The daughter recently read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and she asked me to read it, too. I don't generally read YA fiction, but the premise looked sufficiently interesting and I'd just finished a 14-book historical epic, so something a little simpler seemed in order.
I can tell you it's adolescent dystopian literature of the highest order, and I was unsurprised to find that the author is near my own age. Hello, Soylent Green, Westworld, Deathrace 2000, and Logan's Run. Admittedly, I didn't see most of those movies until 20 years after they'd been released, but I certainly got my fair share of dystopian literature, like William Sleator's House of Stairs, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, and John Christopher's Tripod Trilogy.
I've now read all three books in this series--The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay--and I have the usual complaints about the writing and plotting. Too much telling, too little showing. A failure to rely upon the wits of the reader. A heroine who is almost too annoying to endure and whose inconsistent behaviour frequently makes her less than believable. What works, though, is that the story is interesting, and Collins does a smashing job of demonstrating the psychological toll that battle takes on those who live through it.
In our discussions of the books thus far (once I'd finished the first book, the son picked it up--I guess he needed a break from Sartre, Camus and Kafka), the kids are really disturbed by the heroine, Katniss.
"She is such a dork!" the son exploded tonight.
"She is so dumb!" the daughter exclaimed.
And Katniss is a dork. And she is obtuse. But she is also a survivor, and there are things about her character that ring true in ways that my two don't understand, unbelievable and inconsistent emotional detachment notwithstanding. My children have always been, essentially, safe. They don't know what it was like to live through the Cold War. They've never skipped a meal to save money, or walked rather than taken the bus because the fare could be better used for something else. They've never been without adequate clothing. They've never waited in a hospital emergency room, injured and frightened, for the parent who didn't show up. They've never lacked for guidance; they've never lacked for love. They've never had cause to believe that they aren't worthy of what others have offered them.
Near the end of the story, Katniss says that someday she will have to explain to others that on her worst days, it's difficult to take pleasure in anything because she lives in the fear that everything she cherishes will be taken away from her. I know that fear; I've relived it time and again. Most days, most years, I can put it away, lock it up, until something triggers those memories.
There's an upside to that sort of stress, though: I'm good at triage, good at breaking down an emergency into manageable pieces, good at survival. Sometimes, I worry that my children have had it too easy. I'm frustrated that they lack some of the skills I have, that they take their good fortune for granted. But conversely, I would never wish the alternative on them. My gift to my children, I hope, will be the knowledge of how to survive without the fear that survival is all there is.
Go listen to some good music: "Turn the Page" from the album Hold Your Fire by Rush. Still happy.