The Girl Who Was on Fire: Introduction

I started The Hunger Games because of the movie.  Not because I wanted to see the movie, but because I wanted to know why there were movies.  In SFF, there are works that become seminal, and whatever the culture is when you join it, you are expected to be able to converse with what has come before.  Heinlein should at least produce name recognition. So should Asimov.

I seek out these works (usually the books) to read what has come before. I can’t really critique, for example, the whole arc of feminism in SFF if I’m not familiar with I Will Fear No Evil, or Stranger in a Strange Land. I can’t fully comprehend AI without at least nodding to the Three Laws of Robotics.  Just like you can’t really critique modern science fiction movies without nodding in the direction of Star Wars.

I had a feeling, when The Hunger Games movie became such a huge phenomenon – even months and years before release – that I was seeing this happen in real time. Something about these books spoke to people, and they were likely to continue to speak to people. So I needed to read them.

Once I cracked the first book, I found out that these were incredibly “sticky” books.  I thought I’d read the first one.  I read all three in two days.  They were compelling to me for many reasons, but mostly because they had an honest and completely unflinching portrayal of completely mental breakdown.

That’s … well, really stark.  Unlike most, I didn’t dislike Mockingjay. I found it difficult to read, but also not a little ballsy.

I’m also a huge fan of dissecting pop culture, largely because I so frequently don’t get it at all.  It’s why I’m devoted to Smart Pop books, and why I’m now reading – and discussing with you – The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy (affiliate link). I’ll be going through the essays one-by-one, sharing thinky thoughts. I hope.

Though it should be obvious at this point, spoilers below. Exit now, ye who would remain pure.


[…]the Hunger Games ends in a way that feels surprisingly adult – bleak, realistic, as far from wish fulfillment as one can imagine. Such a conclusion only emphasizes something YA readers have known for years: that there is serious, engaging, transformative work going on in YA literature.

Remember how I was talking about genre-transformative work before? So often we only consider what’s transformative to adults. Kids books, we scoff, are for those who don’t know any better.  But we have to wonder why we would give children books that challenge them less than adults. I don’t think it’s accidental that The Hunger Games comes while many are incensed at YA lit is tackling some hard topics. It’s about damn time. When I was Katniss’ age, I had dealt with death, abuse, neglect, and bullying.  Take those out of my life, and who am I?  Children don’t need to be shielded from these things – they need to be taught they exist and how to handle them. Silence helps no one.

those Capitol residents we see milling through the streets […] who so raptly watch the Hunger Games on television for year after year without recognizing the suffering that made it possible, are us.

Yeaaaaaah.  One of the most peculiar things about reading The Hunger Games is knowing that every time Katniss talks about the evil Capitol citizens, every time we’re told how she’s manipulating the cameras, every time she talks about sponsors … she’s speaking to the reader. She breaking the fourth wall in a breathtaking, spectacular way.  Did you root for Katniss? Did you cheer when she shot the boy from District 4 who killed Rue? Did you? Then you are that Capitol citizen sitting on their sofa, waiting for the cannons to roar.

Let’s go farther with that. There’s been an uproar about a trailer for a new video game that shows an assassin killing nuns in black latex.  Seriously. And there’s some excellent commentary about how every time we don’t speak out against this, it perpetuates the myth that it’s okay.  We make excluding women from meaningful roles in movies okay. We make rape jokes okay. We make the systematic stripping of rights from our fellow citizens okay.

We make the Hunger Games okay.

[…]each time we revisit them our perspective shifts […] letting us interpret old events, old ideas, in new ways.

That’s got to be the most succinct and useful description of why I reread books, rewatch movies, and replay video games I’ve ever read.