Not Oprah’s Book Club: Hunger Games

Maya and I decided to take on The Hunger Games in tandem. Check it.

Court: The biggest tension for me in this uber-popular young adult fiction book, which is set to be turned into a film, is between my absolute thrill at reading about such a dynamic, strong, complex teenage girl protagonist and just being put off by the never ending violence that she’s surrounded by and implicated in. I get that, just like in gratuitous but purposeful violence in movies, Suzanne Collins is making a point about the undeniable violence that pervades our society and could, if gone unchecked, get worse. But it still just feels exhausting. Did that bug you Maya, or were you down for the reality show dystopian bloodfest?

Maya: Well, I don’t know if I was exactly down for the bloodfest. But the violence actually didn’t bother me all that much. Maybe because I grew up reading The Giver, His Dark Materials trilogy, and, of course, Harry Potter. That said, I do think the Hunger Games takes the violence to new level. In Harry Potter, for example, although the books got increasingly dark as the series went on, the scary stuff was balanced by lovely descriptions of the everyday lives of the young wizards at Hogwarts. And even when the carefree times of butterbeer and balls became few and far between, that memory of normalcy was there. In the Hunger Games though, it’s a “dystopian bloodfest,” as you say, pretty much from the get go–and the moments of beauty have to be found or created pretty much entirely within that brutal reality.

Court: I also loved how the class dynamics play out in this book. Using a sort of caste system set-up, Collins reveals just how economic class and political power, domination and manipulation, play out, not just in this terrible future land, but in our own contemporary society.

Maya: Absolutely. She really shows how the class/political system functions in both direct ways and more covert ones–that aren’t all that far off from our own society. For example, children from poorer families are more likely to be chosen to compete to the death in the Hunger Games because they are forced to put their names in the (supposedly fair) lottery more times in exchange for necessary food. If we codified in an overt policy the systemic disadvantage embedded in our own society, how different would it really look from that?

Court: Seriously. Great point. If you look at the ways in which we stack the odds against poor kids through a dysfunctional public education system, unequal access to fresh food and spaces to create and play, and constant policing and pathologizing, it’s hard to argue that we’re so far off.

Maya: The book also does an excellent job of illustrating the way the system oppresses everyone. While the power differences in this society are clearly defined and strictly enforced, nobody is free. Everyone–with various levels of relative privilege and ignorance–is stuck playing a game they didn’t choose that forces them to do terrible things to each other. There are no evil people in this book–just an evil system that dictates their destinies. That makes it scarier–and more realistic–than the “good vs. evil” battle of a book like Harry Potter.

Court: And unlike Harry Potter, which can sometimes make you feel like you might be a little bit magic, Hunger Games makes you so very hungry. I’ve had multiple friends tell me that they found themselves contemplating how they might kill ducks and squirrels in the city park if they had to.

Maya: Seriously. I also really love how Katniss is this super strong, independent, no-nonsense heroine but also clearly needs Peeta and Gale. It’s refreshing to see a female hero be painted as strong but also dependent on others–not in a weak, “girlie”, damsel-in-distress way but in a way that is just real about the fact that human beings need each other to get through tough shit.

Court: Full-disclosure, I’ve only read the first book in this three book series, so don’t give anything else away.

Maya: Okay, til next time…

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