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By Monica J. Casper and Mason Casper-Milam
On March 23, 2012, The Hunger Games comes to cinematic life in the U.S.; the trailer promises much heart-pounding, nail-biting excitement. Based on Suzanne Collins’s enormously popular novel of the same name—the book has spent 74 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list—the film will likely do for Collins’s trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay) what the Harry Potter films did for J.K. Rowling: cement an already existing and wildly devoted audience while gaining new fans.
Having recently completed The Hunger Games, and with a number of questions swirling around in my brain, I wanted to know how this intriguing book resonates with a younger crowd. So I turned to an expert: my daughter, Mason, who has read the trilogy and is now reading the first book in Collins’s Underland Chronicles. Mason couldn’t be more thrilled about the forthcoming film and was eager to talk with me about the novel.
Monica (MJC): I want to start by asking you about the sisterly relationship in the book. Like Katniss, you too have a younger sister. And while you quite often protect her, you also frequently torment her. Would you make the kind of sacrifice Katniss did, when she volunteered to take Prim’s place as a Tribute?
Mason (MCM): Hmmm. Yes, I would. Because I love my sister and I wouldn’t want her to get hurt.
MJC: Let’s talk a bit about the violence in the books, which have been described as “war stories for kids.” As I began reading The Hunger Games, at your recommendation, I felt that it was surprisingly violent. Maybe a bit too violent for a ten-year old. What do you think about that?
MCM: It was pretty violent at first. Then you start to get used to it.
MJC: It’s kind of worrisome for me, as a mom, that you can “get used to” violence in books. Was there something in particular about the violence that compelled or frightened you?
MCM: I liked that there was a lot of action in the book, and I disliked that there was violence.
MJC: So for you, as a reader, it sounds like there’s a difference between “violence” and “action.”
MCM: Violence involves death and tragedies. Action is packed with adventure, and sometimes there is violence.
MJC: Tell me some of the things that you enjoyed about the book.
MCM: I liked the romance, and the fact that the Capitol was so eager to see people dead that they sent them into the game. Sending people to their death is a tragedy, but the thing I liked about it is that the Capitol had enough nerve to do it.
MJC: What are your thoughts about how the characters responded to the situation?
MCM: I liked how Peeta said he wished that he could find some way he isn’t owned. I also liked how Katniss got angry and shot a bag of apples during her assessment. And I appreciated how Haymitch finally sucks up the nerve to stop drinking, at least for a while, to help Peeta and Katniss.
MJC: Who is your favorite character, and why?
MCM: I like Primrose because she is scared and feels lonely without Katniss, and she also helps her mother with the job of being a healer. I also enjoy Katniss because she is a brave, independent young woman. And she wasn’t scared at all to go into the Hunger Games.
MJC: I’m not sure I agree that she wasn’t scared. I think she was scared but that she went anyway.
MCM: That’s true, Katniss was scared at first, but when she was in the field, the fright kind of went off her mind.
MJC: What was your favorite scene in the book?
MCM: My favorite scene was when Katniss sung to Rue when she was about to die and laid flowers over her body.
MJC: I got a little teary-eyed at that scene. Did you learn anything from reading this book?
MCM: I learned that no matter how scared you are, you just have to keep moving.
MJC: Would you recommend this book to other girls your age? If so, why? And if not, why not?
MCM: A lot of kids my age are already reading this book. I would suggest it for all of my friends who are highly skilled readers. But for those who are sensitive in any way, I would not suggest it because there is a lot of blood spilled and violence.
MJC: Did you hate anything about the book or have other strong reactions?
MCM: Well, I disliked the fact that the Capitol was so mean to the people in Districts 1 through 12. And I have a question for you: do you think that a District 13 exists in the book?
MJC: That was the one that was supposedly bombed, right? I have my suspicions that District 13 is not totally off the map yet. But don’t tell me, because I’m not done with Catching Fire yet!
MCM: Another question for you, Mom. Who was your favorite character, and why?
MJC: I found myself drawn to a couple of characters. Katniss acts in a very brave manner when she volunteers to take Prim’s place. And Katniss also has an interesting emotional journey. I liked Rue very much because she was extraordinarily courageous, smaller than most of the Tributes but skillful in her own way. And I was drawn to Peeta’s kindness and to Gale’s self-reliance.
MCM: Do you think for a kid my age that we should be reading these books?
MJC: Well, you’re ten going on twenty! You know our rule; it was the same rule I had growing up. That you can read any book in the house…
MCM: …and that we all share books.
MJC: Right. But sometimes, it helps to have some maturity and context to grasp certain material. The Hunger Games is very entertaining and contains many provocative ideas. And I do believe kids your age should be exposed to different ideas. The violence was a bit disturbing from a mother’s perspective, but life is kind of disturbing, isn’t it?
MCM: Yes, it is. Another question for you is, there is a lot of romance in this book. Do you think that a girl my age should be reading about this?
MJC: Well, I feel there is a difference between romantic themes and explicit sexuality. While ten is too young for certain kinds of scenes, it’s certainly not too young to explore your feelings about relationships between boys and girls. I do worry a bit that the book forecloses the possibility of other kinds of relationships though.
MCM: What do you mean by that?
MJC: I mean that if kids only read about heterosexual romance in The Hunger Games or other novels, then boys and girls who might be gay or lesbian or questioning might feel excluded from the narrative.
MCM: You mean like Kurt, on the teenage drama show Glee? Yeah, that’s true. One more question I just came up with. In this book, Haymitch has a drinking problem. What do you have to say about that?
MJC: Do you mean in terms of whether alcohol is an appropriate topic for you and other kids to be reading about? Or do you mean what do I think about drinking?
MCM: Basically, do you think drinking is a right or wrong topic to have kids thinking about as they read this book?
MJC: It’s a difficult topic in The Hunger Games because Haymitch is so addicted. In that sense, he’s a complicated human being but not a very good role model. I don’t have a problem with you reading about alcohol. You know, for the next several years and well into adulthood, you and your friends will be faced with tough situations involving alcohol and other substances. I hope that you feel confident enough to make the right choices when the time comes and to be able to read about certain things without necessarily wanting to run out and try them.
MCM: Okay. Do you have any more questions to ask me?
MJC: A couple more. How do think the book will translate into film?
MCM: I think the movie will be action-packed and focused on the games. Did you know that Suzanne Collins is one of the movie’s writers?
MJC: No, I did not know that. How do you think The Hunger Games will stack up against Potter?
MCM: When it comes to Harry Potter, I don’t think anything will ever come close to beating it! But The Hunger Games will hopefully take the place of The Twilight Saga.
MJC: Do you think this book has a feminist message?
MCM: Yes I do. Katniss is a girl who will stand up against anything bad in life.
MJC: Just like you, sweetheart.
MCM: May the odds be ever in your favor.
MJC: And may the odds be ever in your favor.
Mason Casper-Milam is ten years old. She enjoys reading, writing, art, and nature. She has a pet fish named Aqua, who she sometimes forgets to feed. She likes to geocache while hiking with her family.