If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games, this book might be a good distraction while you wait for the movie.

It’s a compilation of 13 essays by fantasy authors on the trilogy’s themes. It you’ve read the canon, you know there’s a lot of juicy stuff to discuss, from the light-hearted (go team Gale!), to the serious (torture, oppression), from the philosophical (aren’t we as thrilled to watch the Games as the people in the Capitol?), to the practical (what would you do when confronted with a wolf mutt?).

These essays made me realize once more the power YA books can have in fostering civil rights, and the potential of this trilogy in particular to become the 1984 of its young generation. It’s not as “literary” or high-brow, but in the hands of a creative teacher it can have a major impact, especially in discussing democracy, freedom of expression, propaganda and human nature. The essays also showed me that, under the right sort of light, The Hunger Games could be considered subversive. Are they already in the Banned Books List? It shouldn’t take long…

These three essays in particular caught my attention.

The first was Someone To Watch Over Me, by Lili Wilkinson. She writes about surveillance as a means of social control and divides her essay into the three participants of this system: the Watched, the Watchers and the Engineers. Each of these three groups holds some power, but what happens when one group gets too much control? She discusses Katniss’ transition from being controlled by the Capitol’s Game Engineers to the rebels “Watchers-turned-Engineers”, and touches a point I thought of often while reading the books: we, the watchers of reality TV and “realistic” news are just as voyeurs as the citizens of Capitol:

Sure, nobody dies on our reality TV shows, But we still watch people suffer. We watch them endure physical and mental challenges on Survivor, subject them to isolation in Big Brother, tell them their dreams will never come true ion Idol, and break their hearts on The Bachelorette. Reality TV is all about putting people in difficult situations and watching how they react. Some people come our stranger, richer, and healthier, facing a lifetime of success. Others are voted off the island early on, their failure broadcast all over the world. How many steps are there, between our own TV shows and the Hunger Games?

How many indeed! *shudder*

At the start of her essay The Politics of Mockingjay, political columnist Sarah Littman mentions an interview where Collins said she drew her inspiration for The Hunger Games when she was zapping one night between the Iraq war coverage and “reality” TV. Littman then (bravely) goes on to compare certain elements of The Hunger Games to the Bush administration. In particular she talks about people turning a blind eye to everything a government does because of propaganda or crisis-mode (e.g. Patriot Act after 9/11):

I consider Mockinjay a brilliant book of our time. Not only does it raise the difficult, eternal question of war and humanity, grief and revenge, but one hopes it will encourage all of us to become more politically aware and active, and not to ever allow ourselves to risk the erosion of our democracy and civil liberties for panem et circenses.

Another one my favorite essays is about the power of fashion: Crime of Fashion – written by Terri Clark. I’m a sucker for a good makeover story, but there is more at stake in the Hunger Games’ fashion than looking fierce. Clothes make a statement in this world, and such a strong one that Cinna, Katniss’ stylist, suffers the consequences. Cinna was actually one of my favorite characters in the trilogy and I’d love to know more about him. His role in bringing down the Capitol is often ignored, but Clark captured it well:

All of the Capitol stylists are well practiced at polishing and presenting their contestants, but Cinna takes this craft to a new level. Not only is he genius at creating provocative, memorable costumes, he utilizes his fashion artistry as a political platform that subtly plays on his audience’s sensibilities.

With the help of examples from our world, from J-Lo to Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin, Clark goes on to discuss the power of fashion and how it helps shape public image. Très intéressant!

Overall, there’s much food for thought in this collection and I highly recommend it to all fans. I think teachers and parents in particular might take a lot from it.

A big thank you to the kind people over at BenBella Books for sending me a copy.

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Other thoughts: Reading Through Life (yours?)

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