When “Alias” was in its first season, Jennifer Garner kicking the very first of many asses she would kick throughout the series without breaking a stiletto heel or tweaking her blue bobbed wig, my friend Hank said: “This should be required viewing for all young girls.”
Which brings us to our kitchen a few nights ago. I was chopping vegetables and thinking about that statement from … what … five years ago-ish and what girls like.
“Do you think that there are girls who like Bella, and want to be like her? Or do you think most girls who read Twilight are just like Team Edward or Team Jacob?” I asked my boyfriend.
He didn’t say anything for a second.
Then: “Am I supposed to answer that?”
“No. Of course not,” I said. “I didn’t realize I’d said it out loud.”
I was in the brain-space of The Hunger Games, one of those YA It-novels by Suzanne Collins, the anti-Twilight when it comes to pop culture things for the kiddies. AKA something that should be required reading for all young girls. Especially the kinds who are attracted to gleaming incisors and put themselves in the place of an anemic snooze of a female lead. Hey ladies, I say to them: How about a little something called “Team Katniss?”
The country is divided into 12 districts ruled by the richie riches of the Capitol. Every year a boy and a girl between 12 and 18 are randomly selected from each district to get dropped in a landscaped arena to battle to the death. Winner gets to live like a Hilton. Loser gets knifed, arrowed, or hand-to-hand combat-ed into worm food. This is all televised like a lethal Real World-Road Rules Challenge.
Katniss is a hunter and, literally, the family’s bread winner since the death of her father and subsequent emotional collapse by her mother. She and her best dude Gale spend their days hunting game, gathering berries and plants, then trading with the townspeople for other necessities.
When Katniss’s barely legal sister gets selected for the Hunger Games, Kantiss volunteers to take her place. And her District 12 partner is the baker’s son, less savvy than Katniss, but a real sweetie. After the opening ceremonies, where Katniss and Peeta wow the home viewers with their red carpet flare, the games begin.
I was curious to see how Collins would handle keeping Katniss likable as she kills off other players. She keeps the opponents a mix of faceless and loathsome and in some cases there is a degree of separation between Katniss and the death that would be technically credited to her. Bravo. On the other hand, when it comes to some of the trickier situations in the book, and Katniss gets in a jam, Collins takes the easy route which was a little disappointing. (See also: Rule changes in the game, and necessary supplies parachuted to the contestants).
This novel is really visual. It’s super easy to get caught in a scene, to be able to imagine the lay of the land. I’m still working on a theory about why this is easier with YA books than with A books.
And Katniss, with her sharp hunting skills, makes for a good female lead unless you’re totally into PETA. She doesn’t go gaga for the dudes who dig her. She does her job and does it well and saves Peeta’s life a hundred times. She’s a little humorless, but it is in line with her very serious role in her family. Mostly she’s a mental chess player with smooth moves and good instincts. Not at all the kind of girl who would pine after a werewolf. More like the kind of girl who would shoot a werewolf, make a stew, and feed an entire village lunch. And with that, I promise to stop comparing all YA novels to the Twilight series.