Suzanne Collins
Credit: Todd Plitt/Contour by Getty Images

Image Credit: Todd Plitt/Contour by Getty ImagesA gutsy bow-and-arrow wielding 16-year-old rules the best-seller charts these days — Katniss Everdeen, the tough-as-nails star of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. The series’ first book (Hunger Games) alone has more than 2.9 million copies in print and spent over 100 consecutive weeks on theNew York Times list. Collins (one of EW’s 2010 Entertainers of the Year) dreamed up Games a few years ago while channel surfing, when images of reality TV and the Iraq war melded in her head. Her books’ dystopian world features a government that does whatever it takes to control its citizens, even holding an annual lottery that pits the unlucky winners — all children — against one another, fighting to the death in an outdoor arena while the country watches on TV. Collins, who’s gotten some flak for the kid-on-kid violence in the three books (Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay), has responded by pointing to the powerful anti-war message in her story. And she also notes that not everyone sees the books as war novels. “People view the books differently — as romance, as dystopian, as action adventure, as political,” she tells EW. “So there seems to be more than one way into the story.”

If somehow you still have not heard of Katniss and her District 12 cohorts, you will soon. Now that the book series is finished (with Mockingjay‘s publication in August), all eyes are on the upcoming Hunger Games movies. The first film, which will be helmed by Seabiscuit director Gary Ross, isn’t due out until 2012, but fans are already arguing feverishly over who should play Katniss on the big screen — Kaya Scodelario? Alexandra Daddario? Emma Watson? Fortunately, Collins, a seasoned scriptwriter with several kids’ shows under her belt, wrote the first draft of the screenplay herself and says Lionsgate, who acquired the books, has “established a dialogue with me, making me feel my input was valuable and welcome.”

“Obviously, you have to let things go,” she says of the process, “but it’s more than a question of condensation. You want to preserve the essence while making the film stand on its own. It’s an art in itself.”

For more about Suzanne Collins and EW’s 14 other 2010 Entertainers of the Year, pick up the Dec. 10 issue of the magazine, with Taylor Swift on the cover.

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The Hunger Games
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