Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why Suzanne Collins/Katniss Everdeen is my hero.

So I came across this Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss poster online today from the upcoming Hunger Games adaptation (they have 8 character posters total, so go find them!). And holy crap I could not be more excited about these movies. And I don't have anywhere near the fear I normally do about movie adaptations, because as I read these three books over the course of three days (I brought the first one down to the beach, read it in less than 24 hours, and then conducted an exhaustive search of several Nagshead bookstores to find the second and third in the series), I realized that these books are really the equivalent of great, popcorn movies. 

There's nothing literary about them, and I don't mean that disrespectfully to Suzanne Collins, who really is my hero. But they're just not literary. Language is not really important. Style is not really important. These things, along with the fact that the story revolves around teenagers, is why they are (mistakenly) placed in young adult sections. The words are purely and simply a vehicle for the story, and what a story it is. Never would I have guessed that a dystopian novel about a future where children fight to the death on a reality television would make for quite possibly the most addictive, thrilling, and gripping books I have ever read. I devoured these books. And they just kick the most incredible ass. I hate to give away anything, because not knowing how these books end is intrinsic to the experience, so I won't, but I will say that Suzanne Collins is a brave, brave woman because she is not afraid of dark. She is not afraid to be bold and kill people off and set off literal bombs. That is gutsy. That puts an enormous amount of trust in readers, because so many forms of entertainment these days hold people's hands and shy away from dark stuff and end up lesser because of that. 

But Suzanne Collins doesn't go dark for the shock value. There's nothing extraneous or gratuitous about it. She does it because her very simply written "young adult" novels tell an incredibly entertaining story about the future that just so happens to work very well as an analogy  about the cost of modern war, about the promises we broken humans make again and again only to break, about the innocents who suffer in the name of causes, about the terrible games adults or nations play-games that inevitably hurt the non-willing participants the most. 

But the best thing that Suzanne Collins does with these books, why I so cheer for them, is because of a character named Katniss Everdeen. After reading the first Twilight I wanted to weep for future generations of preteen and teenage girls. Because really? Bella freaking Swan was their feminine role model? A girl who makes irrational decision after irrational decision because of a pretty, undead boy. A girl who has so little agency over her own life that she literally wants to throw it away, regardless of her friends and family's feelings, and become undead just so she never has to part from that pretty boy. A girl who is weak and clumsy and who has to be rescued, again and again and again by the men around her.

That really sucks. That pained me, because Twilight was so popular and young girls would read that and think Bella was someone to admire. But then along came The Hunger Games, and with it Katniss Everdeen, and I deeply hope that young girls out there choose Katniss over Bella as their role model . Because she's so fantastic. She's unequivocally the hero of these books. Not only is she a hero, but she's a frikkin' action hero. There are pretty boys sure, but Katniss, the girl, comes to their rescue. I read the first book, when Katniss rescues Peeta in the arena and nurses him back to life and silently cheered the whole time. Because that's what girls need. They need to see a woman take charge and be fierce (not in the Tyra sense, I mean in the I'll shoot you with a cross bow sense).

Katniss, from the first page, is the head of her family, and throughout these books her mission is to keep her loved ones alive at any cost. This is not a girl who loses her head and is willing to give up everything else in her life because of a cute guy. But the great thing is that she's not perfect either. That's the other trap of bad female literary heroines-making them into bland martyrs who have no faults. Katniss makes mistakes and has flaws and is by no means the most moral character in these books. But that's why she's so great. Because she's strong and human at the same time. She can fall in love and be loved by the boys around her, but she's an awesome feminist character, because that love never dictates who she is. The girl can sing a song, stab someone, kiss a boy and then hunt for dinner. That's the kind of female character I want my niece to look up to. And it is my sincere hope that one day my niece, or hypothetical daughter or just any eleven year olds or twelve year olds out there who may have once idolized Bella Swan, will read The Hunger Games, shake their heads, and think "Katniss would kick that wimpy vampire lover's ass any day."

1 comment:

Dave T said...

Katniss rocks! I love the Hunger Games books too and, while I think the last one in the series took some warranted critical fire, it just reinforced Collins' choices not to bow to some preconceived notion of how an action/adventure story with a strong romantic subplot should wrap-up. Jennifer Laurence was awesome in "Winter's Bone," and I think/hope she's going to be great in this role.

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