I just finished book one of The Hunger Games series last night. I will say that it kept me up well past midnight two nights ago and I actually turned off the TV to finish it last night. Ms. Collins does a great job of character development, but I’ll admit to being a bit confused as to the gender of the heroine Katniss in the early pages. But that’s good—it does not follow a stereotypical female role which is appealing. Reading critically to help improve my own YA work, I found the character development to be enlightening and the pacing snappy. I learned quite a bit about folding in backstory that I hope to leverage in my next book.
That said, I think the story lays an onerous burden on today’s kids. Of course, too many American kids are totally unprepared to survive in the wild or fend for themselves away from fast-food burger places and vending machines. Sure, Boy Scouts (but not most Girl Scouts) learn and practice critical survival skills, but ask an average American kid (or adult under 40) to make a shelter or build a fire and you would probably end up standing in the rain freezing to death. I hope that they never need the skills that Katniss had to learn—but they might.
My concern is not just about atrophied survival skills. Many of our kids today are also ill-prepared to deal with the serious family issues of grief, poverty and injustice that Katniss tackles alone and full-stride almost entirely without adult help. But should they? Should we imply that kids should try to take on these burdens alone? To make her point, Ms. Collins portrays many of the adults as drunken sots, conniving villains, overbearing tyrants and emotional basket-cases. Yes, some eventually show compassion for Katniss, but where are the loving, caring parents that kids should learn to lean on when they need help? Parents that would lay down their lives for their children. Even in a dystopian state, there will still be good, dependable, loving, nurturing parents—but I guess that does not make as interesting a story. I hope this trend does not continue in the next couple of books in the series.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see how The Hunger Games became popular. I’m off to buy Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I wish Ms. Collins all the success in the world but I look forward to reading books where kids depend on parents and other caring adults instead of trying to take up the world’s problems on their own shoulders.