Let the Games Begin…The Hunger Games, That Is

I know, I can hear you sighing and see the rolling of your eyes already. If you’re the parent of a child who falls into the Young Adult novel demographic, you’re already tired of hearing about the latest blockbuster trilogy premiering this week in a theater near you. Hell, you’re probably recovering right now, giant cup of coffee in hand, promising yourself you’ll never give in to your child’s pleading to attend a midnight premier ever again.

If you don’t have a child of a certain age in your household, you’re wondering what the hype is all about and why you should care.

So, I’m here to tell you why: because The Hunger Games is a great story. Fans of War and Peace and The Corrections (I can see Franzen cringing at the notion of Suzanne Collins’ books sitting next to his on Oprah’s bookshelf) alike: I’m talking to you, too.  This is a damn good story.

Let me add that I also enjoyed all four Twilight books. You do not need to be a “young adult” to enjoy good YA fiction. And if you’re a parent whose children enjoyed these books, you have even more compelling reasons to pick them up yourself.

Here’s why you – and by you, I include PhDs in English literature, along with fans of People Magazine – should read The Hunger Games:

1)    Everyone loves a good story. As Lisa Cron, author of the forthcoming Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers From the Very First Sentence explains so articulately in her recent NY Times op ed, it’s not the “exquisite sentences and breathtaking images” that grab us when we read a novel, but “a sense of urgency and the desire to know what happens next”.  It’s the story itself that hooks us, no matter how beautifully written or how advanced the vocabulary. I dare you to read the first page of The Hunger Games and not want to keep going.

2)    Connect with your kids and be a role model. We all want our kids to read, right? The best way to encourage your kids to read is to be a role model for reading yourself. I think we can all agree that the old “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t a stellar parenting strategy. Doctors will tell you that if you want your kids to eat right and exercise, you have to put down the potato chips and get off the couch yourself.  Let your kids see you reading and they’ll know it’s a priority for you, something you value and deem important. I would go one step further and say that it’s even better when you take an interest in what they’re reading and can discuss it with them. So if they’re devouring The Hunger Games series, maybe you should take a look, too, and see what all the fuss is about.

3)    Tackle important issues in a context kids can understand. The great thing about YA fiction is that the best of it can present important social and cultural topics in a way that kids find interesting and can relate to. It also gives parents a perfect opening to discuss important topics. The Hunger Games presents a dystopian world in which a big brother-like Capitol pits young “tributes” from districts of differing socio-economic levels against each other in a widely hyped and televised fight to the death. This fictional world raises so many relevant real-world issues from personal liberties to war and violence, from hunger and poverty to the role of the media and “image-making” in our lives. Furthermore, the hero of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, is a young female.  In a political realm where women’s rights are being increasingly threatened and young girls have to sift through a pop culture wasteland of Jersey Shore and The Kardashians, to seek real female role models, a heroine like Katniss is a welcome figure.

So tonight, I’ll be braving the crowds at our local theater with my 13-year old daughter and her friend and I’m honestly not sure who is more excited to see how Collins’ vision is translated to the big screen. Either way, I know we’ll have much to talk about on the car ride home.

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