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The most common, trite pieces of advice writers tend to give aspiring writers are:

1. Just write!

and

2. Read, read, read (why they must say this in triplicate I do not know. Maybe once I become a Famous, Successful Writer this power of three will become clear to me, but for now it just seems condescending).

I’m just starting out, myself, and am still experimenting with the best structure to help me achieve #1 most effectively. I’ve always been a good reader, though, and it occurred to me that in a very you-are-what-you-eat way, you may be able to get a sense of what I would like to write by seeing what kind of brain food inspires me. Thus, I present to you the first installment of:

What I’m Reading

I just finished the Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins, and it is amazing. This is the kind of work that stops being YA and starts being the kind of books people should talk about, and hopefully are, more and more. The series takes place in a future where the 12 Districts of Panem are governed by the Capitol. Every year, each district must send a boy and a girl, chosen by lottery, to fight to the death in a televised reality series called the Hunger Games. When Katniss Everdeen’s little sister is picked, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Years of illegal hunting to feed her family have given Katniss a certain competitive edge, and she finds herself standing a good chance of winning.  From there, the series dives into all kinds of huge questions, taking a sharp look at blame and responsibility, the cost of life, and how much anyone is able to lose.

The first thing I love about this series is Katniss. I’m going to have to raise my hand at this point and confess I did read three of the four Twilight novels, so believe me when I tell you Katniss is the Bella antidote. She’s strong to the point of being abrasive, has a tendency to insist on answers to uncomfortable questions from friends and enemies alike, and is (gasp!) not even especially pretty. She is wholeheartedly committed to protecting people she cares for, though, and takes responsibility for all that she does, and manages to be good at things without being either self-deprecating or boastful. Augh. Katniss is the only person I could see making it through this series without breaking beyond repair or becoming a monster, which shows how well Collins chooses her characters.

Collins also — I swear I am not making this up — manages to pull off a love triangle that isn’t rigidly fixed in one side’s direction, and stays interesting throughout the books. This is because she knows the romantic line is secondary to the main plot, which is another beautiful thing.

I love the pacing of the series. There’s a constant flow of suspense and release, but it feels organic. There’s nothing forced enough to break you out of the rhythm. Also, the fact that the Games are broadcast as a televised reality series in Katniss’s world lends another layer of credibility to the cliff-hanger-driven plot. Viewers want action, so the Gamemakers would shape the tributes’ surroundings to fuel that need.

Finally, Suzanne Collins is a risky writer. She doesn’t back down from any of the typical challenges: her love triangle is fair to both boys, her main character doubts her own motivations and therefore whether she is acting from a good place at all, and the deaths in her final book push the limits of what Katniss can take without crumbling. It’s a breath of fresh air to see someone treat her work so rigorously, and expect her readers to come to terms with so much ambiguity, and Collins does a tremendous job.

This book is best for: YA readers, people who love strong female leads, people who love tough questions, people who are sick of Twilight and other submissive-female stories, people who always suspected there was something even sicker about reality TV than meets the eye

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