It's a post-apocalyptic world where teens from across the continent have to hunt one another down in a televised spectacle that's mandatory viewing for the masses.
Sounds like "American Idol," but actually, it's "The Hunger Games" -- the popular book trilogy by Suzanne Collins and now the movie of the same name that opens at the end of this week.
In middle and high schools, students are reading the books, brushing up on their knowledge of characters and trivia of the fictional world of Panem, and making plans to see the film when it debuts on Friday.
"A lot of people are talking about it and you see people reading the books," said Adrianna McCourt, a 15-year-old sophomore at Dulaney High School. She said in a recent art class, a teacher asked how many students are anticipating the movie release, and about half the students raised their hands.
"I would say about a quarter of the kids at school are really into it," said McCourt, a Cockeysville resident. "I'm anxious to see it."
The film opens on March 23 at area theaters. At Hunt Valley Regal Cinemas, an attendant there said four midnight screenings of the film Thursday night -- or actually, at 12:04 a.m., on Friday morning -- were sold out as of last week, and the full slate of Friday evening shows were selling fast.
The books -- "The Hunger Games," was published in 2008, and there are two sequels, "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay" -- are so popular that more than 800 copies of the combined three books are either on loan or on order across the Baltimore County Public Library system, with nearly 400 "hold" requests for the combined three editions whenever they are returned.
"That shows they are extremely popular," said Bob Hughes, spokesman for the BCPL system.
The books perhaps strike a chord with teens because they center on young adults facing crisis, representing their home communities and, at the same time, fighting against an oppressive society.
It also doesn't hurt that the main characters, including Katniss Everdeen, the female lead, and Peeta Mellark, the male lead, bring certain romantic elements to the series.
The series centers around the country of Panem -- think North America sometime in the future. Every year a pair of teens from each of 12 "districts" are selected to take part in the Hunger Games, where all 24 have to fight one another as contestants, or "tributes," until one is left standing. Each district has specific characteristics and roles -- one district is a mining center, another is agriculturally based, and so on -- and the characters tend to reflect those values.
The games, and lives of those involved, are manipulated by officials in the country's Capitol city, who run the event as a means of controlling the population.
McCourt, who has read the first book but not the other two yet, said she thinks it appeals to young adults because it's "very adventurous," and presents an intriguing, albeit dystopian, view of the future.
"It's very unusual," said McCourt of the world within the books. "It's really creative.
"I actually think the world is more interesting than the characters," she said, "but the characters are interesting too. They're not that much different from us. I think it's interesting to see a teen girl shown as being the breadwinner for the family."
While the theme of the "Hunger Games" is somewhat violent -- some characters are, after all, die along the way -- the series has been popular with teens and preteens. The film is rated PG-13.
McCourt, who is generally interested in young adult fiction and who is a member of the Cockeysville Library's Teen Writers Club, said she hopes to go to the movie Friday to be among the first to see it, and will definitely read the other books before they, too, are made into films.
"It was actually really good," she said of the first book. "There always needs to be a popular series like this -- there was 'Harry Potter,' then 'Twilight,' so there's always going to be one."
For now, teens and gearing up strong for "Hunger Games," and adults are hoping to tap into that enthusiasm.
Last summer, the BCPL system offered a "Hunger Games" prize pack for its summer reading program winner -- a book set, backpack and other items that became wildly popular, said Hughes.
They plan to do it again this year, he said, though some aspects are pending approval of Scholastic, the company that reportedly has 2.9 million copies of "Hunger Games" in print and has sold another million ebooks of the title.
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