...The Hunger Games, which is a spectacular piece of highly-acclaimed speculative fiction. What if, in the far-off future, there is a government so all-prevailing over its people and so self-serving that it would allow those people to starve while it prospered? What if this government was so perverse and backward as to allow the starving children of its nation to fight to the death for the entertainment of onlookers?
This is the main premise of The Hunger Games and, while reading, it irked me the entire time that this brutal story had an audience of young adults. Yes, this is YA. Murder, sensationalism, capitalism and horrible politics would come together to form an image of war and violence in the minds of teenagers and for most of the book, I was not okay with that. I admit that my impressions of this story were colored by my instincts as a parent to protect young people from brutality and negativity. But reflecting on The Hunger Games brings me to an interesting realization: young adult literature is not children's literature, not even by a stretch.
Those coming of age are just discovering that the world is cruel and it is not all rainbows and puppy dogs. Why shouldn't their literature reflect this while aiding in the healthy acceptance of it? In YA, horrible, adult issues can be discussed and illustrated, just like in adult literature. But there's an innocence to YA that is reminiscent of the children's stories of a young adult's recent past. YA presents an unique balance between the protagonists' innocence and endearing need to do the right thing, and the antagonists' need to illustrate that the world is not always as it should be.
The beauty of young adult literature, and perhaps the appeal of it for adults, is its ability to discuss real, grown-up situations from the vantage points of innocent, virtuous characters. In what other medium would mature adults accept preachy, wrong vs. right stories about such mature topics as war, politics and violence? In what other medium would today's angsty teenager (you know...the one over there, playing Call of Duty) accept such wrong vs. right preaching, if not hidden beneath a story so dark, violent, brutal and--let's face it--awesome?