Stories that Matter

Chit Chat – The Hunger Games

So I may be one of the last people on earth to read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, but I’ve just finished it. I heard all about it when it first came out. A lot of my friends read it and raved about it. I didn’t get around to reading it. Truthfully, I wasn’t even aware it was YA fiction until I downloaded it.

My initial thoughts as I read were “Wow, what a fantastic read!” Now that I’ve finished it, I’m taking a breath. Rethinking the whole thing. Trying to make sense of it.

This is a book for kids? It IS YA, right? So what age range would that be? You can tell me, because I have no idea, but I’m thinking it’s usually middle school – 10 – 14 perhaps? Given that, I’m not sure I can totally rave about this book. As well written as it was, I’m not sure I would have wanted my kids reading it when they were ten.

The premise bothers me. Bothers me a lot, actually. It’s like Survivor on crack.

Take a bunch of kids, chuck them into a man-made arena and let them fight to the death. To. The. Death. Really? And while I am sure it could have been worse, there were some pretty gruesome descriptions here that I didn’t care for.

I guess I’m not surprised that this is a #1 best-seller. Nor am I surprised that there’s a movie coming out. I am surprised however, that this is acceptable reading material for kids. No. Not surprised. Disappointed. Β It’s Harry Potter all over again. And yes, I have watched and enjoyed all the HP movies. Again, great writing, great story, but too much darkness. Isn’t there enough in the world already?

So I guess my bottom line here is that I’m not a fan. I thought I was going to be. I was all ready to rave up and down about how great this book was, but to be honest, now that I’m finished, I’m left with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. And a question that I just have to ask.

Is this ALL we have to offer the next generation of readers?

So lets hear from you. Read Hunger Games? What are your thoughts?

 

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25 Comments

  1. Carrie Chwierut (@CarriesSocial) on November 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    I haven’t read it, but my 15-year-old son has and now he can’t wait for the movie. Maybe I need to read it just so I’m aware of what it’s about! But I agree, the things we expose our young people to is becoming more and more scary.

    • Cathy West on November 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm

      Hey Carrie! I’d be okay with a fifteen year-old reading it. I mean, i know what most of them watch on tv these days and it’s probably a lot worse than what’s in the book! That said, I was surprised at how gory the description got at times.

  2. Jennifer K. Hale on November 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Cathy,
    I just finished books 1 & 2 in the Hunger Games series last week and I’m currently reading book 3 (so you are not alone in being late reading these…). I love them. I love the pacing and the story. That being said, I’m with you on these being YA. I read them because they were recommended to me by a friend who read them and let his 10 year old son read them. I was thinking they’d be more like Harry Potter and less like…an R rated movie. There’s no way I’d let my 10 year old read these books. They are far, far too violent. I love the books as an adult. I like them because I’m mature enough to handle it (although I do think the premise is very, very gruesome.) That being said, I’m a fan, but I wish they were not YA.

    • Cathy West on November 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm

      Agree! I was like, wow…okay… πŸ™‚

  3. Heather Sunseri on November 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    Oh, Cathy, I’m sorry you didn’t like it. It’s been a while since I read it, but I really liked Hunger Games and Catching Fire. It actually has been the source of some wonderful discussions with my daughter and some of the church youth (her friends). We’ve discussed how people can find themselves in tough situations that require a decision that is difficult to make, and how we must always do our best to look to scripture for answers. They might not ever face a life or death predicament, but they might face peer pressure types of problems, and we discuss how we should always look to God not to our own selfish needs. It’s a story of survival and rising above the evil.

    Now, do you see how I asked the question I asked on my blog this week? How can a CBA publisher aks for a Hunger Games-like book? What does that even mean, I wonder?

    • Jennifer K. Hale on November 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm

      Heather– As I was reading HG I did find myself wondering how Katniss would have reacted to such a situation if she had faith in a higher power. Like, if it was me, I would have been praying– A LOT. I could totally see these books with a faith-theme…a reliance on a higher power, or at least some of the characters crying out to God. Can you see that?

      • Cathy West on November 17, 2011 at 5:49 pm

        Or how about if they all refused to kill each other and revolted against the whole thing – would they all have been killed by the powers that be or what? Perhaps if it had been adult fiction the author would have gone emotionally deeper, but maybe she was limited in that being YA? I don’t read it so I don’t know. I would have liked to have seen some of what the others were thinking as well.

      • Jennifer K. Hale on November 17, 2011 at 5:52 pm

        Cathy- keep reading. πŸ™‚

    • Cathy West on November 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm

      Heather, it wasn’t that I didn’t ‘enjoy’ the book. I mean let’s face it, as a writer I know good writing when I see it. This was a gripping page-turner, filled with drama. Not hard at all to get completely sucked in from the get-go and envision the whole thing playing out in my mind. And there’s the rub. I just really wish there had been a different plot. Or okay, let’s say they still had to kill each other, how about a little more wrestling with that idea? I mean, Katniss wouldn’t kill Rue because she reminded her of her sister and she got attached to her, but she had no problem with the others? Okay, they were nasty and they were going to kill her, but…ew. There is something wrong here when we’re basically giving our kids books to read that leave very little room for morality. I can see how this would be a great discussion in a church youth setting, but I’m sad for all those kids out there who don’t have that, just sucking this stuff up and not thinking twice about it.

      • Heather Sunseri on November 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm

        Yeah, I’m very careful about what my daughter is reading, as in I’m always making sure we discuss how it’s either okay with our worldview, or it isn’t. There have been books that I’ve requested that she not read. But she soaks up fantasy books faster than I can keep up with. And CBA doesn’t have very many, unfortunately.

        You’re so right, Cathy. It’s unfortunate how many teens out there are reading dark books or morally questionable stories without someone to discuss them with. Reading has been a wonderful way for my daughter and I to share a love of storytelling and writing, while giving me a wonderful opportunity to parent and teach.

        Great discussion. I also like Jennifer’s comment about how this would be an interesting read to see characters reach out to God. Is it possible for the current CBA or ABA markets produce such a thing?

  4. Dorothy Adamek on November 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Hi Cathy,

    I haven’t read it, but my 19 year old daughter (university literature student and teacher in-training) bought it yesterday and hasn’t been able to put it down. When her brother heard about her purchase, his eyes lit up. I had to do a double take, as this is the boy who HATES reading.
    ‘I want it, soon as you finish it!’ He’s in his final week of school before summer holidays. Is going through exams and x-box withdrawals. All he wanted until now was for the week to end so he can disappear into summer.
    And now, the boy who never reads, wants a book. By choice.
    I guess the premise is perfect for the x-box generation. Bang, bang, you die. Next victim?
    Should I be surprised the idea appeals to him? No way.
    Am I surprised he can be bothered with the book, and not wait for the film. Oh yes. And I’m thrilled he wants to read anything. Anything?…. well, maybe.
    I’m hoping to overhear my kids discuss this book and its themes in the days ahead. Already it’s provoked a response. I guess that’s what it was always meant to do.

    Blessing to you πŸ™‚

    • Cathy West on November 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm

      Funny to hear you talk about heading into summer as we head into winter!! Again, I see a lot of similarities with Harry Potter. Kids who would never touch a book outside of school were suddenly all over these books. I suppose the same thing is happening here. People are going to say “Look, my kid is READING!!” And yeah, that’s great. But having brought up two children in the last 20 years, I can say things have changed. A LOT. And very, very, fast. And unfortunately not for the better. If this book is meant to be a reflection on our ‘reality’ or a ‘look, this could actually happen,’ then I’m sorry but that’s just sad. But that said, I will most likely keep reading to see what happens. πŸ™‚

  5. Katie Ganshert on November 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    That’s why I love it! It’s all about how desensitized our culture is getting. They have a freakin’ reality TV show that’s telecast across the entire nation of kids who are fighting to the death. It’s completely demented and sort of a cautionary tale!

  6. terri tiffany on November 17, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I’ve enjoyed reading the comments since I have heard about this book and never read it. Some of what it sounds like it is about is disturbing.

  7. RED on November 17, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Cathy,

    To answer your question about YA, I think YA is (very broadly speaking) intended for 13-18 years of age. 10-12 is considered Middle Grade (MG). Then there is such a thing as upper YA (which is an ‘unofficial’ category but basically means anything 15/16ish and up). Hunger Games is, in my opinion, upper YA. I think you had the same reaction.

    I have read with interest the comments about how Katniss could have struggled more with killing the other kids. I thought about that a lot as I was reading the story. It bothered me at first. Here’s my take on it:

    The main thrust of Katniss’ character development is that she is a young woman who has emotionally shut herself down. She no longer allows herself to love her mother. She won’t admit to any feelings for Gale, though obviously there’s something between them. She spends most of the book trying to convince herself that she doesn’t care about Peeta. Part of her character development is in realizing that she needs to admit to her feelings and her own sense of morality. This becomes even more of an issue in the second book (I haven’t read the third yet). So I think part of the reason that she doesn’t struggle with killing the other kids at first, is part of that character development. By the end, she has rejected a closed-off attitude of self-preservation in favor of an attitude that values human life—*even if* that means defying the Capitol’s worldview and losing her own life.

    I think the problem with showing too much morality from her early on in the story, is that it would leave her character nowhere to develop.

    It WAS a pretty dark story. For me personally, the question isn’t “Is YA too dark?” I think the question is, “How is that darkness used?” To help kids get through dark stuff? Or is it just being used for shock value?

    In today’s society, children are over-exposed and disillusioned by the world way before they get old enough to read The Hunger Games. In high schools around the nation, every day, kids are bullied to the point of suicide. They’re tricked by the so-called “Cherry Bomb Gangs” into sleeping with boys so the boys can then “rate” the girls on a web site. They are texting nude pictures of themselves to older men. Their friends are dying of drug overdoses. They live in a world that values excelling in academics, sports, hobbies, and fitness simultaneously, and treats them as worthless if they can’t do it.

    At that point, you’ve gone beyond the point where you can protect children from darkness. But you can use stories of extreme darkness to show them that they CAN survive. That they themselves have the power to be agents for change.

    Having said that, though, I do agree that kids ALSO need access to stories that aren’t so dark. When I was a teen, I went through a period of depression. At that time, I needed lighter stories very much. I’ve also talked to other people who said that the dark stories helped them out of their depression. Every teen is different, and that’s why there needs to be a range of books. Unfortunately, the publishing industry is a little over-obsessed with the dark ones right now.

    • Cathy West on November 17, 2011 at 10:44 pm

      Great thoughts, thanks for sharing!

  8. Olivia Newport on November 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Undiluted POV sustained through the whole series. Uncluttered writing. Surprising characters. Lots to soak up about great writing. And the theme is part of the great writing. The social commentary is enormous, enormous for discussing. Books 2 and 3 are not any less gruesome, but there is a thematic and character arc over the trilogy that is worth hanging on for. I would not give it to a 10 year old, but I have known 14-15 year old who read book 1 or even 2 and decided for themselves what they could handle. It really depends what kind of ready you have.

    • Cathy West on November 17, 2011 at 10:52 pm

      Well, I know I will have to keep reading for the sake of my own curiosity, that’s a given! πŸ™‚ Again, I think it’s all a matter of personal opinion. My kids are now in college so I wouldn’t worry about them reading it. Would this book have been as widely accepted seven or so years ago when my kids were that age, I’m not sure. Sometimes I feel like I’m terribly old-fashioned in my way of thinking, and that’s pretty scary for me because I’ve always been a bit of a rebel. The past year I did not watch tv much at all. I started watching a bit over the last few months, and I have to say I’m pretty shocked at what’s on. Seems everything goes now, nothing is left to the imagination. Same with books. If it’s not a CBA book, you can pretty much bet on the content of the love scenes. There are exceptions, but not too many.

  9. Casey on November 17, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Cathy, after reading your very well-written blog post, I had to stop by. Now, I wish to state that I have not read Hunger Games. I will say the premise is intriguing, BUT I completely agree with you. Why is it all our teens seem to crave is darkness? We should be aware and highly careful what we fill our minds with. And we can’t pretend to ignore the evil or the language or the bad language or anything…because those things DO have influence on us.

    Anyway, that’s my two scents. Thank you for sharing yours! I appreciate your open honesty.

    • Cathy West on November 17, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      Thanks Casey! I would be interested in your thoughts if you decide to read it.

    • Anne Payne on November 19, 2011 at 2:09 pm

      I agree, Casey. I don’t like filling my mind with those things. If I want to read about the “dark side”, there’s plenty in Scripture and I have, at my fingertips, redemption right along side! Does that sound weird? πŸ™‚

  10. Michelle Sutton on November 18, 2011 at 1:17 am

    I haven’t read it. I tend to avoid the most popular books for years and go for the lesser known authors. It’s just me. I have never read Potter, Twilight, or The Help either. I could go on…

    • Anne Payne on November 19, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      I’m with you on this one, Michelle! I haven’t read any of those books, either πŸ™‚

  11. ausjenny on November 20, 2011 at 1:44 am

    Hi Cathy I haven’t read it either. I heard YA is youth/Adult, age teen to young adult. we had some books in this catagory which ranged from kids to one that was a novel with the hero and heroine about to get married its such a large catagory.

  12. Cathy West on November 21, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Well, I just finished Book Two, Catching Fire. Read it in two days. I’m still not convinced I ‘like’ it, but of course now I have to read the last book to see what happens. I guess what really hits me is thinking about how much gore and darkness there is in the world today – this series, Twilight, Harry Potter – all a direct reflection on perfectly okay viewing/reading material for today’s young people. I’m not arguing whether the books are any good because that’s a mute point. It just makes me sad. But then again, I remember what I was reading at 14 + and it wasn’t all Anne of Green Gables stuff that’s for sure. πŸ™‚

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