29 March 2012

+JMJ+

Reading Diary: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.

Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch--this is the Capitol's way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear: "Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there's nothing you can do . . ."

If there was any doubt in my mind that I had become the newest Censor Librorum on the block blog(osphere), it completely vanished the other night, when a second friend asked me whether it was all right to let her eleven year old daughter read Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games.

Given the kind of questions I'm asked and the kind of answers I give, however, I think that the name of my new office should be spelled S-E-N-S-O-R. What can make or break a book for me is almost never something explicitly stated: it's either between the lines of the text or part of the bigger picture in which the book is a small detail. In this instance, it was the bigger picture that kept me from reading The Hunger Games for almost two years.

I Think I'm Team Peeta

In a nutshell: I hate the YA Love Triangle trend with the fire of a thousand suns.

There may be some books that do it well--in which case, bully for them--but for me, this isn't merely about quality of writing. I honestly think that it's unhealthy for young girls to have so many of these stories in their reading regimen--that is, to make a habit out of identifying with female protagonists who have two very different but equally dishy boys fighting over them.

I've read only the first Hunger Games book so far, but it doesn't seem too bad. The action-adventure plot and the dystopian world building manage to outweigh the more "emo" elements. Katniss is confused about her new feelings for Peeta, who is clearly in love with her, but she still thinks that what she has with Gale is completely platonic, and so it doesn't get the chance to muddy the waters yet. Perhaps I'll be really turned off when I read Catching Fire . . .

It was this that I really wanted to tell my friend, but she began with different questions . . . Definitely a fellow Sensor Librorum, the first thing she wanted to know about The Hunger Games was whether all the scattered elements ultimately added up to a nihilistic message. (Official Sensor's Answer: No.) Then she asked whether the gore was gratuitious or organic to the story. (Official Sensor's Answer: Organic.) Her third concern was whether the expected "undercurrent of rebellion" is exploited--but before I could ask what she meant by that, she jumped to the reason she had some misgivings about the trilogy.

The Hunger Games had been recommended to her by a huge fan of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight--a book that had horrified my friend's husband. It had also put off another pal of hers, who couldn't believe that when Bella was given a choice between a dead boy and a live boy, she chooses the dead boy. I hastened to assure my friend that The Hunger Games is nowhere near the level of Twilight . . . but that isn't saying much, is it? =P

There was one more issue to bring up--something I didn't see until my cousins from the US came to visit last week. Only one of them hadn't read the novel, and when the rest were giving her an overview of the plot, the phrase "the one percent" got thrown around quite a bit. I'm not quite sure what it means, but it comes off as the sort of political movement I distance myself from, on principle (Repeat after me, class: "Jacobites are men of right. Jacobins are men of sin. And Commies always suck."); and that's really enough for any Sensor. My friend was surprised by that because she has heard others describe The Hunger Games as very right wing. In all fairness, though, I wouldn't say the "timely" political angle is a big issue: some sort of totalitarian set up is a convention of many futuristic novels. I think my cousins' and her friends' different interpretations are purely reader reactions, neither of them necessarily what Collins herself intended.

By the end of our conversation, my friend had reached a decision about The Hunger Games: "I'm convinced I'll have to read it first . . . I'll get my husband to do it." (ROFL!)

But I do think that's fair. =) If your friendly neighbourhood Sensor Librorum hasn't given you a definite reason to draw the line at a book, then you'll have to do the rest of the "sensing out" yourself to determine whether it's appropriate for your children.


Image Sources: a) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, b) Team Gale / Team Peeta

18 comments:

cyurkanin said...

So you didn't have any problems with the writing itself, as in, "I think this person cannot write or form coherent thoughts in complete sentences" or...? As you already know from my Goodreads bit, I did, and I couldn't even continue after twenty pages so I handed the book off to another friend who reads a lot and had never heard of the book - he handed it back half an hour later and he literally said "this person doesn't know how to write." Since you didn't bring it up, you had no problems with the writing itself, or is this just what I'm missing by not reading modern "pop" lit? *Not looking to argue with those who happen to like it, just checking your opinion. The wife and daughter (10) both loved it, go figure.

Shannon Young said...

It sounds like the answers you gave your friend are very fair. I think it's right for parents to check out a book first if they have any doubts about it for their kids. What is totally inappropriate for one eleven-year-old might be perfectly fine for another.

I'm not a big YA reader, so I haven't seen the love triangle plot as much, but I don't feel that it is the main focus of this series. The Hunger Games raises interesting questions and ideas that make it more readable than a story of teen angst.

The Mike said...

I can comment on a book post. Mark your calendar! :)

Funny thing, I didn't even think about it from the love triangle aspect most of the time. I was just annoyed that they wasted tons of time that could have been spent on a cool killing game on Katniss randomly trying to decide if she fake loved or real loved a dude she barely knew.

I mean, it seemed like the actual games were an afterthought for most of the book. I know it's Katniss' story, but it bugged me how the author just threw in "then this kid was dead" in between gathering and fake romancing scenes.

And then that ending to the games....oy. Not unforgiving enough for the horror guy. :)

Alas, it's a good idea, and I'm rather interested in the movie. But all the people who pleaded for me to read it and said it shouldn't possibly be compared to Twilight....I'm not sure they were right.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Christopher -- At the risk of coming off as a philistine (What? Too late? LOL!), I really didn't have any problems with the prose. Expecting something more literary in this genre (Dystopian YA) would be like expecting Martin Scorsese-level direction from a Michael Bay movie. There was nothing here I'd put on the level of the annoyance that is "shaky cam," though. I guess I was that caught up in the plot.

Shannon -- Thanks! =) I was relieved that The Hunger Games had more action than angst. I can live with the balance in this book. But as I've said, I've read only the first book in the trilogy, and there's still time for Collins to totally turn me off. LOL!

The Mike -- The calendar has been marked! =D And I love your comment!

The angst triangle (A better term for it, aye?) is for the target market alone: the fact that someone outside that demographic would be bothered by it speaks volumes. And you can imagine how bad the other storylines I allude to are if I can say that The Hunger Games wasn't too bad when it came to this!

What I found interesting about the movie was how much it reminded me of Reality TV. And I think that "gritty farce" vibe is what Collins was going for in the novel as well. Gritty farce plus angsty romance. Hey, it sells. LOL! =P

Bob Wallace said...

I'd read it to five-year-old boys. They love that kind of stuff anyway. I sure did.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Five year old boys love angsty teenage love triangles??? =P

Bob Wallace said...

Five-year-odl boys love symbolic violence and bows-and-arrows and swords and beasts and bloodshed.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

In that case, you probably shouldn't read them this book! Seriously. It's packaged as "symbolic violence and bows-and-arrows and swords and beasts and bloodshed," but as The Mike points out, it holds back on these at the expense of "fake romancing scenes."

Dauvit Balfour said...

See, now ya got me all uncertain. I first heard about the books from libertarian hangouts, and then from Fr. Barron's discussion of the human sacrifice elements, and so had nearly decided to at least see the movie, despite the obvious chick target.

Now I am returned to skeptical. Maybe I'll redbox it so no one sees me at the theater :).

(I was also excited for the adaptation of Red Riding Hood, because Gary Oldman, and fairy tales, and Amanda Seyfried's curves, but when I found out it was the same Twilightian teen love triangle tripe, I never bothered).

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Hi, Dauvit! How's the poem? ;-)

All pressure aside now, I guess it's fair to point out that I was "reviewing" The Hunger Games for parents of eleven year old girls. On my own, unconcerned with the impressionable consciences of children, I enjoyed both the book and the movie. The latter is especially interesting as a satire of Reality competitions--which appeals to my pop-culture loving heart.

PS -- Red Riding Hood turned me off the second I learned that the title character would be torn between the woodsman and the wolf. I just don't go there.

love the girls said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

LTG: I think I have a better idea of why people keep taking you the wrong way. It's because you keep telling them what to do, after you misunderstand what they're saying. =P

And now I'm starting to think that everyone I've met through Catholic blogging has an eleven year old daughter.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I'm leaving another comment now because I really like getting #13.

DeLynne said...

Well, here's number fourteen! I liked the book, I got hooked and couldn't stop until the end, despite the end coming at 2am. I did find the fake love bit annoying, but the other plot elements won me over. No way will my 10 year old read it, not even sure my 14 year old would like it, but they are sensitive souls. I told one woman with girls the same ages that her girls would love it.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Every child is indeed a different case. =) My thirteen-year-old brother is reading The Hunger Games now, as is my [age redacted] mother. LOL! And they both really, really love it. They're not as critical as I am. ;-)

What books would you recommend for your sensitive girls, DeLynne?

mge said...

Primrose is 12 when she is selected as a tribute so I think an 11 year old girl can relate to some of the characters. It is true that the book is quite brutal but violence is a good thing to discuss with your children since is one of the biggest concerns nowadays.

I think there's no comparison between this saga and Twilight. The Hunger Games is way more complex.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

What's interesting is that even Primrose is, in a sense, way too young for the Hunger Games as well; and Katniss tries very hard to protect her from a reality that even they can't escape. I think that even if a child is the same "calendar age" as Prim, he would also have to be at the same "emotional age" as Katniss.

Of course, around the time I was eleven, my favourite movie of all time was The Shining. LOL! I'm naturally inclined to give children as much freedom as I had, which is why I deliberately raise my standards, just to be safe, when recommending books for other people's children.

By the way, thanks for stopping by! You've reminded me that April is a special month on your blog. ;-) (Am I allowed to say why now? LOL!)

mge said...

You're allowed to SCREAM it.