Hungry for Peace

Before I had kids, I remember talking to my mother about how I worried about bringing kids into such a dangerous world, and she told me that she had felt the same way during the years she bore five children. That was back when people actually built bomb shelters in their basements, preparing for the nuclear war many felt was only a matter of time. At Westlawn Elementary where I was in first grade, we had regular air raid drills, during which we had to go out into the hall and crouch away from the windows, waiting for the all-clear signal.

Of course, the attacks didn’t come then. Or for the next forty years. And the lull, rather than making us feel secure, encouraged many of my generation to feel suspicious of government and cynical about “the establishment,” as we called it then. Famously, we didn’t trust anyone over 30.

Now we’re the geezers, worried about our jobs, anxious about global unrest and domestic decay. And a new generation is growing up under the shadow of new plagues, more deadly weapons, and a global economic melt-down. Yet, in the face of these threats, the young adults of today amaze me with their resilience and optimism. Sure, there are always some examples of people who collapse from the tension and pressure of modern life. But that only makes the courage and determination and creativity of the rest more admirable.

To what can we credit this new generation of problem solvers? Their parents, in part, their teachers, their mentors. But I think credit is also due to some of the authors who have been creating Young Adult literature in the past twenty or thirty years. I’ve heard it said that literacy is on the decline in this country, and perhaps in some regards that’s true. But it all depends on how you define literacy. If you consider it as the awareness of great stories, epic narratives which reflect the values of a nation or a culture, then I think that, though there has been a shift in the way these narratives are delivered, the message of courage in the face of overwhelming odds, the recognition of loyalty, faith and compassion as core values for our continuation as a species, is still being carried forward in works of literature and film.

Next month the film version of Suzanne Collins’ brilliant, violent, and riveting dystopian trilogy The Hunger Games will open in theatres across the nation. I just finished reading it, and I don’t care if it’s labeled Young Adult fiction – these books rocked my world with their stunning evocation of a society so corrupted by imbalances of power, wealth and justice that torture and terror have becomeĀ  government’s go-to tools to maintain the status-quo. Sound familiar?

The heroine of the story is a teenage girl with an independent spirit and an impulsive nature who never gives up fighting. Katniss Everdeen is a heroine for our times. She embodies the anger and frustration felt by the disenfranchised, the homeless, hungry, abandoned and abused people whose suffering is ignored by the ruling elites and the passive citizens who don’t want to have to think about who pays the true cost of their indulgent lifestyles.

In the world of The Hunger Games the control of the ruling class depends on regular televised spectacles of children engaged in combat to the death, which lull the populace into accepting an inherently immoral system. And although Katniss is forced to participate, she eventually fights her way to the realization that “something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children to settle its differences.” I couldn’t agree more.

This is strong material, worthy of the attention of full grown adults. When the film opens in March, no doubt a new crop of readers will be turned on to the books. Suspenseful, mesmerizing and propulsive as a rocket launcher, The Hunger Games delivers an anti-war message with a new edge.

Will it be enough to cut through the miasma of politics and profit that keeps the military-industrial complex in control of our country? Probably not. But it might get a few kids thinking.