Who Should Read The Hunger Games?

Everybody is talking about Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel, The Hunger Games, but I have to admit, when I first heard the premise of the book, I didn’t want to read it.  Apparently most other people have the opposite reaction.  As of today, it’s ranked number five on Amazon’s top sellers list. 

Here’s the premise: In a futuristic, dystopian society, 24 children, two from each district of what once was North America, are chosen to fight to the death to earn glory for their home district.  Curious about the hype, my book club read The Hunger Games over the summer, and when we met to discuss it, I seemed to be the one most disturbed by its content.  But then again, I’m usually the one most disturbed. (I refused to read The Lovely Bones and was appalled by the intimate encounter of two sisters in Into the Forest). 

I can see why kids enjoy the fast pace of The Hunger Games.  Katniss, the  protagonist, tells her story in easy to read prose, and the plot unfolds much like a video game, as Katniss faces one trial after the next and the stakes get increasingly higher.  But she also deals with some grave moral and emotional dilemmas.  Should she obey the authority of a corrupt government?  Should she sacrifice her own life to save one of her peers?  Is she justified in taking another life to save her own?  Unlike the evil forces in other popular kid lit stories like Harry Potter, the evil in this story is ambiguous, and Katniss’s enemies constantly shift. 

My oldest son is 11 and more than intellectually capable of reading The Hunger Games, but I don’t think he has the emotional maturity or life experience to fully understand Katniss’s predicament.  Nor do I want him to take the loss of life described in this book too casually.  One of my friends who read The Hunger Games with her 14 year old daughter said, “It’s not so bad, as long as you forget that the kids are actually dying.”  Katniss herself makes a similar comment in her narrative.  But, the fact remains, the kids do die.

I know some of you are out there are thinking, “Relax Julia, it’s just a book.”  But I believe that a good novel should do more than just entertain us.  It should inform, inspire, remind us of what we hold dear, or cause us to think about the beliefs that guide our lives.  For the right reader, The Hunger Games will definitely do that.  And when my son is older and ready to read the book, I look forward to a prolific discussion with him about the themes, dilemmas and characters of The Hunger Games.  

Now it’s your turn to contribute.  When do you think kids should read The Hunger Games and what kind of conversation do you think the book requires, if one at all?  Post your comments below.  Thanks!

Confessions of a Twi-Mom

I admit it; I’m a Twi-Mom.  I’ve devoured all the books of Stephenie Meyer’s Saga multiple times, often staying up later than advisable to do so.  I follow a fan site, Twilight Source, and it’s associated podcast, Imprint.  I own and frequently listen to all of the movie soundtracks.  (“Is that your vampire music again?” my husband groans.)  And I’ve been counting down the days until the latest movie in the franchise opens- today! 

I know I’m not alone.  I’ve heard plenty of stories about midnight runs to Walmart for the next book in the series.  Or of hungry children standing in the kitchen asking, “Mom, are you gonna cook dinner tonight?” while their mother poured over the last chapters of Eclipse.  And I’ve seen the faces of many perplexed husbands who all ask something like, “You’re middle aged women- what is wrong with you?”

There’s nothing wrong with us!  We’re drowning in laundry, frantic with scheduling, and overwhelmed by the minutia of motherhood.  Of course we’d love to escape in the story of Bella, a socially awkward, yet bright young woman who falls for a smart, handsome guy who happens to be a vampire.  The story carries us back to our youth, and, if we’re lucky, reminds us of the intoxicating feeling of first love.   

But what else generates such huge appeal?  For me, Edward does.  It’s not the superficial stuff (good looks, fancy cars, and money) that grabs me.  Rather, Edward enthralls me with his brilliant mind, his witty humor, his fierce devotion, and his moral principles.  When my daughter gets older and I let her read the series, I will be torn between telling her that she should never expect to find a guy like Edward OR that she should wait until she does. 

My favorite book in the series, Twilight, is filled with witty exchanges between the flustered Bella and the always cool Edward.  Here’s one of my favorites, from the chapter “Invitations”.  Edward, after avoiding Bella for days, has just offered her a ride to Seattle.

“My truck works just fine, thank you very much for your concern.”  I started to walk again, but I was too surprised to maintain the same level of anger.

“But can your truck make it there on one tank of gas?”  He matched my pace again.

“I don’t see how that is any of your business.”  Stupid, shiny Volvo owner.

“The wasting of finite resources is everyone’s business.” 

So what about you?  Why do you love the books?  Which book do you like most?  Who is your favorite character?  Share your thoughts and favorites by clicking on the “comment” button below.  If you’re NOT a fan (gasp!!), tell us why.  And if you haven’t read any of the books yet, just try one.  I dare you to put it down after 15 minutes. 

Twi-Mom tip:  You can find excerpts from Meyer’s novels at her website, including an extended prom outtake and the first half of Midnight Sun, a draft of a novel that follows the plot of Twilight from Edward’s point of view.  Check them out. 

Books and Potato Peels?

Ever heard of an epistolary novel?  Hint:  epistolary comes from the Latin word epistola, which means letter.  That’s why we call Paul’s letters in the New Testament epistles!  (See, I’m a total word nerd.)   So, with an epistolary novel, we only have letters to give us information about a character’s personality, motivation, and flaws.  We must appreciate subtle hints and humor and determine whether we can trust the information a character gives us through his or her letters.  These books are fun and great if, like many other busy people out there, you only have time to read in short bursts.  I’m going to splurge this week and recommend two of my favorites!

In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, we meet Juliet Ashton, a writer who wants to pen a story of substance and significance at the close of World War II.  By chance, she receives a letter from a reader who lives on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France that the Germans occupied during the war.  Juliet begins regular correspondence with the island’s “literary society,” and the letters, as well as the characters who write them, are witty, quirky, and endearing.  I especially love that the story highlights how literature can bring people together and inspire hope.  

My second recommendation is The Last Days of Summer, by Steve Kluger.  Although one of its main characters plays third base for the New York Giants, this book covers much more than baseball.   Joey, the frequent target of bullies in his Brooklyn neighborhood, decides to make baseball star Charlie Banks his new best friend, and he sends the athlete letters requesting proof of this friendship.  Initially, Banks does not appreciate his young fan’s attention, but the two end up exchanging many hilarious letters.  We also get to see report cards, newspaper articles, and psychiatrist transcripts.  Intrigued?  You should be!  I know several of my book club buddies have given this book as a birthday or Christmas present, and with December just around the corner…

Calling All Book Lovers!

I’m a word nerd.  I love pouring over words in a book, or stringing them together into humorous phrases, or dissecting them into their Latin roots to discover their meanings.   During my lifetime, I have spent countless hours curled up reading, because I learned at an early age that books offer escape and entertainment way better than anything on T.V.   And a mother of four children under the age of 12 needs some escape time, don’t you agree?

Fortunately, I have friends who share my love of the written word and are willing to meet once a month to discuss anything from The Red Tent¸ by Anita Diamant, to Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer.  (Honestly, I hesitated before picking up Twilight; vampires give me the willies.  Glad I got over that.)  We have no method to our choices, but we embrace variety, and so I read books I NEVER would have otherwise, like Atlas Shrugged, or Outliers.  And even though I don’t always like our selections, I usually leave our meetings with new insights and a better appreciation for a book that I have spent my precious free time reading.

I’m approaching this new blog as an online book club, a resource for other literary lovers who want suggestions for worthy reading.  Unfortunately, I can’t offer you snacks over cyber space, (yummy treats are one of the best benefits of “in-person” meetings), but I can post weekly reading recommendations from all genres, including kid lit, because my children have inherited my book loving genes and have discovered some beauties.   However, I don’t do horror.  (See note above about vampires.)   I welcome and encourage suggestions and comments from all of you other book worms out there!  Just click on the “comments” link below and share your thoughts!
First tip:  If you haven’t yet read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, please find a copy! Today!  The novel explores the relationships between white women and the black women who work for them in 1960’s Mississippi.   Stockett’s characters challenge the boundaries built by society and their own expectations; they will also make you laugh.  I’ve heard the movie is good, but as my nine year old daughter has already determined, “The book is always better than the movie, Mommy.”