Let the games begin. March 23 marks the premiere of perhaps the most highly anticipated film of the year: The Hunger Games, based on the first installment of Suzanne Collins’s dystopian trilogy. The Lionsgate film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and is directed by Gary Ross.

The Hunger Games trilogy, which is published by Scholastic and launched in 2008, ushered in a new era of dystopian YA literature. The series explores themes of totalitarianism and class, while posing questions about moral sacrifices made for the sake of entertainment. Lauded for its blend of sympathetic characterizations and vivid world-building, the series has also drawn attention for its raw depictions of violence.

For those new to the series, The Hunger Games is narrated by 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (played by Lawrence), a tough-as-steel heroine who lives in the nation of Panem, in a future North America. Panem is mercilessly governed by a distant city called the "Capital" and is divided into 12 "Districts," most of them in states of starvation. Every year, two "Tributes" are selected by lottery from each of the districts and are entered as gladiator-like contestants into The Hunger Games, which take place in a massive outdoor arena and are televised live. Pitting child against child, the object of the games is to kill or be killed, with the last surviving contestant bringing notoriety and resources to his or her district. Volunteering in place of her little sister, Katniss becomes a contestant, forced to compete against another resident from District 12, Pieta (Hutcherson), who becomes a love interest.

The brutal world of Panem has indisputably struck a chord with YA and adult audiences nationwide and around the world. According to Scholastic, there are more than 26 million copies of the three original books (plus three recent movie tie-in titles) in print in the U.S., and they have been sold into 47 territories.

David Levithan, v-p, publisher, and editorial director for Scholastic, commented on the draw of Collins’s series: "I think readers become enthralled with The Hunger Games because in every aspect of the story, the stakes are so high—the emotional stakes, the political stakes, the life-or-death stakes.... It’s rare to have so many things hanging in the balance."

The stakes are high for the film too, with devoted readers looking for an experience that meets their expectations. On NPR’s Monkeysee media and entertainment blog, Linda Holmes recently raised the question of whether the enormous hype surrounding the release of The Hunger Games could lead to disappointment among those whose hopes have climbed so high. "You can market a film as hard as you want, and it’s still possible for anything to happen once it actually get into the wild," wrote Holmes.

Die-hard fans have been on the edge of their seats since plans for the film were first announced. As far back as 2009, readers were already posting their "Dream-Casts" for the first movie on YouTube. When casting announcements began making headlines early last year, a plethora of speculations on how the film will represent Collins’s futuristic world have been served up in print and online. Polls asked readers to vote if the casting decisions align with how they envisioned the characters and there has been much speculation on how the book’s violence will be translated into a PG-13 movie.

Tie-In Editions and More for Eager Fans

Earlier this month, Scholastic released several new Hunger Games editions in anticipation of the film, including an illustrated movie companion and a guide to the tributes selected to compete in the 74th annual Hunger Games. An additional movie tie-in featuring photos of the games will be released alongside the film on March 23; see our recent roundup of Scholastic’s movie tie-in program. Even more information about the upcoming film can be found at the movie’s official Web site, where visitors can view the trailer and even take a virtual tour of the Capital.

And for those who remain skeptical that the film will capture the essence of Collins’s books, director Gary Ross recently spoke to MTV about the adaptation, saying: "It’s very, very faithful in the literal sense, but it’s even more faithful in the tonal sense. My job is to give you that same visceral feeling you felt when you read the book."

Despite the sky-high expectations, Levithan concurs with Ross, and believes that the film honors the ingredients that make The Hunger Games so valued by readers: “It’s not an action movie or a romance or a survival story. It’s all three,” he said.