Hunger Games: How YA Fiction Molds Young Minds, for Good or Ill

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I just accepted and published an assignment to write about the violence in the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and in Young Adult fiction in general. You can find the article at Technorati.   It was a difficult article to write not least because, although it’s on my to-read list (and soon!) I haven’t gotten to it yet, except for the first chapter of the first book freely available online…

Cover of The Hunger Games

But I can speak expertly about the importance of Young Adult fiction, and the importance of taking chances in Young Adult fiction, specifically chances that might make adults looking in a bit uncomfortable.  Books are one of the major building blocks of my happiness.  They bring me joy unparallelled by any other leisure pursuit with the possible exception of writing

When I was a child and teen, like many other children and teens the world over, reading gave me glimpses of worlds I never would have imagined had I not been a reader, and, unlike movies and games, invited me to use my own imagination to fill in around the corner of the words on the page.  As a teen and young adult, fiction helped me find bright, shining worlds, and dark, depressing ones.  It helped me find worlds where good prevailed, and where every good thing that is within man is crushed by fear to a tiny, bleating scream deep in the chest.

I can speak to how Robert Heinlein, and Ursula LeGuin, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo and J R R Tolkein all contributed little pieces that now make up a substantial portion of who I am.  I can speak to how, after reading Ayn Rand too young, without guidance, it took me a decade to argue my way out of her logical fallacies and blind assumptions to regain ground I had made younger.    I can speak to how, no matter how much I love Heinlein, I allowed things to happen to me as a teen, contributed to situations as a teen and young adult, that I shouldn’t have and probably wouldn’t have had I not read his books.

I can speak as to how The Children of Omelas live within me and form a key part of my philosophy, and how reading the Bible, twice, from cover to cover as a teen served to help me lose my faith in Christianity and find my faith in mankind and the gentle philosophy of Jesus.

I can speak to how I wanted so, so badly for the life I was living to be like the life I read about in romances, that I let a snake into the bower, and was devoured by him for years.

Fiction is a powerful, dangerous thing.  Parents who don’t understand that really, really need to.  But censorship isn’t the answer.  Forbidding ideas or the free expression of them is not the answer.  I recently read Among Others, by Jo Walton, and discovered a word, “karass,” I had never heard before (how the hell had I missed Kurt Vonnegut growing up? I also found a character that I deeply, deeply identified with in Jo’s book, another piece of me that someone else invented, in this case after the fact.

How would my life have been different if I had had parents who read, who sat down with me and said “Heinlein is assuming that the world is full of very wise people, and before you emulate his ideas, you might want to gain some wisdom,” or “Here’s where Ayn Rand made assumptions that she doesn’t spell out in her books, and here’s how those assumptions are proveably false.  Let’s rebuild from the beginning”.

How would my life have been different had I had a karass of people, devoted to fiction as I was, some much older and wiser and with different backgrounds to help me gain perspective?  Would my life have been easier had I not been a reader, had I merely accepted the most common interpretation of things and never learned to develop critical thinking and compassion and perspective gained from knowing the cultures of hundreds of world from some of the greatest minds ever?

Almost certainly not.  My life was enriched because I was, and am, a reader, made more joyous and happy, even in the darkest of times.  I made friends because of books, a whole forum of them who still reads what I write on the great wide web (waves) and was brought together by the beautiful words of another person who read Heinlein as a young person, and found the diamonds in it, and built his own unique world from the bricks he found there.

If your child wants to read Hunger Games, let him or her. It’s about war, and beloved characters die, and bad things happen.  We can’t shield ourselves or our children from those things, but if we give them books, we can help them come through life understanding what to do when it happens.  And talk to your children about what they read.  Show real interest.

Thrust books into their hands, the really good ones so they learn to trust your taste, and say, “here, read this”.  Add, if necessary, “It’s much better than the movie”, because it usually is.  That’s the truth about books.  Books are a place where we can be more than we are, and feel our minds expand to the edges of the universe and beyond.  Never deny yourself, or your child, that joy.

 

  • HarperCollins Imprint Aims at Lucrative Young Adult Market (mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com)
  • Could The Hunger Games get published today? (io9.com)
  • I read “young adult” literature and so should you (uiw.uloop.com)
  • From ‘Little Men’ to “The Hunger Games’: How To Make Young Adult Fiction Work For Young Boys (thinkprogress.org)
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