March 21, 2012 -- If you looked closely during the frenzied Hollywood premiere of "The Hunger Games," past the enormous lines of rabid fans, past the young movie stars in their couture dresses, you could catch a fleeting glimpse of Suzanne Collins, the woman who made it all possible.
The media-shy mother of two is America's answer to J.K. Rowling. Collins is the author of the thunderously successful trilogy of books set in a futuristic dystopia where every year a tyrannical government forces a teenager to fight to the death on reality television.
"I was flipping through images of reality television, there were these young people competing for a million dollars ... and I saw images of the Iraq War," Collins said in a video from her publisher, Scholastic. "Two things began to sort of fuse together in a very unsettling way, and there is really the moment when I got the idea for Katniss' story."
At the heart of "The Hunger Games" is its heroine, the fierce Katniss Everdeen, who the Atlantic Monthly called "the most important female character in recent pop culture history." She is a far cry from "The Twilight Saga's" Bella, often a damsel in distress.
But "The Hunger Games" is much heavier than most young adult fare, and some people have complained that it is too violent for kids. But Collins, whose father served in Vietnam when she was a little girl, wants young people to think critically about the brutality of war and culture's desensitization to violence.
"What do you think about choices your government past or present, or other governments around the world make?" Collins said in a video posted on YouTube. "What's your relationship to reality TV versus your relationship to news? Was there anything that disturbed you because it reflected aspects of your own life, and what can you do about it?"
In the movie Katniss is played by Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence.
"She is simply standing up for what's right, when something is wrong," Lawrence said. "She is kind of this futuristic Joan of Arc."
Her story has struck a chord not just with teenagers but with adults too, both women and men.
"If you look as the basic themes of 'The Hunger Games,' they apply not just to teenage women," said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "They apply to human beings as well -- feeling oppressed by authority, wanting but not having independence, existing in a hostile world."