Katniss, the 16-year-old hero of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, rises atop the other 12-18 year olds she must battle to the death in the dystopic, post-apocalyptic world of Panem. She's a hero, a titan, and a really fun character to read.
Katniss and the Hunger Games franchise drew a mammoth fan base and thousands of readers. Like Harry Potter, the books brought both children and adults into a story they could love and discuss together, loving its intricate world and well-developed characters. That's why its so unsettling to close the back cover of the final book and leave that world behind.
You need recommendations, in other words. All of these YA series have strong, Katniss-level, protagonists. They are well-written plot-driven adventures. They are all also series that have the potential to rise to cult-level Hunger Games status. Buy them for the Hunger Games readers on your list:
The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth
Divergent is often the most frequently recommended book for people who have finished The Hunger Games. Roth's debut novel features another strong female protagonist living in a dystopian universe where society is divided into factions. In Roth's society, when children reach 16, they are forced to choose between five different segments of society, each of which has its own core virtue.
Beatrice "Tris" Prior, however, refuses to play by the rules. She's a rebel, and her refusal to pick a group, along with her constant desire for more out of life, upsets the structure of the society she lives in. Divergent is action-packed and a quick read. And, like The Hunger Games, it too is a trilogy.
But you have better options. Even though Divergent is the most popular sequel to The Hunger Games, the writing is often weak and the books drag along. If you're interested in the premise, it might be worth a look, but the next four recommendations are much more lively and enjoyable, even if they're not movies just yet.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
The Unwind series is scary. It hits on the current debates we're having in the US, while creating a beautifully told, fast-paced adventure story.
Set in the aftermath of a second Civil War, Unwind takes place in a world where children ages 13 to 18 can be "unwound" — or taken to "harvest camps" where their organs are removed for the use of other people. Shusterman's novel follows three teens who are scheduled for just that, and their struggles to escape their fate.
What's great about Unwind (and the two other books in the series: Unwholly and Unsouled) is how raw the characters' emotions are allowed to be, just like real teens, who are not yet hardened and taught to suppress their feelings. In Unwind, the characters are terrified and confused, and those thought processes are detailed in ways few other YA novels can touch.
The Graceling Triology by Kristin Cashore
In the world created by Kristin Cashore, a handful of people in society are endowed with "graces," or magical abilities. And Kasta is one. She can fight better — and kill better — than just about anyone else. Kasta should have led a life of leisure as a member of the royal family, but her grace means that, instead, she ends up employing her talents for the King and the protection of the Kingdom.
But while protecting the kingdom, Kasta realizes that her grace results from a deep family secret, and when uncovered, that secret unleashes an evil that she must try to combat. That means there's plenty of adventure and intrigue. And if you loved The Hunger Games but wished it had more of a romantic element, then the Graceling series, with its well-developed love story, is the perfect pick for you. It, too, is a trilogy.
The Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver
In this dystopian, Orwellian series, love has been declared a dangerous disease. It causes heartache, heartbreak, and in-fighting. Love, in the Delirium Series, is an ultimate bad, so the country has developed a cure for it that every child receives when they turn 18. Lena Holoway knows how dangerous love is. She watched it destroy her mother and ruin her life, and she wants nothing more than the peaceful, predictable life that follows being cured.
And then, with 95 days left until her treatment, Lena meets Alex, and love happens. Oliver's series is a complicated story about teenage love and the places that we find meaning in life. It also features three main novels and two additional stories, so it's a great second pick after The Hunger Games, and just as easy to become obsessed with.
Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness
Todd Hewitt's world is erupting into war, forcing him to flee his town to find safety. At the beginning of this series, readers are under the assumption that Prentisstown, the setting of the novels, is populated only by men, because all of the women were killed during a war against the planet's native population. Soon, though, Todd finds Viola, a woman, and the mysteries of Prentisstown begin to unravel before him. That makes Chaos Walking the perfect series for those who are interested by gender issues.
Ness's book also comments on more topics like colonization and Christian evangelism. Though these books are a fun read and action-packed, the author juggles hard truths about the world we live in, right alongside considerations of the effect that moral enforcements can have on children.