Last summer the Bemidji Library Book Festival invited me to be a guest author to talk about speculative fiction. What a joy to introduce others to a genre that I read as a student, but really embraced with the 1986 release of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy may bring young adult readers and their parents together for a summer of interesting discussions about a not so awfully distant future where the powerful elite spiral out of touch with an impoverished nation.
Embracing Katniss Everdeen, a practical tomboyish character with premature responsibilities for the life of her small family, is a healthy movement (particularly for girls) away from the years of vampire-inspired romanticism. In District 12 where Katniss lives, survival is a daily challenge. Young adults, both boys and girls, are embracing speculative fiction because it asks “What if”â€¦” without filters of politics, gender or nationality. The genre offers space for readers of all ages to be entertained and intellectually challenged, to close a book and open their eyes, to challenge the writer’s world through discussion with others.
For most kids and adults this great recession stripped away the assumption of comfort. Almost everyone knows someone who lost a job, a house, a college education, a dream. To some extent we can identify with Katniss and, while fearing our lives might ever look like hers, we can aspire to her nobility. Kids who are reading the trilogy have grown up in a world where bullying can lead to deadly action, rich men can destroy the livelihoods of common people, war is a daily killing ritual shown on the nightly news. They are not innocent about the slender distance between the family life where they whine for new sneakers or video games and the reality of other kids who sleep in grandparents’ basements while parents rebuild from financial ruin. They know modern day Katniss teens walking through their schools.
Now if adults flock to speculative fiction, there are wonderful discussions to be held:
- James Howard Kunstler‘s World Made by Hand suggests we look at the downside of urban sprawl and dependence on oil.
- PD James‘ Children of Men throws readers into a world where optimism and progressive drive have become obsolete.
- Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale is so rich during today’s political discussion of the acceptance of women’s full rights in the United States.
- I’d suggest my own books which focus on the inter-dependencies of individuals, families and government when what is normal disappears. (Minnesota Cold and Ashwood)
If you’re a book reader, try Hunger Games. If you don’t want to invest the three or four hours it would take to read the book, see the movie. Bring a young adult. Talk on the way home. What if….