By Karen Green
Like many, many people, I recently read The Hunger Games series, finishing all three books in less than a week. While I’m not usually a fan of YA literature, these books were well-written, engaging, exciting and pure post-apocalyptic, dystopic entertainment. So, as someone that usually claims not to be into YA fiction, I started thinking—just how YA are these books, anyway?
If teenaged protagonists fulfill the requirement, than yes, the book is YA. But these teenagers are forced to kill each other, in ways that are graphically and brutally recorded, after first giving us a glimpse into a life of no less than abject poverty, lived under a fascistic, cruel political regime. Pretty heavy stuff.
In fact, the tenets of the book are so heavy, that I was left bemused by the, frankly, prudish treatment of sex among the doomed teenagers. Desperate, alone and attracted to each other, yet two 17-year-olds do nothing more than kiss? Is that what makes it YA? Murder is OK, but sex is verboten?
Of course, the term YA covers a large designation of books and readers, and it’s hard to know where a series like The Hunger Games fits into that designation. A librarian I know and respect suggested in a tweet that The Hunger Games is for teenagers—older teenagers. But then I saw the series being offered in the Scholastic flyers my daughter brings home from school—a school that goes up to Grade 8, where the oldest students would be no more than 13 or 14.
So who is it for? Would I want my own daughters reading The Hunger Games, or Twilight, or any future dark YA book fads? In a word, yes. Absolutely. I would never tell them they couldn’t read books like that. But at what age? 12? 13?
If I look to my own past, I’ve always been a voracious reader, and that is thanks, in part, to my parents never censoring my book choices. I read Laura Ingalls when I was 11, and Stephen King when I was 12. And I may have pilfered my older sister’s V.C. Andrews books before that, even. Doesn’t get much darker than four kids being locked in an attic, slowly dying by their mother’s hand and turning to incestuous relations for comfort. The Hunger Games seems cheery, by comparison.
In the end, I have a few more years before I really have to worry about this sort of thing, but my gut tells me that I won’t kibosh any of their YA reading choices. And if I do ever cringe at the material they bring home, I’ll just try to remember my own tween years, spent reading Judy Blume’s Forever, under the covers with a flashlight, before my sister could discover it missing.
Do you think The Hunger Games is appropriate for younger teens?
Karen Green recently traded life in the biggest city in Canada for life in the biggest cornfield in Canada. Freed from her full-time job as a writer and editor, Karen now spends her time…writing and editing. And frolicking in the leaves with her two small girls. Karen is a speaker, the founder of Mom The Vote and the author of the blog, The Kids Are Alright, where she has been writing about the humorous and poignant moments of family life since 2005. She is thrilled to be a part of canadianfamily.ca.