Thursday, 22 March 2012

young adult fiction

i've been reading a reasonable amount of young adult fiction over the last few years. a side-effect of having young adults in my life i guess. initially, i'd read the stuff out of concern that it was age appropriate. a benefit quickly arose when we could share our experiences of what we'd read, be excited about the same books and go over the best bits, like you do with a friend after watching a good movie.

so now my young adults actively encourage me to read books they've enjoyed. and that's how i came to read the hunger games and the two subsequent novels in the series. after the headache-inducing read that was the twilight series, these books were a like a breath of fresh air. at least the central female character (katniss everdeen) has much more agency and ability. the novels have underlying messages beyond a fairytale fantasy of true love.

it's been over a year since i've read them now, so my memory might of them might not be that clear. i recall katniss being athletic, a hunter, responsible for looking after her family. she certainly had a lot of strength and courage. if anything could be said against the character, it's that she is anti-feminine, if that's the right phrase. she's everything we don't generally associate with ideas of femininity - practically the opposite of bella swan.

i'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. in bella, we saw the roles of a traditional cook and house-cleaner, someone who is unable to assert herself and who requires constant protection until the second half of the fourth and final book of the series. she is continually vulnerable, and it's frustrating.

katniss is more than capable of looking after herself, and in fact looks after others as well. which is satisfying to read. but it's like all her positive qualities are what society associates with the masculine, and so it reinforces the notion that women need to be like men to be successful. having said that, it's impossible for one character to be all things. on the whole, i much prefer to read about katniss than bella.

if there was one aspect i didn't like about the hunger games, it was the whole love triangle thing with two guys after the same girl. again. and the pressure that is put on the girl, in ways that aren't always healthy. i can't remember specific examples just now, but i do remember feeling really uncomfortable a couple of times with the emotional manipulation that was going on.

other than that, i really liked the series and am looking forward to seeing the movie soon.


Deborah said...

My elder daughter lent books 1 and 2 to me, and I devoured them. She doesn't have her own copy of the 3rd book - she borrowed it from a friend - so we went out and bought a copy tonight and any minute now I'm going to head to bed and start reading it. I think the series is tremendous.

I agree about Katniss being valued for things that are usually associated with male gender, but I think there's a lot of gender complexity in other characters, and at least some in her too, such as her connection with Rue.

I'm looking forward to the movie. We're going on Sunday afternoon.

stargazer said...

hah, we're going to watch it on saturday hopefully. and yes, the gender complexity in other characters is important too. i also liked the ending of the third book (& series) though i won't say why - don't want to put in any spoilers!

MeToo said...

The movie is quite good but as usual lots gets left out. Lots of the political aspects of the story are hinted at but really take second place, which is a shame, because I enjoyed the books for the dystopian future they depict and also the fact that the solutions were not easy or obvious. OTOH, the politics went over the head of my 11 year old who devoured the books as an adventure stories, so the movie suited him just fine.

The movie audience was definitely skewed towards young females - I liked the idea that so many adolescent and teenage girls have a heroine worth looking up to. They were really into the story, wore custom-made costumes with slogans from the books, had their pictures taken next to the posters.

As for Katniss not being feminine - she nurtures other people, and that comes across strongly in the movie.

It's a shame that being practical (hunting to supplement your family's meager food rations) and surviving by using your wits rather than brute force aren't considered feminine. I think they are.

I liked the love triangle in the books because, again, it wasn't easy or obvious - much like life really.

stargazer said...

It's a shame that being practical (hunting to supplement your family's meager food rations) and surviving by using your wits rather than brute force aren't considered feminine. I think they are.

agree totally. it was telling that one of the comments i got was that i only liked katniss better than bella because katniss was more like a boy. sadface. there's so much unpacking to do in that statement i hardly know where to start!

MeToo said...

I grew up with brothers. Climbing trees, running around, riding bikes and hunting were the norm. Nothing masculine or feminine about it; that's just how we played as kids. My mother grew up in a household of only girls and her father took her tramping and fishing and sailing. (Possibly, had she had a brother, she might have been left at home when her father did these things.) Again, it was just natural for her to be active and physical.

So I've never understood the
feminine = passive and domestic
masculine = active and sporty and outdoorsy

If you know people who do this I think the problem is their perceptions of masculine and feminine, not with the heroine of The Hunger Games for being "too masculine".

anthea said...

MeToo - I'd go a step further and question why we're associating passivity with the domestic and assuming activity has to be physical and/or outdoorsy. I'm a bit old for the Twilight generation, but as someone who wasn't a physically active/adventurous child (partly related to a disability that Bella is also widely read as having), I'd love to have seen more books with assertive, adventurous characters that weren't reliant on physical ability (I loved Malorie Blackman's books for this reason).

That said, I find it concerning how discussions of Twilight often veer towards criticisms of Bella. I haven't read all the books but really, is she _that bad_? Yes, she's whiny and rather annoying and unable or unwilling to assert herself, but she's a teenager for god's sake. Lots of them are annoying or flawed in various ways. The real problem with Twilight is surely the normalisation and romaticisation of abusive behaviours. To focus so much on Bella's personality makes me a little uncomfortable.

Hugh said...

"That said, I find it concerning how discussions of Twilight often veer towards criticisms of Bella."

I haven't engaged a great deal with the Twilight critiques but a lot of them seem to be directed at Edward. One of the biggest criticisms of the books is that Edward expresses his attraction towards Bella in an extremely unhealthy way by stalking her, cutting off contact with her friends, etc etc. Obviously part of this criticism is that Bella responds positively to it, but overall it's about Edward being a creep and an inappropriate role model.

Anonymous said...

The neat thing as well is that Katniss and Peeta have a sort reversal of gender roles and expectations of gender. Katniss is the hunter, she's a survivor, she struggles to deal with emotion. Peeta's softer, a baker's son, an artist and much more emotional. And at no point is this a negative or even a noteable thing.

- Aimee

Hollyfield said...

It's a year since I read the three books (so don't remember all the complexities), and I saw the movie last night.

In the books it's very clear that Katniss is aware that two boys like her, but she chooses to be only friends with both of them (at least in the first half of the series). I think that she knows she doesn't have to say yes just because a boy likes her, she can choose to say no, she doesn't have to be in a relationship. As I was brought brought up the complete opposite to this, I think that is a very positive message to girls.

However, in the first book Katniss wonders whether Peeta actually likes her, or whether he is manipulating the situation by pretending to like her - and she doesn't like the dishonesty. In the movie this was only hinted at once quite subtlely. Also in the book Katniss only pretends to "like" Peeta to help her chances in the game - again hinted at once in the movie. I think most people who see the movie without reading the books will just think that part is a standard movie romance. As MeToo said, lots of political and also ethical stuff was left out. The four 12-year-olds I took were disappointed at what was left out, but as I said to them it was already two and a half hours long, they had to leave stuff out.

I was not impressed with the rudeness of 80% of the audience - especially the girls who kept calling out "take your shirt off" every time a particular actor came on screen.