My son Nico is not an avid reader. Sure, he reads, but like many 13 year-old boys, when given a choice between X-Box, AirSoft, or a book, he’ll take shoot ‘em up games– live, or virtual– any day. This used to distress me because I was such a huge reader when I was his age. But, then I realized it isn’t so much that he dislikes reading, as much as it is he needs to find the right book, a book which appeals to his age and interests. He found such books when he discovered the fantasy world of the Madeleine L’Engle and Greek mythology in the Percy Jackson series. His fondness for fantasy has grown and he now enjoys reading science fiction. In fact, he was so thoroughly engrossed in his most recent literature assignment, Fahrenheit 451, he couldn’t put it down and he would read well past the day’s reading assignment. I was thrilled to see him enjoying the book, even if I never really appreciated science fiction myself.
Why then wasn’t I equally thrilled when I saw him devour the entire Hunger Games triology over Christmas break? Perhaps it had something to do with the subject matter. The series is set in the future, in post war country called Panem, where people living in areas called Districts, are starving and oppressed by the people living in the wealthy region called the Capitol. Each year, one boy and one girl from the ages of 12-18 are randomly selected from the Districts to be Tributes, and participate in the Hunger Games. The games require that the Tributes hunt down and kill each other. All the citizens of Panem think this is fine sport, and the games are broadcast throughout the Districts and the Capitol.
Can you see how I would be less than thrilled about the subject matter? Well, apparently I may be just about the only one who isn’t excited about this book series, since the Hunger Games series’ popularity is parallel to all the Twilight hype and Harry Potter hysteria of recent years. And as most popular series go, the books have been turned into a movie, which opens this Friday. Nico has been so anxious to see the movie he asked if he could go to the midnight show. There is no school for him on Friday, so I relented and said he could go with a few of his friends who are also fans of the series. There is just one catch, I have to go with them. That’s right, late Thursday night until early Friday morning I will be in a sold-out movie theater with Nico and a few of his friends watching The Hunger Games.
I decided I should at least find out for myself what all the hoopla is about so I am reading the books myself. I am halfway through the first one, and I am enjoying it. It’s a gripping, easy read. I can understand why it’s so popular, even if the subject matter is so dark I find it disturbing. Still, I wanted to see what Nico found so appealing about the series, so the other day while we were alone in the car I asked him.
Me: I am halfway done with the book and I am enjoying it. What is it you like about it?
Nico: I like the action and the fact that it takes place in the future.
Not satisfied with such a simplistic answer, I decided to delve a little deeper into Nico’s thinking.
Me: What do you think the author is trying to say with the message of the Hunger Games? Do you think he is making a commentary current society, about the way first world countries oppress other less developed nations? Maybe it’s a commentary about the way first world countries or those in positions of power dehumanize others who live in poverty, or third world countries, making it easier to turn a blind eye to the starvation, war, and violence?
But, that did not stop me. I pressed on.
Me: How do you compare the fantasy world that exists in Panem to the world that existed in Fahrenheit 451?
The empty silence reverberated through the car. Nico just stared at me. His eyes glazed over and then rolled into the back of his head. He seemed exasperated, but he began to answer my question anyway, even if it was in a tone I usually reserve for my kids when I scold them for leaving their dish in the sink.
Nico: First of all, Mom, the author is a woman, not a man. Her name is Suzanne Collins. Panem is not a different country. It’s the USA, in the future, after a nuclear holocaust. The Districts are not other countries. They are part of the same country. See, my friend created a map based upon his reading of the books.” Then, he proceeded to show me on his iPod Touch, a map which depicted the country of Panem and its Districts, and the Capitol.
I had no response since I couldn’t help but feel chastised and impressed at the same time. He pressed on.
Nico: I liked Fahrenheit 451, and I guess you might say that they are similar because they both take place in the future, and the culture is pretty violent too. Only in that book, people weren’t starving. They just couldn’t have books. And there didn’t seem to be any rules on the road. That’s how one of the characters in the book dies, by getting hit by a car when the car’s driver is going fast and loses control.
Okay then. I haven’t read Fahrenheit 451 before so I didn’t even try to respond. It struck me, as he “analyzed” the stories, that perhaps I was reaching too deeply, trying to find the message in these stories are violent, and still entertaining. Maybe, I should just let him enjoy the books, and be satisfied he is so willing to accept them as fantasy and not as commentary. Right now, he is content to read them, think about the characters and lose himself in the story. Oh, and wait for the movie to come out on Friday.