Yesterday my cousin asked me if I read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. She wanted to know if I think she would enjoy it. I happen to have a strong opinion about the novel, and I told her that opinion in as strong terms.
I read The Hunger Games this past March after the SCBWI Asilomar Conference. Everybody there talked about the book: editors, agents, writers. It seemed I was the only one who had not read it, and so I downloaded the novel on kindle and began to catch up.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I have minimal experience with dystopia, being more of a light and airy, romantic fiction reader. I have never been a fan of books like 1984 or Lord of the Flies. So I was shocked, overwhelmed, and horrified. I had nightmares about the novel for weeks. Just looking at the movie trailer (as I had been tempted to do a couple weeks ago) made all those feelings return. My cousin, who had avoided the Harry Potter books because she felt they were too dark, said she might skip reading this one too.
I think partly I felt so traumatized because The Hunger Games is a book for teens 12 and up. In the book, twenty-four teenagers between 12 and 18 are chosen to fight each other to the death in an enclosed game area. The adults intervene only to provide more weaponry or to force the children to fight. The movie, coming out in March, is not yet rated, but it is designated a family film. I assume that means PG13. At least I hope so.
It seem to me that many new books for teenagers have a “bad world” turn to them. Dystopias are everywhere, fallen angels, zombies and vampires. Dead girls are featured on book covers (see Rachel Stark’s blog trac-changes.blogspot.com). Themes which I would have expected in adult literature appear repeatedly in teen novels: like Ellen Hopkins’ Tricks, for example, which has some disturbing sex scenes that were difficult for me to read. The gory birth scene in the last Twilight film, rated PG13, surely would have belonged in an R film twenty years ago. Rain Man, as a comparison, which was released in 1988, is rated R, but neither the sex scene nor the screaming tantrums in that film unsettled me as much as the sight of Edward cutting open Bella’s belly, injecting her heart with his venom, and biting her repeatedly in her arms and legs.
So I don’t know what the world is coming to. Of course, this “bad world” trend might not be a bad thing, just another trend in a world which loves trends. But I hope maybe one day soon we can have a joyfulness trend. A happy, wonderful, the world is great trend. I’d enjoy that.