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In Defense of The Hunger Games

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Like many, I sit on various email lists. I received an email recently that I thought merited some discussion.

A proud parent proclaimed that her sixth grader wanted to read The Hunger Games, a bestselling novel for young adults. She had gone to Amazon.com and quoted their review,

"...a gripping story set in a postapocalyptic world where a replacement for the
United States demands a tribute from each of its territories: two children to be
used as gladiators in a televised fight to the death...When Katniss is sent to
stylists to be made more telegenic before she competes, she stands naked in
front of them, strangely unembarrassed... Katniss struggles to win not only
the Games but the inherent contest for audience approval."

From that review, the parent concluded that her child shouldn't be allowed to read The Hunger Games because the book glamorized television and peer/audience approval and then advised the rest of us to avoid this series like the plague. A second parent applauded this stand against reading a book simply because others are reading it.

There are a whole host of reasons why this set of emails is scary; the first being that neither person had actually gone to the trouble of reading the book. Instead, they relied on one review/summary without checking its accuracy.

Second, getting kids to read independently is pretty awesome. As parents, we should know what they are reading. And we would all be mighty proud if they were toting around Romeo and Juliet and The Iliad. However, if they are embracing literature in any form, kudos!

Even if we don't agree with what the book says or find the material disturbing, sometimes having a controversial subject can inspire discussion in our homes and our classrooms. Books we consider classics such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, The Color Purple and The Giver have all shared a place on lists of banned books.

Finally, in this case, I respectfully disagree with the interpretation of The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games
is a dystopian tale that is uncomfortable and compelling at the same time. The heroine (Katniss) makes a brave decision to sacrifice herself in a gladiator-type fight so that her younger, less able sister does not to enter the ring. She teaches us about honor, integrity, and grit. Suzanne Collins also shines a bright light on the dangers (not glamorization) of reality television and too much government control. In later books in the series (Catching Fire and Mockingjay) she speaks to the consequences of battles fought, something from which we could all learn as our soldiers return from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other far away lands.

For the love of lit, I am happy if young adults read The Hunger Games.