Talking Story

The Hunger Games movie opens this weekend. My kids and I been waiting for over a year to see how this story and characters transition to the screen, sighing or exclaiming over every casting choice and set design chronicled in Entertainment Weekly. Wanting to be surprised, my son has refused to watch any trailers and has resorted to sticking his fingers in his ears when the ads come on tv.

I just finished re-reading the series and fell in love with Suzanne Collins’s imagination and writing style all over again. Like all really good fiction, it’s a story that can be read on many levels. It’s a little unfortunate that the one generating the most buzz around the tween and teen sets is about the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale.

This is particularly frustrating to Aaron, my 14-year-old son. “Did any of these people actually read the book? Team Peeta? Team Gale? Get real.”

Cheryl, my 12-year-old daughter agrees. “This is not about the boys. It’s not even about the girl and the boys. It’s about Katniss. I hope the movie doesn’t screw that up.”

Me too. While The Hunger Games is ultimately a story about love, it’s not about the kind of teenage puppy love that features so prominently in Young Adult fiction. Aloof and prickly Katniss loves deeply; it is her greatest strength and weakness; it is her weapon and her shield. The arch villains in the novel—Snow and Coin—don’t understand love and that ultimately leads to each of their downfalls. Snow fails to understand that “forbidden” love is the biggest form of rebellion and galvanization to action, and Coin, well, what can you say about someone who thinks marriage is no more than a new housing assignment? It’s an epic failure on both their parts to understand that what motivates Katniss is not power, political change, safety, or even fear of death. It’s love for those she calls family that motivates Katniss to greatness, that throws her into a spotlight she’d rather not seek. As Machiavellian as some of her actions are, it’s her underlying motivation of love for her family that elevate her character into a real three-dimensional personality and out of the clichés of so much of Young Adult fiction.

Katniss is a pawn, but a pawn with teeth and claws. She can be manipulated, yet also understands something of the dance of illusion versus reality she has to move through to survive in Panem. She wastes very little time bemoaning how unfairly life in the Districts compares with the Capitol. Collins is a master of showing the contrasts and letting the reader come to the logical conclusion. Katniss doesn’t deal with what should be; she deals with what is right in front of her, and this keeps the novels from bogging down into an Orwellian treatise on human nature while still developing much deeper themes than survival and teen romance.

I can’t recall another character in fiction quite like her. Team Katniss anyone?

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