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The Hunger Games Trilogy: How it Relates to Today's Teens
What is The Hunger Games
My 12 year old came home from school begging to read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, stating that "all my friends are reading it", and indeed it seems that many are. The book, and now the movie, have become a phenomenon among preteens and teens alike. Katniss and Peeta have become household names to those who have adolescent teen girls and possibly boys as well. So, being a mom very concerned with what my children ingest, I read the book before I gave an answer to my daughter's question.
What is this book all about? What is the subject of the hype? The Hunger Games is a story that takes place in a futuristic, alternative version of our world. The world as we know it is no longer, and now our country is divided into sections called Districts. There are 12 districts, each responsible for some type of good or service (i.e. transportation, coal mining, textiles...). The Capitol is the entity that rules the 12 districts and keeps them in line. The districts are allocated certain amounts of food and other rations, and many people starve, while those in the Capitol are thriving. As a means of keeping the Districts in line, the Capitol holds an annual event they named "The Hunger Games". This is a reality TV show of sorts where tributes from each of the 12 districts, one boy and one girl, ages 12 to 18, are chosen by lottery to participate in the games. The tributes are pampered for a day, dressed up, and sent into an arena that is designed any way the Capitol sees fit, and the tributes are to use their survival skills, as well as battle and weaponry skills, to fight to the death until only one tribute remains. The remaining tribute is then lavished with gifts, glory, and honor forever.
The main characters of The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta, both from District 12, the farthest from the Capitol and the most poverty stricken, are followed throughout the book as they suffer battle wounds, erratic weather, food shortages, and always having to look over their shoulder in fear of the enemy overpowering them and defeating them. I'll stop here so as not to give away the ending, but overall, the book is about 24 teens and preteens fighting for their lives while others look on, choosing to help or not help.
Hunger Games and Today's Teens
It's easy to take this as just a fiction story created for reading enjoyment, but there is a certain reality that can be found within the pages. No, there is no futuristic world where hovercraft collect children that break rules, or a government that calls adolescents out to fight each other for the sheer pleasure of those watching, but what does seem similar? I believe that teens today face many battles, some battling for their lives. I think of extreme cases where inner city teens live in severe poverty, face hunger, and are constantly watching behind them for thieves, abductors or even parents who would sell them for any amount of money, or gang members trying to indoctrinate them. They face drive by shootings, gang warfare, slavery, and any number of other horrible acts, and their daily lives are marked by sheer survival.
But what about our children, the ones who are more likely to pick up The Hunger Games to read. They are not likely to be fighting for their lives daily...or are they. In a manner of speaking, I think they are. They are not necessarily fighting for their physical lives, but for their emotional lives, for their futures, for their place in the world. What do I mean by this? Teens today feel they have to compete on a regular basis for so many things. They compete for status among their peers, for awards, for a sense of belonging. Their tools are their appearance, their grades, personality, the activities they participate in, and how well they do in all of these things. Preteens and teens who look better, dress better, do better in sports, win more awards, or can do things for others are placed at a higher status than those who don't perform as well. So...often those who don't perform well feel defeated. If this becomes too severe, with significant amounts of bullying, being left out, or just plain being ignored, this can lead to emotional death, and how often has this lead to physical death, suicide.
In The Hunger Games, people could sponsor the teens if they decided to back a certain teen for one reason or another during the games. The teens might receive food, medicine, or special tools at opportune times that helped them along in their battle. In the same way, adults and other teens can support those going through the adolescent battle today. Giving support through kind words, special time together, finding positive aspects of the child to praise, helping the child in areas of difficulty, provide a listening ear, not putting down what can't be helped, and accepting the teen for who they are and not what you think they should be, can make all the difference in the outcome of the battle for a teen.
The Hunger Games, a good story, a teen analogy, or something entirely different? Think about it.