The Girl Who Was on Fire takes a second look at The Hunger Games

As we're about to head into the film version of The Hunger Games' arena, Smart Pop's The Girl Who Was on Fire invites us to return to the original novels, with essays by 16 young adult authors, exploring the politics, romance, science, and identity issues surrounding Katniss Everdeen, her friends, and her foes.

The Hunger Games is a YA sensation, so who better to analyze the books than Suzanne Collins' YA author peers? Smart Pop has lined up the likes of Carrie Ryan (of the post-apocalyptic zombie books The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves) and Diana Peterfreund (of the wonderful killer unicorn books Rampant and Ascendant) to poke and prod at the world of Panem.

The result is a series of essays that seem primarily aimed at younger readers. Cara Lockwood's essay "Not So Weird Science" examines the real-world science that could result in muttations and offers a very basic introduction to bioethics. Ryan's "Panem et Circuses" is a primer on constructed narrative in reality television. Jennifer Lynn Barnes' "Team Katniss" breaks down the series' central love triangle and notes that romance, rather than being central to the series, offers insights into Katniss' shifting self-awareness. Adrienne Kress' "The Inevitable Decline of Decadence" invites readers to draw parallels between Panem's Capitol and our own culture. If you know a teenager (or are a teenager) who has it in them to love literary analysis, but hasn't found that passion in their high school English class, The Girl Who Was on Fire is a great, if sometimes basic, place to start.

But these essayists aren't just literary coroners autopsying a set of popular books; they're also fans, and that fandom brings out some of the collection's greatest gems. When Bret Hartinger asks "Does the Third Book Suck?" he asks it as someone who was intensely disliked Mockingjay, but then goes on to wonder what loving or hating the book says about you as a reader. Mary Borsellino's "Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of Your Fist" draws some lovely analogy between love as a political act in The Hunger Games and in George Orwell's 1984 (even if she conflates dystopian with post-apocalyptic). Peterfreund's "Hunger Games Theory" starts out as a simple application of the Prisoner's Dilemma, but goes on to explore topics like counterintuitive Quidditch strategy. When Jackson Pearce explains her love for Gale (a character I personally never cared for) as a knight-cowboy archetype, it actually makes me want to see a Gale spinoff book.

Not every essay in The Girl Who Was on Fire adds depth to the already rich world of Hunger Games analysis, but it's a thoughtful exploration of the books' major themes. And it's a fantastic invitation for younger readers to take a second look at the fashions, relationships, science, media culture, and political maneuvering that make Katniss such a compelling heroine and The Hunger Games such a relevant series.

The Girl Who Was on Fire [Smart Pop Books]