Why It’s Okay for Adults to Love “The Hunger Games”

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A couple weeks ago, I spent my Friday in a mind-numbing, face-melting fugue state born of exhaustion and hysteria. I had been up until 3am the night before, and I was paying for it. I hadn’t spent the night wringing my hands in an emergency room. I hadn’t danced until the wee hours at an adult rave. I wasn’t cramming for an important client presentation. Nope. I’d stayed up way past my bedtime for the midnight premiere of The Hunger Games—and loved every minute of it.
I posted about the premiere on Facebook the next day, but why did I feel a smidge reluctant to reveal my fanaticism? Why did I have the need to assert that “as a 30-year-old woman, I am not at all embarrassed to say I went to the midnight showing” of a young adult film? I even have an excuse! I write young adult fiction (that, incidentally, I hope adults will enjoy as well as teenagers). I can spend an afternoon lost in the latest paranormal dystopian zombie romance and chalk it up to research, no questions asked. I felt self-conscious because some adults, even those who love YA, still feel the need to brush off these novels as “beach books” or “leisure reading.”
YA’s appeal to the adult market is the subject of an interesting debate right now. It started with Harry Potter, continued with Twilight, and now rages over the battered bodies of the deceased tributes of The Hunger Games. Is adult appreciation of young adult fiction a love that dare not speak its name? Some fall heavily on the yea side. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Time magazine columnist Joel Stein quipped, “The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads.”
You know what, Joel Stein? You’re a snob. In the same piece you admit to not reading the very series you’re pooh-poohing. Poor reportorial form. If you want to debate the literary merit of a book, or an entire genre, then by all means, read it and get back to me. Like Kanye, I’mma let you finish, but The Hunger Games is one of the best dystopian stories of all, okay recent, time. And here’s why: The characters are well-drawn, the plot is engaging, and the themes are fairly nuanced for a “children’s book.”
Many alarmed parents are decrying the series’ violence, but they’re failing to see the message of that violence, which is one of the book’s subtler triumphs. I think New York Magazine film critic David Edelstein put it best: “[R]ooting for the deaths of Katniss' opponents can't help but implicate us. But the novel is written by a humanist: When a child dies, we breathe a sigh of relief that Katniss has one less adversary, but we never go, ‘Yes!’ — we feel only revulsion for this evil ritual.” Sounds like pretty grown-up stuff to me.
Stein wrote, “I’ll read The Hunger Games when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.” When books like The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies were first published, there wasn’t such a thing as “young adult literature.” Nevertheless, these books, which no doubt would be marketed today as YA, are included on many lists as two of the greatest of that 3,000 years of fiction written for adults. It’s a relatively young genre, but what we identify as young adult today usually means coming-of-age. And what I’ve learned as a young adult writer is that coming of age is fraught with all the dramas and traumas of the human experience that are so eloquently explored in adult fiction, only writ larger. 
Is the Hunger Games a literary tour de force? No. Is it a game changer? No, but hopefully it’s part of a game-changing trend. Because a good book is a good book, no matter what part of the bookstore it’s shelved in.

Photo source: WeeLittlePiggy (cc)
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