The Hunger Games: revealing the problem with YA fiction

The Hunger Games is a great book series; truly, it is well written, intelligent, deep, observational and thought provoking. But when I read the books (about 5 years ago), I was left disappointed and pissed off. Why?


Love triangles have become a prerequisite for YA novels. Originally, author Suzanne Collins planned for Gale to be Katniss’s cousin, but her editor encouraged her to change this to a “romantic interest” to appeal to the drones of YA readers, solely interested in hot guys and bad romance.

The Hunger Games has GREAT themes of government oppression, rebellion of the lower class, and society revolting. But, instead of fans discussing these issues – and applying them to modern society (which was the author’s intent) – we have forums of “Who did Katniss love more?” or “Team Peeta vs Team Gale”. And it doesn’t stop there. I have seen shirts sporting these logos, memes (now focusing on Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutchison as soul mates – yeah, thanks Pinterest) and meaningless online quizzes determining what District readers would be in, or would they win the Hunger Games.

I was furious when I read the Hunger Games, because I saw so much potential, originality, and sheer AWESOMENESS, but it had been tarnished for some fucking trend. Seriously! A premise of war, rebellion and civil justice, overshadowed by teen-love all for the sake of fitting in on the YA bookshelf.

I’m pretty sure it’s in Mockingjay when Katniss, now the symbol is hope and a revolution and on the cusp of war, is conflicted over how she feels about these two pathetic boys. One is angry and reckless, the other… just plain boring (honestly, I never saw the appeal in Peeta, and always knew our BAMF (Bad-Ass Mother Fucker) Heroine would end up with this… blah). I remember reading it and thinking “DAMN IT, GIRL! SORT OUT YOUR PRIORITIES!”

Seriously… here, our BAMF heroine has been rendered to the same, whining girl in every other YA novel. This is Katniss’s low moment of being on par with Bella Swan. Thanks for that.

Alexis from Goodreads wrote: “The Katniss/Peeta/Gale relationship is an allegory for approaches to and thoughts about war, rebellion, social engagement, etc. so the relationships are at the core of the trilogy’s purpose and depth. Collins is a smart writer and didn’t just insert these characters, or the purported triangle (which really isn’t one) arbitrarily. Each character plays an important role in the reader’s understanding of meaty issues such as war, media saturation, socioeconomic status, class and race issues etc.

And I agree with her – I think Collins’ intention was to have these two boys as allegories. But it could have been just as well executed, if not better, if Gale was still Katniss’s cousin. How gripping and conflicting would it have been if Katniss was torn between Peeta – a boy she shared a harrowing experience with, and had a dubious relationship with – and Gale – her cousin, her blood and family, who had always been there for her and she had grown up admiring?

If Gale had been Katniss’s cousin, Katniss’s decision of who she should align herself with would have had much higher stakes. She would have still gone through the internal conflict – but it wouldn’t have had anything to do with kissing.

What’s truly a shame is that no matter how someone tries to justify the love triangle and explain Katniss’s true struggle (no matter how eloquent or convincing), the majority won’t give a damn. Because whenever someone tries to give YA readers some credit, a high percentage of readers prove that all their capable of honing in on are the shallow things: predictably conflicted romance and the subjective attractiveness of the leading man.

People – meaning readers, publishers and editors – assume YA readers (or that age demographic in general) are stupid. We (the royal we) assume YA readers don’t want to think about meaty issues; they want to stay blind to what is going on in society, they don’t want to be confronted with mature issues and having to form an opinion.

But Suzanne Collins, and The Hunger Games, tried to prove that low generalization wrong. I was 16 when I read The Hunger Games (I’m now 20), and at that age I was able to feel anger towards The Capitol for their dictatorship over Panem; the way the media controls and influences society; the unjust that goes on in this world. And, in turn, my eyes were open to the selfishness from our own governments – the ugliness in poverty (not just in third world countries, but on our very streets), and the morally corrupt people in power. May I remind people reading this, that when I was 16,  Twilight was the hot thing of the moment – and out news was filled with Twitards going batshit insane over these dreadful movies and books.

As someone who wants to one day be a writer, I see it as the utmost importance that we treat YA readers with enough respect to know they’re capable of thinking beyond themselves. The problem with The Hunger Games was the Love Triangle. Suzanne Collins’ editor – Kate Egan – is the culprit here:

Storytelling is Suzanne’s strength. As an editor, I help her develop the characters. For example, I asked her for more of the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle. Suzanne was more focused on the war story.

Egan here is implying that The Hunger Games wouldn’t have been as successful as it is now, if it weren’t for the love triangle. To Egan, The Hunger Games would only survive on YA shelves if it fit into a cookie cutter mold like Twilight, Mortal Instruments and Vampire Academy. In short, Egan is an example of what it wrong with YA fiction at the moment. The more I learn about the industry, the more I see how little control an author has over their work: the editing, publishing, the marketing and profit. But, reading Egan’s interview, made me wonder if authors have been trying to open readers’ minds all this time… and their work has been lost in translation thanks to their editors.

As a student writer, who wishes to make a difference and open readers minds, I would love nothing more for the current YA trend to dissipate. But it’s not solely the authors’ responsibility. Editors have a role to play, as well. But, given how money orientated the industry is, I doubt we’ll see a change any time soon.


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