Debra J. Saunders

The popularity of "The Hunger Games" demonstrates that today's young readers want to be challenged. Collins writes in a deceptively simple style. Everdeen narrates in the first person and the present tense. Yet throughout the trilogy, Collins slyly schools readers about combat tactics, the value of stealth in the arena, the potentially fatal cost of not knowing the turf and the human toll paid to deliver the bread served on Panem's well-appointed tables.

Every choice involves an equation. Before the competition, should contenders show off their skills to win sponsors or soft-pedal their prowess to mislead opponents? When the games begin, should Everdeen sprint for a bow or run toward water? Should she ally herself with others or try to survive on her own?

Collins rejects the suggestion that she writes about teenagers in a teen world. "I don't write about adolescence," she told the Times. "I write about war. For adolescents."

Yet "The Hunger Games" meets the first rule of kid-book writing. It urges teens to be true to themselves. Peeta Mellark, the boy from Everdeen's district, doesn't think he has a chance of winning, so he enters the arena with a more modest goal: "I don't want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster I'm not."

Debra J. Saunders

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