In striving to find the right boundaries, "The Hunger Games" offers an opportunity to wait, listen and grow, writes guest columnist Kale Kim.
BEING avid readers as well as film fans, my husband and I prefer to read a book before seeing its film adaptation. We encourage this in our 11-year-old daughter, especially if mature themes are present.
She was a little young to keep up with the Harry Potter franchise as it turned darker, so we thought reading the books beforehand would help prepare her for the frightening visual effects and somber themes that emerged with the series. This practice comes in handy as she navigates the fine line between tween interests and young-adult concerns. I am often pulling her from the “Twilight” books and their macabre cousins, propelling her back toward elementary reading.
A few of her classmates have already read “The Hunger Games” series, and I know she’d like to join them. I picked up “The Hunger Games” to see if it would be appropriate for an independent-minded girl. It took less than 20 pages to see that this was the perfect book for her. But within 20 more, I was determined to keep it from her as long as possible.
I knew the premise of the book going in — children ages 12-18 fight to the death while every citizen of their futuristic dystopian society is required to watch. Despite the violent plot, it’s the underlying threat of harm that’s so unsettling.
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The main character, Katniss, is plagued by her family’s poverty, her mother’s depression after the death of her father and the pressure of being the sole provider while dodging the government. She is already playing a deadly game simply by being alive.
The basic need to survive overpowers everything else and we are swept into that desperation by author Suzanne Collins’ deft hands. She interweaves ideas of perception, loyalty, obligation and self-awareness, concepts weighing heavily on preteens, especially my own.
I imagined Katniss as my daughter, spending my time away from the book wondering where the characters would find their food. If they were warm enough. If they could speak with a good therapist when it was all over. I was less disturbed by the fatalities than by the effects of violence on the survivors. The victors of these games seem anything but winners.
Will my daughter have the same concerns when I finally let her read the book? What am I accomplishing by making her wait? Am I protecting her, or me? Because once she reads it, she’ll have questions. She’ll expect me to provide answers or, at the very least, a path to where she can find her own.
Other parents share my concerns, as they protest local middle schools’ use of “The Hunger Games” as an educational tool. While I read “Schools Debate Educational Value of ‘The Hunger Games’ ” by Brian M. Rosenthal [seattletimes.com, March 20], I found it more disturbing that the discussion revolved around a field trip to see the film instead of a careful reading of the book.
I finally asked my daughter, “What do you think about ‘The Hunger Games?’ “
“It sounds like this exciting book that I have to wait to read. And an exciting movie that I have to wait to see.”
“How does that feel?”
She paused, but didn’t change the subject or leave the room.
“Was there more to that?” I asked tentatively.
“No. I was just waiting to see if you had more.”
I’m eager to continue this ongoing conversation, the best tool I have for finding the right boundaries, but also for understanding her world. I’m trying to understand it as much as she’s trying to understand mine. But it takes time, which we’re both trying to understand, too. She seems content to wait for me to catch up with her.
And I will always be here, watching and listening, in case there’s more.
Kale Kim’s favorite young adult authors are still Madeleine L’Engle and Judy Blume. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Ballard.