Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why I'd Rather Give a Student Some Intense YA than THE HUNGER GAMES

If you're not sure what this post will be about, please go re-read the title. And yes, follow the insinuation that The Hunger Games is not intense young adult literature. Sure, it's a fascinating read, and kids are eating it up. I love the fact that there's a popular series out there that is pulling in regular readers and reluctant readers alike. And schools are embracing this, as it is so common to see 7-12 graders reading this series.

And part of that sickens me.

Why? Because these are the same schools who may be pulling books from classrooms or libraries because they are "objectionable" in their themes or content. I can understand that not every book is for every person. But if there's one thing a really good YA book does, it offers a safe place for the reader to engage in some difficult scenarios.

I'm not going to re-invent the wheel talking about this. Check out what Laurie Halse Anderson (LHA) has to say about this: Open up the "Challenges to TWISTED" part.

Let's use Twisted as an example. First off, this book is not for everyone. There are many students who may not be great with this book. However, there are many more, typically reluctant reader boys, who need this book.

Why? This book talks, openly and honestly, about hormones, sex, suicide, teenage drinking, divorce, parent issues, bullying, and the struggle to find your own voice. And you know it does with these things? IT RESOLVES THEM. By that, I don't mean LHA puts a nice bow on each of them and says "this is what this means and how it should be handled." I mean she follows the choices of the characters through the consequences that result. So instead of having underage drinking happen and nothing result, we see where that can lead, in a very real way. Actions have consequences, and most of the book is about watching those consequences become wrapped up in each other, and finding a way to overcome them and get life back together.

In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins introduces a lot of other touchy subjects: murder, Communism, oppression, slavery, power, lying to further your own causes, suicide, sex, defying authority to name a few. And you know what? Most of these are left unresolved. Suicide is discussed as a positive option to giving in to an oppressive government. And this isn't dealt with; it's just there. Nearly every character lies, and in fact this is used to move the plot along. This is never resolved. Sure, we see some consequences, but many are just brushed over to continue the plot of the story. The brutality of murder is probably the only one from that list above that is adequately touched on.

To me, as a teacher, this is more dangerous than anything in Twisted. To read a dramatization of tough choices when the only consequences are the ones that lead to the desired resolution is not creating a realistic worldview for our youth.

Now, I think The Hunger Games are good reads if you're looking for something to read. But they're not going to change anybody's life. Good young adult literature has the ability to change someone's life for the better. However, it's often not given that opportunity to do so, because it is removed from the shelves before anyone who needs it has a chance to read it.

If we really did not allow our students to read anything with themes beyond the life experiences they've already had, there would be no reason to read anything at all. Not that it would matter; nothing would be read anyway.


  1. Hmm. Not sure I agree with everything you say here. Meaning does not reside in the text, be in something written by LHA or Suzanne Collins. Louise Rosenblatt tells us that meaning happens in the transaction between reader and text. Also, I think "better" is a matter of context and position. There is no universal better. Teachers do an ought to make choices about texts they want to use w/ students and how they want to use them. Likewise, students ought to have substantial choice too. So rather than think about some texts as being inherently finer than others, I wonder if it is not more a question of one's intentions. A thought provoking post. Thanks.

  2. I appreciate the conversation you begin with this post, but I think I'm on the other side of it. You'd think that as an English teacher I'd be all for finding a book that's going to change a students' life- and I do believe that those books exist- but that's never been my goal when looking for a novel to teach.

    I actually liked Twisted a lot, but it's just as flawed as the next text: its take on police was overbearingly negative, this particular Anderson novel doesn't seem to have anything very positive to say about girls, and I found the emotional low/ suicide bit a little forced, but that may just be me. I enjoyed Hunger Games and the rest of the trilogy entertaining too- flawed yes, but nothing I consider dangerous.

    If this post is coming about because Twisted is banned from some schools, that indeed is a tragedy- though we know that it's almost a hallmark of classic literature to stir up controversy on its way to the annals of history. But resolution in a novel doesn't and shouldn't guarantee a resolved problem. I think some of the best questions don't have answers.

  3. Perhaps I went too far in my branding of The Hunger Games as "dangerous." I think it's a very good series, and if nothing else, it has been a popular read among my students -- and this is a GOOD thing. To me, it's ridiculous that something like Twisted (not necessarily Twisted, but it fits the discussion) is challenged and banned all over the country while The Hunger Games is celebrated. The books do different things, but the things Twisted is banned for are present in The Hunger Games as well, and perhaps not as "safely."

    Also, in this case, I was thinking largely of these books as choice reads as opposed to books with a lot of teacher or even peer guidance and support. No book, when properly framed, is going to be detrimental to any student, and will likely be helpful to their development.