Tierelee Logan, an English teacher at The Academy, picked “The Hunger Games” for her students at the suggestion of a bookstore salesman.
That decision has turned the school’s reluctant readers into bookworms. Several students are reading the second or third books now, and two have already finished the series.
Logan said one student told her she’d never read a whole book in her life, but loved “The Hunger Games” so much she wanted to read all three in the trilogy.
“I think it’s the dystopia of the situation (that appeals to them),” she said. “It’s fast-paced – it’s their kind of book.”
The books are considered young adult fiction, aimed at readers ages 13 and up, but have been embraced by people of all ages.
More than 26 million copies of the trilogy – in 40 countries – have been sold. Author Suzanne Collins became only the sixth author to sell more than one million Kindle e-books units.
Erica Litteral, a 17-year-old junior at The Academy, said she already liked to read on her own, but rarely enjoys the books teachers assign in class.
But “The Hunger Games” is different. Kids are getting in trouble for reading the book too much – like during math class, she said with a laugh.
“It’s changed a lot of people,” she said. “The kids in this school have never been big on reading, but they are in love with this book – they can’t put it down.”
The novel tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, one of 24 teens selected to compete in the televised Hunger Games in a future where the United States has been divided into 12 regions all under the tyrannical rule of The Capitol.
Cameras capture every life-and-death moment as the players battle until only one is left alive. The games were established as a way for the government to remind citizens who is in charge.
Before the young gladiators begin their battles, they are trained in survival skills, fighting and how to win over sponsors who can provide needed supplies. Part of the strategy is to have Katniss and her district games partner, Peeta, pretend they are romantically involved as a way to sway sympathies.
The message of the trilogy is unlike the “Twilight” series, where a young teen dates a vampire, or “Harry Potter,” where magic wins the day.
“The Hunger Games” is anchored to an existence that can be seen today in the unending flood of reality TV shows. It’s a cautionary story of what happens when people start to lose touch with their humanity.
Erica is already on the second book, “Catching Fire.” She has helped her friends who struggle with reading by organizing small group sessions and encouraging them to read on.
She said the appeal is that the book – set far in America’s future – depicts real-life struggles that teens face now. Coupled with the thrill of the action in the arena, Erica said the book keeps her on the edge of her seat.
Even her 9-year-old sister, who hates to read, is wrapped up in “The Hunger Games.” Erica says she’s had the book for a week and is already on Chapter 16.
“I was so proud of her,” she said. “She loves the book and can’t even put it down.”
Dwayne Wainscott, a 16-year-old sophomore, said he likes how the book is different from others he’s tried to read in the past. He plans to read all three.
He said it’s bringing his classmates together, giving them something in common they can talk about. And there’s another plus, he said: the book keeps him so interested, he doesn’t act up in class as much as he used to.
Students with at least a B average will see the movie Wednesday, Logan said. They also plan to write letters to author Suzanne Collins to express their appreciation.
Paul Sawyier Public Library donated enough copies of the book for every student and plans to help pay for the movie showing, Logan said.
Students have drawn maps of District 12, the home of protagonist Katniss Everdeen, and made PowerPoint presentations about the book.
Teachers are getting in on it too. Most have read the book and are finding ways to work it into their lessons, Logan said.
In the novel, Katniss is known as “the girl on fire” for the fiery costume she wears to the games opening ceremony. Logan says she can feel the same kind of energy coursing through the school.
“The excitement has been a fire through this school,” she said. “The students talk to each other about the book all the time, and it’s just really turned into a school project. It’s nice to see.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.