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Hungry for the Hunger Games: Why We Need Dystopian Tales


Mar 22 2012
We can't shelter young readers from the world's violence forever.

This weekend, Americans will finally find out whether the newest young-adult-book-turned-movie lives up to the fanfare. Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy attained vast popularity before the movie, and the addition of young, sexy Hollywood has only increased the mania.

Without having seen the movie, it's difficult to know how Hollywood treats the trilogy's gruesome violence—to put it lightly. Collins spares no detail in her description of the cold-blooded killing the central characters, all children, are forced into and at times enjoy. The trilogy is set in Panem, a nation that arose from the ashes of North America. Twelve districts are ruled by the all-powerful Capitol. Every year, as punishment for a rebellion, each district must send one boy and one girl to the Capitol for the Hunger Games—a fight to the death, with only one teenager left standing. (Think the Roman Coliseum with futuristic technology.) One teenager, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, has volunteered for the 74th Hunger Games in place of her younger sister, Prim. Also participating from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, a boy who has loved Katniss from the moment he laid eyes on her.

What has drawn over 1 million Kindle readers alone to a story about teenagers killing each other, placing the first book on the New York Times bestseller list for over 100 consecutive weeks? And what place—if any—does the trilogy have on a Christian's bookshelf?

Some of the new dystopian novels (such as the popular Matched trilogy) are more about mind control and manipulation than about physical violence. But the Hunger Games is definitely about the latter. As Collins told the Times, "I don't write about adolescence. I write about war. For adolescents." In the interview, she insists, "If we wait too long [to talk to teens about violence], what kind of expectation can we have? We think we're sheltering them, but what we're doing is putting them at a disadvantage."

In a world where teenagers really do kill each other in cold blood, perhaps it's good that YA literature move away from lipstick and boys. American teens today face more real-life horror than many of us remember, including gang violence and bullying. Outside the United States, Joseph Kony isn't the only adult forcing children younger even than the tributes into armies. Child soldiers in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Burma fight for causes they don't understand but which can often be traced back to resources that fuel Western appetites.

Humans the world over are sold into sexual slavery around the world, their bodies used by others as a release for all kinds of emotions—lust, stress, rage. Children also work long hours in dangerous factories, producing goods that fill American superstores, but rarely enough money to feed themselves.

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Hungry for the Hunger Games: Why We Need Dystopian Tales