Even as infrequently as I blog, I just can’t seem to resist alliteration in my blog titles. Blargh. I am a 66-year-old never-gonna-retire English teacher trapped in the body of a 24-year-old author. By the way, less than 2 months until the Scripps National Spelling Bee now!
Anyway, I just want to set the record straight that this is not a post directed at people who simply do not like The Hunger Games. Despite sales, I’d definitely say this is not a book for everyone. Even my totally bookish best friend couldn’t get into it. That’s fine. I’ve never seen Star Wars and I tried both ketchup and chocolate milk (not together) for the first time in the past year (ketchup is fine cold, chocolate milk is gross no matter what). Different strokes for different folks.
My issue is with the teachers, librarians, and principals who are going out of their way to ban this book in schools. Now I’ll freely admit I’m against banning books however you slice it. But I think The Hunger Games is especially unique.
Parents are one thing- they know their kids and they know what their kids can handle. But to ban books from a whole school is pretty extreme.
(it just makes them sexier, doesn’t it?)
The Hunger Games is violent- yes, absolutely, but it also prevents death as something not to be taken lightly (mild spoilers ahead). Katniss puts off killing as long as she can, and even befriends two of her fellow tributes, defending their lives. The sound of the cannon booming, indicating the death of another teen or child, is not a sound of victory for her. It is the chilling sound of senseless, hopeless death.
Perhaps even more importantly, those who do kill are haunted by the memory of it. Haymitch is driven to drink over what he’s done, and many of the other victors introduced in the second book are similarly disturbed. They did only what they had to do to survive, and yet the memories are extremely painful. Death is painful. Suzanne Collins leaves no guessing about that.
I see this book not as a problem but as a solution. I work with kids very often and I’ve noticed the casual threats exchanged by friends are really shocking. No longer to teenage boys say, “I’m gonna kill you, dude!” They say things like, “I’m gonna stick an AK47 up to your temple and make you beg for mercy!” A comment like this is often followed by laughter from both parties. Wait, what?
This was the only picture I could find where guns were remotely funny. And as you might notice, there’s no gun.
Somehow- through a combination of music, video games, tv and music, I should suspect- many kids (especially teenage boys) have become totally desensitized to killing and death. Guns are funny. Weapons are hilarious. So what if someone dies? The actor lives. The gamer gets a second life. So it’s okay to make jokes about putting improvised explosive devices under your friend’s bed. Because deaths- violent deaths- aren’t real.
The Hunger Games won’t let you think for a second that death is funny. No one- not even the most zealous, come-uppance-deserving tributes die funny deaths. They are horrible, gruesome, and miserable. I know that’s why people ban these books. But that’s why I love them. They force kids to take death seriously.
Many believe war is inevitable, in some situations. But if it is, we don’t need to take pride in killing. We don’t need to wave our weapons high and laugh about what we’ve done. I think most people who’ve killed in combat would agree. You’re all just fighting for what you believe in- and had you been born in that country, you’d probably be fighting on that side too.
Katniss does what she has to do, and lives in the wake of her actions. They haunt her as they haunt the others who have come before her. The death she saw in the arena scars her, and most likely leaves the readers a little worse for wear as well.
Katniss’s biggest weakness in the games is empathy. And that’s a role model I can respect.