A few years ago my friend Heather handed me a copy of Hunger Games and said I had to read it. And I’m so glad I did. I’m glad that I stayed up all night flipping pages before I had the chance to hear what it was about—children forced to kill other children for sport. By the time I realized what was going on, I was too far in to turn back.
A few years earlier I had read Twilight mostly to see what all the fuss was about. I barely made it through the first novel and never read any further. One book was more than enough for me.
Last night I went to my first ever book club. After a little discussion about the book that had been read for the month, The Thief Lord, the conversation turned to books that were age appropriate for children. We talked about Harry Potter and The Golden Compass. Then Hunger Games and Twilight came up.
This is a conversation I have had with myself many times and I was surprised to hear that other women agreed. I would let my teenage daughter read Hunger Games, but I wouldn’t particularly want her to read Twilight. It really comes down to the main characters: Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan.
I have no problem suspending disbelief about vampires and werewolves. Or even the idea that a pasty white teenage boy in a turtleneck can be considered attractive. Where Stephenie Meyer lost me was on Bella. Bella is the most whiny, boring, self-centered girl. It’s painful to read sometimes. And if that had been the point of the book, then great. A lot of teenage girls are whiny, boring, and self-centered.
BUT—Stephenie Meyer has to go and make not one but two boys fall madly, obsessively in love with Bella. As far as I can tell, Bella is not particularly beautiful, she lacks personality, she doesn’t seem to be a particularly good friend, and she isn't overly intelligent or talented in anyway. She is, what English teachers like to call, a flat character. The story would’ve made more sense if Bella had been fast and loose. (Although I couldn’t have, in good conscience, recommended that to my teenage daughter either.)
I don’t like the message this sends to teenage girls: you can act this way and be successful in life. (Not that I find Bella’s story particularly successful, but I think a lot of teenage girls would.) I don’t want my daughter’s role model to be someone like Bella Swan.
However, Katniss is a girl I can get behind. She is strong, smart, capable, and flawed. You see her strengths, but you also see how she struggles with her weaknesses. She is supporting her family and she is motivated by her love for them. She is a little hardened at times by her experiences, but you watch how she allows the wisdom, and sometimes the pain, of those experiences shape who she becomes. No wonder Gale and Peeta are head over heels in love with her. (I’m Team Peeta by the way—from the very first book.)
I would obviously never want my daughter to be in a situation similar to the Hunger Games. That would be a parent's worst nightmare. But the truth is, life is hard. And when hard things come, I want my daughter to know she is smart and good and capable. I want her to know she can overcome hard things and become a better person because of it. And if the result of her being a strong, smart, kind girl is a crazy love triangle, then I guess that's the way life goes.
Are you going to see Hunger Games this weekend? I actually turned down the midnight showing so I could go see it with Nate. He loves the Hunger Games as much as me, but he's Team Gale. Somehow we make this marriage work.