drawing the line?

I read The Hunger Games, first book of the trilogy, last night and this morning. This series has been recommended to me by a whole lot of people, some of whom I even trust. 🙂 Finally, I decided I had to take the plunge. So I borrowed the APs Kindle–and I have to admit reading on a Kindle is much more like reading a book than reading on an iPad is, but there are still advantages to the tablet, especially if one reads in the dark which I do a fair amount–yesterday afternoon and finished the book early this morning. If you don’t know anything about the book, there will be spoilers ahead, but I don’t include specific plot points.

The AP had just finished it that morning when he gave it to me and his comment was that it was intense and disturbing, but also fascinating and he didn’t want to put it down. But he kept saying disturbing, which I hadn’t really gotten from other people, maybe because there was more time for them to process before mentioning it to me. I think it is, in fact, every bit as good as people promised me, but I’m with the AP. It is kind of more disturbing than anything else.

The premise is that in this dystopian future each year each of 12 Districts has to send one boy and one girl (ages 12-18) to the Capitol to fight to the death in the Arena. So there’s a little bit of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (really, the whole first section made me think of “The Lottery”), a little bit of Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” a little bit of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (a book that will always haunt me, and one that, given the opportunity, I chose not to teach), a little Running Man (I’ve only seen the film), a little bit of Survivor (of which I have yet to actually watch an episode), and so on. It also has a Greco-Roman feel. Evidently the author was thinking of Theseus and the children sacrificed to the minotaur; I was more aware of Julius Caesar with fitting character names Portia and Cato and Cinna and so on.

Anyway… the book does a really good job of not accepting the plot it is portraying, of showing the horror of the whole set-up, but I find myself wondering if I (or exactly who) needs to be reading a book in which children are set to kill one another. Even though it shows what it does to their psyche, the characters still come to accept that they must kill each other. Yes, it is thought-provoking and well set-up for probing discussion, but are people having those discussions or are they reading the books merely as thrillers? I think it might cross a line of what we needs to exist. Like “The Lottery,” it is passionately anti-war, and it makes one think about a lot of other issues, too. But is that what tweens are carrying away from it? I’d really like to know.

Yet.

I will read the next two books because they are well-written and I am intrigued. And I love “The Most Dangerous Game” which I’ve used to teach plot to high school freshmen. But in “The Most Dangerous Game,” there is a clear good guy and a clear bad guy and they are grown-ups. This book is much murkier, as it’s meant to be. And I love “The Lottery,” but it is very much written as a fable where this book has a fairly high degree of verisimilitude within its context. I don’t know.

It’s funny. People are so many places on the spectrum of entertainment media from the “I don’t approve so nobody should read/see it” to the “live and let live everybody should be able to/needs to see/read it” with a lot of “I/my kids won’t, but other people may” or “As long as we talk about it, it’s ok” and so on in between.

I’m not big on censorship. I’m also not big on forcing things on people. I probably fall mostly into the, “as long as we talk about it, it’s ok” camp. But somehow I’m still left a bit queasy by kids killing kids books. Maybe I’m just naive.

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3 Responses to drawing the line?

  1. jo(e) says:

    People keep telling me to read it, but it sounds way too dark for my taste. And as you say, disturbning.

  2. Meg says:

    I loved these books, and I’ve recommended them (though I’m not sure if I told you about them). I liked that the adolescent characters feel so real, and I love Collins’ critique of our reality-TV culture, in which we consume violence and drama and unhappiness at the expense of others, in the midst of our own wealth and comfort. I hope that young readers see that the “reality” we encounter on television is always staged, prepped, and edited. However, the concerns you mention here are key to my ambivalence about the approaching film. It is one thing (to me) to read about violence, and an entirely different thing to watch it on the screen. Moreover, I wonder if the ambivalence of the main character–for instance, her desire to survive vs. her desire to protect–can really be captured on film. Also (spoiler alert!) how do you show on screen a perfunctory kiss?

  3. Terri says:

    Probably won’t read this series, but understand the struggle. My daughter had a terrible time reading Slaughter House Five, mandatory reading for her High School – she hated the violence against animals…and we did talk about it…I agree that we live in a world that is violent enough and various sources are desensitizing us to the reality of the real pain and consequences of violence….

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