Book Club

Persephone Book Club — The Hunger Games

After much hype and fanfare, or at the very least, excitement in the comment threads, Book Club weekend is upon us. Do you have your dog-eared, notated copy of Hunger Games already open, with topics you desperately need to raise? Are you eagerly awaiting next weekend’s big movie opening? Are you one of those Katniss backers tearing through Middlemarch Madness? Whoever you are, we want to hear your thoughts on The Hunger Games.

The book club is specifically for the first book in the series, but I know many of us have finished the trilogy already. PLEASE put any discussion of the next two titles behind generous spoiler warnings.

The thread will be open all weekend, so feel free to talk as much as you want. (But maybe keep the book club out of the open thread, for people who aren’t interested.)

Last week, I posted a list of questions from around the interweb and the space between my own ears to serve as conversation starters. Feel free to respond to any or all of the following:

“Incidentally, do you find the contrast between sex and violence in the series as ludicrous as I do? Like Twilight, its in every way inferior cousin, The Hunger Games delights in the chastity of its heroine. Katniss, the most physical of creatures, will kill for Peeta and Gale, will trap squirrels for them, will take Romeo and Juliet suicide pills with them, but, please, no touching below the neck. Why?” (Slate)

“First, the Hunger Games, like Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and Twilight, is a series written for young readers but heavily colonized by adults. Why do these books in particular grip adults?” (Slate)

“When you were reading the book, which was the most tension-filled part of the whole story?”  (Dystopianworld)

“When Peeta declares his love for Katniss in the interview, does he really mean it or did Haymitch create the ‘star-crossed lovers’ story? What does Haymitch mean when he says, “˜It’s all a big show. It’s all how you’re perceived.’ Why do they need to impress sponsors and what are those sponsors looking for when they are watching the Games?” (Readinggroupguides)

“What do you think is the cruelest part of the Hunger Games? What kind of people would devise this spectacle for the entertainment of their populace? Can you see parallels between these Games and the society that condones them, and other related events and cultures in the history of the world?” (Readinggroupguides)

“In 1848, Karl Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto, “˜The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.’ Discuss this statement as it applies to the society and government of Panem. Do you believe there is any chance to eradicate class struggles in the future?” (Readinggroupguides)

“Violence as entertainment plays a large part in The Hunger Games, and the novel itself is both violent and entertaining. What shocked you most about the book? What important points do you think the author makes about violence and its effects on society? Violence in the media? Violence and children?” (Cincinnati library)

Feel free to explain why The Hunger Games is not a rip-off of Battle Royale which itself is not a rip of The Running Man which is not a rip-off of Lord of the Flies.

Who would you have cast in the movie version instead?

Peeta or Gale?

Finally, last June, The Wall Street Journal posted an essay called “Darkness Too Visible“ lamenting the dark themes in some young adult fiction. In part it asserted: “How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.” Do you think her claim is true? Is YA fiction too dark? Why is a book like The Hunger Games popular now, with teens and adults?


  •  The first book in the series was published on September 14, 2008 and was author Suzanne Collin’s eighthnovel.
  •  The Hunger Games has spent more that 180 consecutive weeks on the New York Time’s best seller list.
  •  Thanks to the trilogy, Collins is one of a handful of authors to have sold more than a million books for the Kindle.
  •  As of 2011, The Hunger Games is the fifth most challenged book on the ALA’s Banned Books list. It is frequently banned or challenged on grounds that it is “sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group”.

By [E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at

She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

53 replies on “Persephone Book Club — The Hunger Games”

One of my favorite things about the Hunger Games series is that Katniss is not exactly likeable, especially at the beginning. She doesn’t really care about anyone other than Prim and Gale, and it’s difficult for her to open up to anyone. I’m an animal person, but I love that her response to Buttercup when Prim first got her is that the cat is just another mouth to feed. I also like that that moment came so early in the book; it let me know that I wouldn’t be dealing with a typical heroine. It’s completely understandable given her life that she wouldn’t be all full of the warm and fuzzies, and I just love that about her.

So I’ll be the one who says they weren’t totally crazy about Katniss. I liked her as a character a lot better by the end of Mockingjay — I felt like I appreciated the journey she had been on with hindsight.

My main complaint with her, as it is with a lot of heroines in fantasy/sci-fi is that things tend to happen to them as opposed to being initiated by them. Aside from volunteering, Katniss really seems bounced about by what is happening around her, which she then has to react to. Like the whole romance storyline angle. Or even going on the aggressive in terms of defending her own life in the games. This is probably an unrealistic expectation given that she’s 16, but I think I read HG in line with a few other fantasy/sci-fi novels at the same time, so all the times things happened to instead of by really stood out to me.

There is a very interesting subversion of the romantic triangle plot that is so popular in YA literature in the book, where its a plot consciously inserted by the characters based on the knowledge that the viewers (readers) expect there to be a romance angle. It’s rather meta, really. (Mini has been on the hunt for YA literature where the romance plot isn’t a big thing in the story and she’s getting stymied at every turn.)

its a plot consciously inserted by the characters based on the knowledge that the viewers (readers) expect there to be a romance angle. It’s rather meta, really.

Yes! And it is played on even more in the second book.

YA literature where romance isn’t the central storyline… this is harder than it should be: DWJ’s The Merlin Conspiracy, main protagonists are a teenage boy and girl, boy thinks he likes girl but they both have more important things to do with their time, like saving their respective worlds from corrupt magicians; Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy (2nd and 3rd books); Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books.

I. . . With other characters in the genre I’d agree? But my own experiences made the way that she’s limited in options more relate-able to me.

I’m  poor, homeless, and I’m a person with disabilities. It’s an every day thing that I don’t have control over things in my life. I want control, but attempting to assert it would result in things like losing access to shelter on people’s couches, Losing needed medical assistance because of “non-compliance”, and not being able to do certain things because certain systems count having someone buy you dinner or giving you something- even toilet paper!- as income.

TO me, it seemed very obvious that Katniss wanted to be more in control of her life in the face of a system that denied it to her. It felt terrifyingly real to me. In each book, different aspects of being denied self determination are addressed. In the first there’s the issue of being oppressed and the denial of control based on that.

The second reminds me of denial of control based on threat to others, and the third of Denial of control because of expectations of “allies” and because of tokenism- though those aspect blur to me between the two books.

I think it’s very interesting that though throughout each book there’s this theme of denial of self determination/control over her life, the climax in each book centers around her taking control of her life if only for a moment. It feels realistic to me, really, especially that she doesn’t become suddenly in control/empowered there after.

The idea that someone that is under the amount of control that she is in her life becomes empowered and then stays at that level consistently is. . . well, it’s something that feels like fiction to me. It feels much more realistic to me that building up to a moment of empowerment is exhausting and that it wouldn’t be likely to maintain that progress. That she eventually in the epilogue is in a position of maintaining control over her life is more like enough time and enough practice than to do it in the books right away.

But. . . yeah. just thoughts from someone who found the books terrifyingly relatable because of how real life is for me.

The idea of empowerment as a cyclical process with ebbs and flows is brilliant. Because why wouldn’t she be exhausted after the climax of the first book? And exhausted people make decisions to maximize comfort rather than control. That’s not a value judgment — it’s a useful survival technique.

Yes exactly. I mean, I don’t think I’d have been able to pick up on it as easily if I weren’t living through a similar process? It’s about survival.

And many of our images and stories about what empowerment looks like doesn’t talk about the after care, or about how you have to survive after there are consequences. We don’t talk about in ur depictions of empowerment how just because you’ve overcome x, it doesn’t mean that there’s still expressions of x. Thinking about the subgenre of woman escapes abusive situation, I don’t think we get to see how even after she’s escaped and gotten a job and a place to live and taken control, she’ll still have to live in a world where the dynamics will dictate that her gender giives her less power.

Empowerment is a process that never ends when you live under oppressive systems. Just because I got on disability doesn’t mean I’ll be able to find accessible housing. It doesn’t mean that I’ll find a way to get back to school. It doesn’t even mean that I’ll have access to doctors who respect me as a person.

Similarly, While Panem stands under the capitol Katniss will not be able to fully escape the elements of control that is deemed as her lot by virtue of where and of what people she was born.

As far as the chastity thing goes, I think as a character, it’s miraculously in line with how Suzanne Collins built Katniss.  She’s emotionally stunted by the death of her father and subsequent withdrawal of her mother.  It’s pointed out that she has to work to allow her mother to hug her, let alone start doing-it in the woods with one of the boys.  She’s also stated more than once how much she does not want to have kids, and how she doesn’t want to get married.  For her to sleep with someone would have been disingenuous.

She is incredibly mature on one hand, by picking up the slack to take care of her family, but very immature in that for her, sex isn’t even on the table, it almost doesn’t even exist.  Peeta says it a couple of times in book one, “she doesn’t realize the effect she has” and it’s a theme that’s carried out through the books, particularly through the love triangle aspect.  There’s a naivety and purity about her that she eventually even gets teased about.

Also, when exactly would she have had time to do the nasty?  It’s not like she wasn’t busy you know, other-throwing a government or anything.

I always pictured Hailee Steinfeld as Katnis.  And I really don’t like the people they picked for Peeta and Gale.  Peeta should have been more dude-bro-y, and Gale should have been swarthier.

I know Hailee was up for the role at one point too and after seeing her in True Grit, I thought she would have made a fantastic Katniss. But I like Jennifer Lawrence enough that I think she’ll do the role justice.

I also read that Kellan Lutz was up for the part of Gale and lost it because the producers didn’t want any Twilight connections. However, Lutz is kind of the big hulking dude I thought Gale should be.

sex isn’t even on the table, it almost doesn’t even exist.

Yes.   Catching Fire stuff in here [spoiler] I felt so sexually frustrated on Peeta’s behalf during all those nights they slept in the same bed. And yet there is no mention of awkward boners! [/spoiler]

FYI, much of the movie was filmed around North Carolina, including Shelby (the Bakery and Hob), Charlotte (parts of the Capitol, including the stage where the Tributes are interviewed) and Concord (the now-vacant Philip Morris plant was used for the Training building).  So the newspapers around here are in full-on obsession mode.

I read this book for the first time during my honeymoon, in about a day and a half, and immediately started it over.  For me, it was such a good mix of a strong plot with multi-layered characters.  I love a good dystopian novel. Like most of the characters in the book itself, I found Peeta much more likeable and relatable.  On the other hand, I think it’s wonderful to have a YA novel with a strong, non-sexually motivated female, who displays traits that are so much better than simply “likeable”.  Powerful.  Confident.  Strong.  Logical.  Self-sufficient.



 On the other hand, I think it’s wonderful to have a YA novel with a strong, non-sexually motivated female, who displays traits that are so much better than simply “likeable”.  Powerful.  Confident.  Strong.  Logical.  Self-sufficient.


YES!  My thoughts.

“Incidentally, do you find the contrast between sex and violence in the series as ludicrous as I do? Like Twilight, its in every way inferior cousin, The Hunger Games delights in the chastity of its heroine. Katniss, the most physical of creatures, will kill for Peeta and Gale, will trap squirrels for them, will take Romeo and Juliet suicide pills with them, but, please, no touching below the neck. Why?”

I think the contrast is really great. So often sex and violence are so often intertwined: violence is sexually driven and sex is seen with violent connotations. Those things work, but it is great to see them as separate. It also means that other forms of love can be explored. Katniss is doing this for her family, not for a boy. Whilst sex and sexual tension can be great within a story, why not see relationships evolve without the inevitability of sex, too, or without traditional expectations of sex?
“What do you think is the cruelest part of the Hunger Games? What kind of people would devise this spectacle for the entertainment of their populace? Can you see parallels between these Games and the society that condones them, and other related events and cultures in the history of the world?“

The cruelest part has to be that there is no choice and what choice there is driven by threat of death to someone else. The thing is though, it isn’t a form of entertainment. It’s a device to keep a nation in fear of their leaders, where anything that isn’t the expected reaction is dealt with by punishment. It’s noted that it’s not entertainment, too, by those within districts but that lack of entertainment is the elephant in the room. If the leaders of the nation don’t acknowledge that lack of entertainment, then it doesnt’ exist. So long as there is fear that a loved one could be chosen, the people are all a part of the games – the games are not just what goes on in the arena.

“Violence as entertainment plays a large part in The Hunger Games, and the novel itself is both violent and entertaining. What shocked you most about the book? What important points do you think the author makes about violence and its effects on society? Violence in the media? Violence and children?”

I think Collins has said (somewhere?!) that she was flicking between war coverage and reality TV when the idea began to form and I think that’s what is so important to recognise: the elements of the Hunger Games already exist: dictatorship, child soldiers, violence as entertainment. So, in a sense, it’s an interesting suggestion of how long ’til we get there. Are we already on a slippery slope? And can we recognise that only a portion of what Collins writes about is actually fantasy.

“How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.”

Uh, Flowers In The Attic? That’s a YA from ye olde days that’s full of kidnapping and incest, right? The basic elements of these stories have been around as long as stories have been told. Look at the Grimms’ tales, they’re horrific in their entirety. Violence in all its various forms has been a constant in YA.

That article annoyed me so much when it came out because the author seemed to have forgotten what its like to be young and reading. There’s a real sense that the author doesn’t think that kids are smart enough to know when they’re reading things that are hard and that librarians and teachers can’t be trusted to say, this book might be a stretch for you. It reminds me of so many articles full of hyperbole about digital books and other issues, but I’m a librarian and dislike my work being treated like its dying. But that’s a blog entry that I need to write about digital issues and fear that turns into the death of print and makes me growl.

I read Hunger Games in 2009 when I was taking a course in children’s media as it was being passed around my class. It didn’t really catch me. I found it a good read, but it felt like genre-lite to me and that’s one reason it’s so powerful for adults. Collins does worldbuilding and dystopia in a way that feels easy to get into. My main problem was that I was curious about what happened to the characters but didn’t really care a huge amount about them. Instead I read the book quickly to see how the plot ended but I didn’t feel invested in Katniss. I have a number of friends who adored the entire series but it didn’t quite get me. There are other YA authors that work much more effectively for me and it’s nice to know I can say if you liked Hunger Games try Garth Nix, Cinda Williams Chima, Jonathan Stroud among others.

I think one reason the series works is that it really gets right to a lot of our worries at the moment about inequality, poverty, reality television and presents a scenario that feels like it could almost happen if things were taken to an extreme.

I actually think of the lack of sex as being a great indictment of modern media; to me it seemed like the natural consequence of a culture which values violence (and doesn’t mind showing it on-screen) and simultaneously pearl-clutches about depictions of sex on TV. In this culture, the portrayal of hatred and violence has triumphed over the portrayal of love and sex – and that has a literal effect on those in the book. The sexualised display of those taking part in the games (or rather, the make-up, the change of appearance) is detached from sex, it’s become a ritual in and of itself – while the violence is still valued and treasured.

So, no, it didn’t surprise me that there was no sex.

Also, that WSJ article is talking out of its arse – when you’re a young teenager, fiction is one of the easiest ways to find out about those themes and the most valuable, because it invests you in them without exposing you to them in a dangerous way. I think I gained most of my human sympathy for other people’s troubles from books – they are a literal way of putting yourself in someone elses’ shoes, of understanding how they feel and thus being able to emphasise with them.

Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that a newspaper can’t understand that, given the current state of journalistic ethics, but I digress.

Word on the WSJ comments. All this “oh noes teenage fiction is too dark” drives me nuts. I don’t think it’s a new thing, I think it’s just that YA lit has gained a lot more exposure recently. I wasn’t a typical teen, maybe, but I was reading fiction with adult themes when I was pretty young, and I’d like to think I’m not ruined. My mom recommended me <i>Clan of the Cave Bear</i>. The kids are gonna be all right.

I only have a minute, but will be back later.  I quickly scanned the comments (thanks for the spoiler alerts, I’ve only read the first one).  I haven’t read any reviews, watched movie trailers, etc about HG because I knew I was going to read them eventually.  I have one big question, am I crazy that in my mind I thought Katniss was black?  The actress in the movie is white?  I’m pretty sure I have seen this commented on somewhere else, but because I have been avoiding stuff about HG I’m not sure and maybe I’m crazy.


Pre-movie the consensus was that she’s mixed. Considering the region, she’s likely part cherokee as well. It’s UNlikely she’s out and out black, as she remarks on how dusky Rue’s skin is. But mixed race is the consensus.

My personal theory leans for a more heavily cherokee ancestry than I’ve seen others remark. . . But there’s definitely some black ancestry as well, though IDK how much?

I’d also always drawn the conclusion that she was part, if not fully, Cherokee. It may have been that I’d just finished reading a House of Night book where the heroine is Cherokee, but that’s the way I always visualized her- mixed but most heavily influenced by those features.

I was not familiar with that term, but I thought so as well. And aging the woman who you link to down and adding “baby fat”. . . yeah, I think that’s pretty close to how I imagined Katniss. or maybe a cross between her and my friend rachel, who is primarily  cherokee and Irish but is also triracial. But Rachel got a lot of the pale skin stuff, which is much paler than I imagined Katniss’s.

Speaking of Rachel, she has some posts about the whole coloring and tri-racial ID that might be relevant.
Coloring and identity, Part 1: Intro
Coloring and identity, Part 2: Some bizarre ideas about “race” *
Coloring and identity, Part 2.5: How inheritance really works
 Coloring and identity, Part 2.75: When colonial racism meets reality

*Has an image of a set of mixed sisters who each married white dudes and ended up with a phenotypically black and a phenotypically white (like super white) EACH. That’s two kids per sister.


Olive skin and straight black hair are described as common physical characteristics for the Seam population … Katniss included. It’s also mentioned that District 12 is in the Appalachians. I personally envisioned Native American and/or European for her and other Seam residents’ heritage.

I would guess that the objection is that Katniss gets ahead by being ‘sexual’ for her advantage. Except she’s not particularly sexual — one of the other questions notes how very chaste it really is — and what the audience is being sold on is a ‘romance’, but that’s pretty much the only idea in the whole book I’d put my finger on.

Katniss’ Chastity Issues: Before The Games

I don’t get the impression there were many dependable contraceptive options in The Districts, so ending up pregnant was a real possibility, therefore:


-Katniss says that she doesn’t want to have kids, just to have them end up in the games, perpetuating the cycle of violence.

-Another mouth to feed, which could destroy the Everdeens’ already tenuous livelihood.

2. I also believe that she is emotionally closed-off due to her father’s death and mother’s subsequent depression. It’s completely understable that she would have intimacy issues. When we meet Katniss, she’s pretty hard. The only people she’s let in are Prim and Gale. As the story unfolds, she comes to include Rue (*sob) and Peeta (to an extent) in this circle, but she does not trust easily. And it would be extremely out of character for Katniss to get physically intimate with someone she didn’t absolutely trust.

3. Her life is HARD. Where do you find the energy and time for sex between school and keeping your family alive?

this is kind of related, at least your post reminded me of it,
a friend of mine read The Hunger Games and hated it because she felt Katniss was “cheating on Gale” and “she needed to just pick a guy, already!” and I’ve been really bothered by her reaction, partly because then what else is there to talk about (I had an interesting chat with another friend about how each character POSSIBLE SPOILER BUT VAGUE   ends up getting the exact opposite of what they wanted to be/have)
but my impression was always that because survival, for both herself and her family, is the driving force for everything Katniss does in District 13 life and then continues to do in the Games, that the idea of pairing off hasn’t really “occurred” to her yet. like, when you’re focused on making sure you and yours have enough food until tomorrow, thinking years ahead to something completely different isn’t really an option. I felt like her entire identity was wrapped up in that of a provider and caretaker for her mother and sister. like you said, her life is HARD. when you’re struggling to stay alive romance is a luxury you can’t really concern yourself with…
I get that the “Peeta or Gale” question is kind of there? or at least starts to be there in this book? but it’s almost more there for the readers. like, most of us have experienced romantic feelings and maybe even had to choose between two people, but for Katniss it’s like this whole thing is totally new and it’s almost more of an “well Gale is the only man I really know and we hunt together and we’re best friends. but Peeta is here and I need to take care of him and maybe he loves me or maybe the viewers just think he does but he needs medicine so this is what I have to do.”
I guess, at least for this book, I mostly see Katniss as just very practical and very calculating: it’s necessary that she and her family eat, so she hunts with Gale and trades. she owes a debt to Peeta because he saved her from starvation so she needs to behave in a certain way in order to repay that debt. this is the way she’s lived in order to survive and the idea that something else besides survival would be driving her actions wouldn’t make sense to her. at least not in THG.

I feel like “we’re” trying to hard to make “Gale or Peeta?” happen in the vein of “Team Jacob or Team Edward?”. it’s not a love story. seriously. there are way more important things going on than “just pick a guy, already!”. but that approach has become so ingrained in us, since most popular books that feature female protagonists involve them choosing a mate in one way or another, so the idea that Katniss might not even be trying to choose, or even aware that she “has to” choose, is weirdly foreign.




I’m not sure she ever really loves either of them anyway and with Peeta in the epilogue of Mockingjay it’s almost more of a “we’re used to each other and no one else could understand what’s happened to me” thing. which is a kind of love I guess, but not the kind people keep trying to put on it. it’s not a happily ever after I don’t think. which isn’t a value judgement on the story or anything, it’s just not a happy ending where they get married and everything is great and everyone is whole and hopeful again. [/spoiler]

I completely agree with this comment.  She is fond of Peeta and Gale and has no malice towards them.  But the real reason she keeps them close is because of the utility they serve her and how they aid her survival.  She trusts them and that’s different than romantic love.  I think she has tepid feelings towards both but can’t imagine committing to something or someone when it could be yanked away from her in these uncertain times.  Her attachment to them much beyond that would be a vulnerability she just can’t accept.

I think the books are splendid.  When I was in primary, middle and high school, we never read a single book with a female protagonist, and maybe only a handful of female authors.  My Junior year the English teachers set up a trimester with exclusively female authors and protagonists.  All the students hated it and complained bitterly.  I think books like this are much needed.  People aren’t used to empathizing or taking an interest in  female characters.  Much less one who is portrayed as shrewd, strong, self-sufficient, and rational.

The sex is a show.  Like trotting the scantily clad contestants around, it’s just entertainment for the masses but without anything behind it.  Like the sham romance between Peeta and Katniss.  I hate the faux-chastity tale of Twilight.  With Bella constantly trying to entice Edward for ‘sex’ and them relishing in doing the right thing and denying their urges.  Here, there is no morality play behind the chastity.  It’s that sex and romance seem frivolous when you’re constantly on the edge of starvation.  I get the feeling that she cuddles with Peeta partially because of a basic, ingrained need for trust, comfort, and intimacy.

I think part of it is her immaturity as well.  She has feelings for Peeta, but she doesn’t know how to categorize them and she’s confused by them, and she doesn’t want them (after all in the end she either hopes someone else kills him or has to kill him herself) so she assigns him feelings she can understand, debt.

This is pretty much exactly what I was gonna say. She doesn’t want babies and yeah, I’m guess contraception isn’t readily available in the districts; she spends all her free time hunting and trading; she has a hard time getting close to people having lost the father she loved and not being able to depend on her mother. I’d also add that she thinks Peeta is just playing an angle when he says he’s been in love with her for years, and he’s badly wounded so it’s not like they could do much more than kiss even if she were in love with him. When the book ends Katniss and the audience still don’t know for certain whether it’s an act or not.

I was Team Katniss all the way; she’s 16 and didn’t need a boy to be happy. She had much bigger things to worry about than which boy to make out with, and certainly didn’t need to decide which one she was gonna stay with forever and ever because, once again, she was 16! I thought her choice revealed in the epilogue to Mockingjay made sense since it was a decision she came to when she was older.

That WSJ article is so irritating. The ladies at FYA put together a pretty good rebuttal, which along with the comments, pretty much calls out all the bullshit

As to why the HG is popular with adults, I think that like Harry Potter, and His Dark Materials, there are well developed characters, good world building, and kickass females that are awesomely inspirational. As to the popularity of Twilight with teens and older people who should know better, I have no idea.

About the horrible YA article: surely I’m not the only one who remembers the YA of the 80s and 90s being chock-full of Holocaust stories? Anne Frank? Summer of My German Solider? Ruth Minsky Sender’s The Cage? And what about all the other terrifying books for teens like Go Ask Alice?

There was always a lot of darkness in YA. There’s just, well, more YA now. And most of us are pretty happy about that.

I’m not so sure about that last article. Why is it bad that kids learn about awful societal problems like homophobia? If they learn about it through literary characters, it holds up a mirror to that behavior much better than just being told “don’t hate gay people” does. The same goes for violence, and aren’t kids in U.S. culture raised to be fascinated with violence? It makes sense that it would be a theme in a lot of literature for them, and for the rest of this society, because the culture condones it so much. These books are full of brutal violence, and it’s not softened by the presence of magic or warring supernatural beings. These are just people forced to kill each other in what is essentially a war, and it’s not a bad idea to let us see just how much damage war does to generations of a whole society. (Not the first either, but I would have enjoyed this more than All Quiet on the Western Front when I was 14). This is one of the more recent books I can think of that has finally challenged the Bush administration’s glorification of the wars of the last decade, and this series points out how much war damages generations of an entire society, something I never heard a peep about when I was Katniss’s age and wars were started in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As to the question about the invisibility of sex, the story isn’t about sex, sexual awakenings, sexual desires, or how to choose the right boyfriend. Katniss repeatedly talks about how she isn’t interested in getting married because she’d feel obligated to have children, and then they’d wind up in The Hunger Games, which she absolutely wants to avoid at all costs. Sex and boyfriends are at the bottom of her list of priorities, which makes sense given her family’s struggle for subsistence living in a bleak place like District 12. She’s so unsure of her feelings about boys, and this is so refreshing when comparing these books to any other series. I can’t think of a lot of books about 16 year-old girls who are not in love and want to stay that way. I was a lot like Katniss in that respect in high school, and everyone thought I was weird. The culture confirmed to me that I was weird for not having nor desiring a boyfriend, and even in a fun book series like Harry Potter, all the girls seem to be dating, especially in the sixth book. Even kissing is a survival strategy for Katniss, and it’s a credit to the author that the girl isn’t the one in love at first sight like she so often is in books about young love. Were readers really clamoring for more sex in this series? I think it’s dense enough with our protagonist having to contend with the constant threat of death from the Careers, the potential for the cooked-up romance plot to fall apart, the capriciousness of her audience of fair-weather fans, and her struggle to find food, water, and shelter. The love triangle is probably the most boring part of the series, which highlights just how awful Twilight truly is. The stakes are never as high for Bella as they are for Katniss (in all three books, no less!) because the whole point of Bella’s story is that she gets her dreamboat. Meyer’s expectations for her audience are low, and Collins expects the opposite.

As to why it appeals to kids and adults, kids can admire and learn from Katniss’s inner strength, cunning, and ability to survive, and adults can identify with her struggle to forge her own identity in a dog-eat-dog competition that is strikingly similar to our own harsh economic system. One mistake and you’re dead in the Hunger Games; one mistake and you’re sunk financially in the real world. Everyone can identify with the desire to be freed from oppression and to live as we choose, rather than as our current circumstances dictate we must. Katniss is the 99 percent!

I think this book is gripping for adults because it retells a story that they have heard before (like Battle Royale or Theseus and the Labyrinth), and the heroes must overcome the odds set against them.  We see the characters grow and change as they try to overcome these obstacles, and in this case, they are growing from adolescents to adult while trying to win a rather savage contest.

I think this particular series really took off because of the economic troubles that have plagued us from 2008 on.   People were fighting for their homes and over jobs and basically were just trying to survive.  I can see how a lot of the events in the book closely parallel some of what people went through during the Great Recession.

I also feel that the books strike a cord with the populace, due the fact we always wonder what if?  What if our country collapsed?  I have always been fascinated with various post apocalyptic tales.  I wonder if the unfounded concerns of 2012 have played a part in the “after our world” ends fascination.

On the ‘chastity’ thing, there are a few reasons, I think. It doesn’t seem like Katniss is portrayed as particularly unusual for someone from her culture – as far as I remember, anyway, it doesn’t seem like all the other District 12 sixteen-year-olds are out having lots of sex. But probably the main reasons are (1) survival (it’s difficult to find the mental energy for sex when you’re trying to find enough to eat, and not die), and (2) almost everything in this book is a performance, for her, and she doesn’t want to perform sex.

I think that’s a really good observation. Katniss comes across to me as someone who is very emotionally closed down even before the games. She doesn’t particularly strike me as who is going to expend a lot of energy trying to warm up to people — she sort of has her hands full as it is.

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