Did The Hunger Games trilogy sweep you off your feet and leave you helpless in a swirl of post-apocalyptic PTSD narratives? If, like me, you read the first book, saw the movie, and then read the next two books at a break-neck pace, you've spent the past few weeks since it all ended in a kind of withdrawal.
What was it that made it all so engaging? Katniss and her break from the traditional gender narrative? The tangible danger of the games? Suzanne Collins' cinematic prose? Despite its record-setting box office numbers, the movie confirmed once again that books are better than their film adaptations. So let us fill the void The Hunger Games left behind with more books, specifically the type of book the Twilight series left us wanting: dynamic young-adult fiction with stereotype-bucking female leads.
I present to you the following good reads -- including two trilogies to keep you busy -- no matter what your age, in no particular order:
True Grit by Charles Portis
Originally published serially in the Saturday Evening Post and brought to the screen twice (most recently in the excellent 2010 adaptation by the Coen brothers), True Grit is the story of a formative chapter in 14-year-old Mattie Ross' life as told by her much older spinster self. Determined to avenge her father's senseless murder by the "riffraff" Tom Chaney, she hires Marshal "Rooster" Cogburn to help her track the man down and falls in with a Texas Ranger, also on Chaney's tail.
The clarity and righteous cadence of Mattie's voice capture a reader's attention like few other narrators in the history of American literature. The spellbinding journey she describes is filled with violence, harsh conditions, moral uncertainty, and the banding together of an unlikely group of loners, leaving Mattie forever changed by the experience. Though not fantastical or futuristic, Mattie's tale is just as gripping as any to take place in an imagined world, and possibly more inspiring as a result.
Sabriel, Lireal, and Abhorsen by Garth Nix
In this fantasy trilogy, Nix richly depicts an alternate world (the Old Kingdom) of magic, prophesy, and near-apocalypse. When dangerous spirits are released from death, only one person can return them from whence they came: the Abhorsen. The epic begins as Sabriel inherits her father's position as Abhorsen and follows her on a quest she reluctantly embraces despite repeated near-death experiences.
Lireal and Abhorsen pick up approximately 14 years later as an even greater force of destruction threatens the Old Kingdom. Once again, a young woman must embrace her unexpected destiny as a challenger to that evil. All three books are engrossing, with persuasive detail, conflicted characters, and plenty of action driving the story forward. No one sits around waiting for her vampire boyfriend to work through his relationship issues, that's for sure.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
"It was a dark and stormy night," begins this classic and well-loved sci-fi fantasy novel. Meg Murray is the eldest daughter of two scientist parents, unsure of her place in the world, but determined to rescue her father (with the help of her genius 5-year-old brother Charles) when he goes missing. The Murrays and their neighbor encounter strange planets, even stranger creatures, and a truly terrifying opponent attempting to swallow the entire universe.
L'Engle's book hinges on Christian philosophy and the principle that love can conquer all darkness, but it doesn't shove anything down the reader's throat. Instead, the text relies on Meg's discovery of her inner strength to fashion a relatable and continuously relevant text.
The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman
And finally, an epic to match all epics. In this trilogy, set in a parallel universe to our own, a person's soul is represented by an animal companion, his or her "dæmon." Lyra Belacqua, the 11-year-old heroine, is a smart, disobedient, curious, and crafty young woman. Her adventure takes her through distant lands, multiple universes, and ultimately to her own sexual awakening.
The supporting characters in these books are fantastic. In The Golden Compass alone, Lyra meets an armored bear, a traveling balloonist, and divinatory witches. Pullman's books, in contrast to L'Engle's, are highly critical of organized religion and the constrictions placed on populations by religious groups. Still controversial to many, you should read these books at the very least just to see what all the fuss is about.