This month’s Feature Article will be looking at Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Usually, I choose my books a little less randomly than I did The Hunger Games, which I just bought off the recommended list from Amazon via my Kindle. I was in need of something to read, and I did not have access to my PC to do any type of pre-review or research on what to read next. What this meant was that I was unaware of the hype surrounding Collins’ novel while reading it.
The only thing I really knew about The Hunger Games was that it was classified as young adult literature. I will be honest here, I am not sure what the specific distinctions between young adult and adult literature are exactly, although in my mind, I just break them along the PG-13-rated and R-rated lines. Consequently, as I was reading, I was continually asking myself if I thought The Hunger Games was appropriate for my seventeen year-old daughter, and if so, would she even like it. Essentially, was the subject matter that had an authoritarian government running an ultra-reality show that forces twenty-four teenagers to battle to the death something I even wanted her to read?
Now, I cannot make any predictions whether she would like it or not, but I have decided that despite the subject matter, it is appropriate. I had just finished rereading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, mainly because it is on my daughter’s curriculum this spring at school, and The Hunger Games is certainly no less cruel and graphic than that timeless classic. Therefore, I would ask that anyone objecting to the subject matter of The Hunger Games to simply check out the reading list at your local high school. In fact, I would even recommend reading a few of the titles you find there yourself.
This, of course, brings up an entirely different question concerning young adult literature in general and The Hunger Games in particular. Was it appropriate for a middle-aged man? Before you raise your eyebrows at the question, let me explain. What I mean here is this: Am I even able to understand how a book like this is perceived and interpreted by a teenager? Could it be that adults have more of an issue with the subject matter than the intended audience does? I have tried to think back to all the things I read as a teenager, and I have tried to step back and view The Hunger Games in that context, and in so doing, I have decided that adults and teenagers may not view Collins’ work the same way.
First, while I see an incredibly high hurdle to overcome in even believing the geo-political context that is the basis for the story, I suspect that my teenage daughter, who has no real interest in politics, would simply find it unnecessary to question the absurdity of such a society. Now I know there are many adults who seem to think aspects of our government are degenerative toward authoritarianism, but let us be realistic here. The depth of callousness and cruelty exhibited by the government in The Hunger Games far exceeds the limits of credulity in my opinion. However, I have decided to allow Collins this construct in order to tell her story, which I suspect is exactly what a majority of her teenage audience will do, albeit in many cases, they will be doing so unconsciously.
Now, moving on to the actual story of teenagers being forced to fight to the death, I begin to wonder if adults and teens even view this the same way. While it is distasteful and controversial, and a bit disturbing, especially as a father, I am not sure teens have the perspective to be touched the same way I was. This is not meant as a knock on their empathy or depth of feeling, but simply on their perspective of death. What I am raising here is this: Does the supposed “invincibility” that we always hear about concerning their own mortality cause a teen to view this life and death struggle differently than adults? Perhaps I have degenerated into too much psychoanalysis here, but I wanted to raise the point that perhaps teens would not come away with the same revulsions and qualms regarding The Hunger Games as an adult does.
So now that I have touched on a bit of the controversy surrounding the subject matter of the book, let us turn to the writing itself. Aside from the aforementioned forced suspension of disbelief regarding the geo-political context for the story, I found it to be an excellent read. Collins’ writing style was clear and fast-paced, and I connected with each of her characters immediately. What I found amazing was how she kept up the suspense, even though there was little doubt regarding the outcome since it was written in the first person. I especially thought Collins’ ability to connect the reader to Rue so quickly was brilliantly crafted. I did not count the pages, but it seemed like a very short amount of time to have pulled that off so successfully.
I am not really going to comment on my thoughts regarding Katniss, other than to say that you should read the book. She is definitely one of those iconic characters that simply needs to be introduced via reading rather than getting anything secondhand; and on that note, I am not sure I can give Collins any better compliment on the job she has done with The Hunger Games.
I would like to add that after finishing The Hunger Games, I discovered that it is in the process of being made into a movie. This is intriguing because I think so much could go right or wrong with the adaptation to the screen. It will be very interesting to see how all the inner-dialog is presented, as will the degree of graphic violence that finds its way into the screenplay. I do not see a lot of movies, but this is one that I will make an effort to go to since I am very curious to see how it will translate to the screen.