I’ve avoided The Hunger Games. Call me sentimental and soft, but I couldn’t get past the horrifying concept of kid-on-kid violence. I suppose it’s hypocritical because I watch zombies devour humans every week on The Walking Dead. But the mother in me struggles with stories about kids suffering, no matter how well told.
A few weeks ago, my daughter checked out The Hunger Games from her school elementary library. I knew she’d want to read the series at some point – it’s a phenomenon, after all – but I wasn’t expecting her to discover it in fifth grade.
Let me backtrack in case you’re unfamiliar with the story. The Hunger Games is the first novel in a trilogy by Suzanne Collins about a dystopian future in which 24 tweens and teens are forced to kill each other in what’s basically a reality TV show. Only one kid gets to go home. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss, the main character, in the blockbuster film adaptations.
If my daughter was going to read it, then I was, too. I know some parents wouldn’t allow a fifth-grader to read The Hunger Games. (In fact, it’s among the most banned books, according to the American Library Association.) My daughter is a strong reader who’s ready to explore more complex themes. I knew she’d put it down if it was confusing, uncomfortable, or too advanced. I think it’s important to let kids read controversial material in the open, guided by an adult, rather then make it forbidden fruit.
The Hunger Games, I decided, would be a “teachable moment.” It’s been that and more. My daughter and I are having lively and thoughtful conversations about politics, censorship, greed, oppression, and totalitarianism. We compared events in the book to real life. In the world of The Hunger Games, for instance, districts are surrounded by fences to control people. Sounds a lot like the Berlin wall, doesn’t it? We talked about parents’ fear that violence in books and movies might be romanticized, that our kids might lose empathy.
Then there’s our conversation about the incredible writing: setting, characters, plot, pacing … the kind of stuff that makes writers geek out. The New York Times called The Hunger Games “brilliantly plotted and perfectly paced.”