also broke the record for first-day advanced ticket sales on Fandango, previously held by The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. The Hunger Games movie also had the third highest number of advanced ticket sales ever, behind The Twilight Saga: New Moon, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 2…are you seeing a pattern yet? The phenomenon of young-adult fiction that ends up appealing to anyone and everyone is not new–the first Harry Potter book was published in 1997, and by the release of the fourth in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it was widely understood that these books had a wider audience than the 10-15 year-old set. In fact, the Harry Potter books in particular seemed to get more and more complex and mature as the series progressed, with many people my age feeling like the series grew up with them. Although the first two or three novels (and movies for that matter) have a decidedly child-like feel and sound to them, the subsequent books use more varied language and themes, in addition to having much more violence.
What makes books like these jump from success in the young adult section to overwhelming popularity, and can they bring all of us back into the world of reading? I admit that while I was an avid book-reader before the age of laptops and cell phones, I rarely pick up a non-school-related book now. But the week before The Hunger Games was released in theaters, I felt compelled to buy the first book to see what all the fuss was about, and three days later I had finished it and was wondering where I could buy the next two.
In my opinion there are several key characteristics that makes books such as The Hunger Games and Harry Potter attract such a varied audience. The first is that they be compelling without getting weighed down by complex language or themes, at least initially. While one certainly could read deeper into The Hunger Games, comparing the gladiator-style games to class warfare and slavery, you can just as easily skip past these themes and just enjoy the fast-paced detail of a thrilling story. The story quickly moves from one dramatic incident to the next, with slower heart-wrenching scenes spliced in between to keep the reader interested. Add in vivid details and a side love story, and the pages go by so quickly you’ll be at the end before you know it and wondering what comes next.
Another common theme with the three most well known recent young adult-to-adult crossover pieces, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter, is their setting: all three take place in pseudo-fantasy or completely made up worlds, and the characters in Harry Potter and Twilight have qualities humans do not possess, such as performing magic, or being a vampire. These characteristics, sometimes set in worlds that look very similar to our own, give the reader a form of escapism that is hard to resist–after all, even if Ron, Harry, and Hermione have midterms to study for, they get to use magic at the same time! But the final and most important component a book must possess to achieve overwhelming popularity is something the author can’t craft into the pages, but an external force that is decided by the reader: a community around the book, which I will discuss in my next blog post, so stay tuned.
Image via Yahoo/Lionsgate