This month’s column is a departure from my usual adult fare. In recognition of the upcoming holiday season, I am reviewing two young adult novels with crossover appeal to adult readers. Why not give your teen a novel you can both enjoy and discuss? The following titles fit the bill.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is set in a futuristic North America in which the people have rebelled against the government and the government won. The country is divided into the Capitol and 13 districts, only 12 of which are populated; the 13th was left a wasteland to remind citizens of the folly of treason. Every year, a boy and a girl from each district are chosen as tributes. They are sent to the Capitol to compete in the Hunger Games, an annual televised spectacle in which the tributes compete in a fight to the death. Watching the games on television in compulsory, (a dystopian version of must-see TV), the tribute that survives is set for life and he/she earns a comfortable life (enough food, electricity and heat) for his/her district for the next year, too. When our protagonist, 16-year old Katniss, volunteers to take the place of her younger sister as tribute, her outlook is bleak. She and the other District 12 tribute, Peeta, are from a poor district and they will be competing against wealthy, well-nourished, better-trained teens. Following their preparations for the games and the efforts made during the games to provide a plot that will keep hometown viewers interested and rooting for them, one can’t help but think of today’s “reality” television shows; their discomfiting similarities will give a thinking reader pause. Collins raises all sorts of questions: What is entertainment? Can any entertainment be considered immoral? What are the responsibilities of government? Of citizens? Can the powerless fight injustice? This is an excellent first book of a series–I look forward to the next installment.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore features another strong-willed, independent teenage girl as the protagonist. Katsa is feared and respected in her world, for not only is she the king’s niece, she has grace and an extreme skill for killing. When we meet her, she is engaged in an undercover rescue mission unauthorized by the king, for whom she also works as an enforcer. During the rescue, she encounters an intriguing stranger and knocks him out to keep him from interfering; when that same stranger appears at her uncle’s castle after her return, their friendship begins. Prince Po, whose grandfather Katsa and her companions have rescued, is trying to discover who instigated the kidnapping and why. After he helps Katsa free herself from her uncle’s cruel authority, they set off together to solve the mystery. Their quest and its attendant adventures form the bulk of the book. Though it is primarily a fantasy romance, Cashore’s novel also raises many questions: What does an individual owe to herself and society? What duty is owed to a corrupt authority? Can a woman marry and still retain her independence? Despite its lack of vampires, this novel should appeal to readers of the Twilight series. Graceling is a beautifully written novel, perfect for older teen girls (and their mothers!).
Susan Taylor has been in the book business, in one aspect or another, since 1982. She currently works at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Stop by the store if you are looking for a good book—she’s read a lot more than she can talk about here!