I have much to say but feel nothing will come out today save for an incoherent mess. I was up until 1:30 a.m. reading the hotly anticipated Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, you see.
(Not a) Spoiler Alert
– How do you all feel about spoilers? What level of spoilery? Do you just want to refrain from names, plot developments, the last word? Do you want to refrain even from what those things are not? Do you you want to stick fingers in your ears and say “LA LA LA, I can’t hear you!” if I try to tell you that by page eleventy-two you will need to cuddle with something? Or that by page eleventy-seven you will sobbing?
I suppose I spoil (however lightly) out of a desire to try to protect the ones I love from books. Because some lines in books have a way of giving you the feeling of “Pow! Right in the kisser!” And some do that over. And over. And over again. In rapid fire succession. Some books have a way of delighting you in one moment and laying bare this un-articulated vulnerability. Words have power.
I heard recently that President Obama gave The Hunger Games (first in the series) to his elder daughter. I hope he, and all the other world leaders read this series and take it to heart. Then again, anytime I encounter a dystopic, post-apocalyptic fiction, I always want to make sure the people in charge are as emotionally invested. I’m sure my parents thought it wasn’t so smart for my 13-year-old self to watch The Day After on cable. And now why at 25, I tell my father, my main movie date, that I will never, ever watch or read The Road.
The Child in Fiction
In college, I took a few classes with John Cech, a great student of children’s literature. One was “Children and Film.” Yes, we got to watch Disney movies, but also very adult movies with child actors. We were encouraged to watch a film related to the week’s theme that had a portrayal of a child but was not necessarily something you’d pop in the DVD player for just any 8-year-old. Another class was “From Hermes to Harry Potter.” That was a study of the archetypal children in fiction. It took a couple of years to let the molds fade from my brain. I can enjoy a book again without analyzing it immediately as an orphan story and predict when he will meet the Wise Earth-Mother (if it so happens to be an orphan-hero journey crossover).
I suppose I write this to make sense of what I’ve just read. The first two books of the series (especially the first) are definitely classifiable as true Young Adult. This last one – I feel discomfiture to give it to Malia once she’s powered through the THG and CF. It’s the mama-bear mode in me. I’m godmother to a 10-year-old boy who gets nightmares from The Terminator movies. Some children are sensitive. Heck, I’m sensitive. But I’m an adult and I can process and recover from things. Things like this last book. If you’re truly in media silence, stop reading, even though I give away nothing terribly revelatory.
Who’s still here? This last book…it dredged those memories of class because it can be classified as literature about children. They are not the main characters. They are not narrators. At 17, Katniss is a young adult, emphasis on the latter word. But they are in the book, in a crucial thematic way. I read this last book with the sense it was about the way people use children. When everyone else is caught up, we can have discussions about one particular phrase uttered by PC and its relation to what’s been going on in Europe and Japan for a while now.
Whenever people ask me why write fiction for children (or about) or even read it, I try to articulate in that foreign language of spoken word the notions hinted at in this post – that for some reason, we the adult readers are sensitized more to an emotional response when it involves children. That children, who are literally the future, are sensitized more to everything in general are more likely to remember their emotional response to a book (see Everything I Know I Learned from a Children’s Book by Anita Silvey) and hopefully, if it was about a future no one would want, those readers would grow up and prevent it from happening. I say often that words have power. I’m slightly off. Children have power.