So I read The Hunger Games finally. I thought I would like it. And I was engaged for sure. I was staying home sick and it was in many ways a perfect companion. I had it in the house because I couldn't go on being a self-respecting kid's book blogger without reading it. But it frustrated me, in a few different ways. I'll start with the unimportant ones first:
1) Chestnut's teacher was out of her mind thinking this was an appropriate book for a 4th grade class. There are millions of books that would be great for 4th grade—but not this. They don't need to read about kids killing each other, first and foremost. They don't need to question our culture's reality television ethos. They don't need to read about kissing quite this much, nor participate in what is clearly a teenage dilemma of falsehood and romance. And they DEFINITELY don't need to do any of this in the very public environment of the classroom, where all will be noted by their peers. Note: none of these are the book's fault at all, but jeez, I wish I had been a bit more on top of this last year.
2) I understand that a novel about children killing each other for voyeuristic sport is interrogating itself—because it, too, is offering the torture of children by one another as voyeuristic entertainment for the reader. But the doubling doesn't erase the problem for me.
3) TOO MUCH KISSING. We have already established that I am a prude. But if there's going to be kissing, un-heartfelt kissing seems to me the very worst kind.
4) I suppose at some basic deep level it did not speak to me. Katniss never came alive as a human being, and there you go, that's all there is. Once she wasn't real to me, I didn't believe that she was blind to the baker's crush, to his plans, to the outcome, etc.
But none of these are quite as troubling to me as this one:
The cool tough girl thing.
It gets to me. There seems to be some sort of privileged place in our literary culture, especially kid lit, for a paragon of tough girl, girls who are lean and tough—tougher than boys, tougher than men, so so tough &c &c.
I feel these characters are often presented in the unseen context of "Isn't it refreshing that this girl isn't a girly-girl? She's real and tough and tomboyish and…" But to me the tough girl is just as confining a trope.
It's probably because I'm not tough. I mean, I get why the idea of being tough is appealing. And I wish I were tough. But I feel accused by it somehow. And on some level it seems to me that the idea is that these qualities are supposed to be unusual for a girl, and they are more valued for that—because they are associated with boys. So the idea becomes: She's great, because she's not like a girl. This does not help the cause of girls, or boys, or humans in general, I feel.
I don't mean to be too hard on The Hunger Games. People love it, it brings them joy, no doubt the author is working on her own difficult journey. But this is just something that gets to me.
Do you know what I mean?