Violence in Mockingjay too much?

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Violence in Mockingjay too much?

Post by PaulaK » September 2nd, 2010, 12:13 pm

The release of Mockingjay last week seems to have ignited conversation concerning the amount of violence in YA lit. I first saw this question raised right after I completed reading this 3rd installment of Suzanne Collins mesmerizing series. I was a little shocked at first. I was still in the throes of my own personal reaction to the series ender and hadn’t yet considered the bigger picture of it. It has taken me several days to wrap my head around what I think about this. It is an issue I should be concerned with, to be sure. I am a lover and reader of YA fiction, as well as a mother of four YA readers and one 7 year old diva who won’t forever stay in the wonderful world of Beverly Cleary. I also have my own YA WIP and have confronted this question myself in my own writing. So what is the answer here? What constitutes too much violence in a book intended for tweens and teens, even one that crosses over into the adult market?

For me it is a question of balance. Good vs Evil. Yen and Yang, so to speak. This is a philosophy I practice in parenting. There is evil in this world and I cannot shield my precious children completely from it. If I tried they would be grossly unprepared to leave the nest. So I strive to teach them to be aware and wise and how to deal and I make sure they know goodness and beauty and light and where to turn to when things just get too dark. The first two books in Collins series, Hunger Games and Catching Fire, contain violence, to be sure. But there is also light. There is love and sacrifice and hope and goodness and humor. There is balance. I didn’t just read these first two books. I absolutely inhaled them. Then I reread them more slowly to ensure I didn’t miss any pertinent detail. The violence, I confess, I just glossed over. It was the story, the drama, the romance the captivated me. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. Yes, violence was there, but it wasn’t the focus.

Then, after waiting all summer and rushing to Barnes and Noble at 9am on the 24th to buy Mockingjay, I finally got to find out what happened next. And what happened was this: the light went out. The balance disappeared. What was left was a violent, disturbing and depressing story of war and loss. Still brilliantly written in parts. Still compelling enough that I read as many hours as I could justify for two straight days until I was done. But oh so unsatisfying. It left me in quite a funk and a bit angry. Was it really necessary to hijack Peeta? Yes, he sort of recovers at the end, but too late to bring light back to the story. He was not the only light in the first two books, but he embodied all that was good and hopeful and when he changed, the whole book changed for me. No longer was I reading a captivating story. I was now reading a commentary on war and I felt emotionally manipulated. Collins, it seemed, wasn’t trying to entertain me, she was trying to make me agree with her point of view. Even if I already did, (and who does love war?) I don’t want to be manipulated into it. Subltly drive me there and let me draw my own conclusions based on what I see and I am with you all of the way. Slap me in the face with it and I feel a teensy bit used.

Someone suggested to me once that I kill off a minor character in my own WIP by having her head lobbed off by the Mexican drug cartel of which she is a part. My response was that I couldn’t, it would be too dark and I didn’t want that image in the young heads of my potential readers. Yes, drug cartels seem to be overly found of decapitation in the real world, but I am writing a work of fiction for teenage readers. And really, the story isn’t about the violence of the drug cartels, it is about my two MCs and their stories and challenges. Hunger Games and Catching Fire were, to me, about Katniss and Peeta and Gale and how they navigate their world and circumstances. Mockingjay was about the destruction of war. The characters became second place. The balance was lost. And I was left depressed. I hope one day, to publish something I write. I hope to entertain and if I am really blessed, maybe to pass on a lesson or two. But I hope I never leave a reader depressed at the end of my story. Goodness, beauty, light…that is where to leave a reader. What is life without hope?

(I am still a fan of Collins, have been since I read her Gregor series to my kids, though I must confess I am still waiting for her to write a book six where Gregor returns to the Underland as a YA and finds Luna and fixes what needs to be fixed and they all live happily ever after…)

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Re: Violence in Mockingjay too much?

Post by Sommer Leigh » September 2nd, 2010, 2:59 pm

I have been a part of this conversation so many times in the last week! It is a very important topic to talk about and I thank you for bringing it up so well.

I think saying there's too much violence in YA literature because young adults should not be exposed to violence is not a good reason. It doesn't answer any fundamental questions about why the violence is there, what it teaches, what it means, and what it has to do with our world right now. As terrible as it is, there is violence and darkness and tragedy in the world and in the news. I'm not saying this is a good thing or a reason that violence should be acceptable, I'm saying that we can't pretend it doesn't exist to shield kids from those truths. They aren't protected if they don't have a good vehicle by which to ask questions and discuss the consequences of violence (as government against citizen in The Hunger Games.)

Questions we should ask about the violence: why is it important to the story line? What message does it send? How do the characters react to the violence? How does it change the characters? The society? What does it say about our real world? What can we learn from it? Is it important?

Violence for violence sake is not good in general, but you don't tend to find Hollywood violence in YA books. In the hunger games, it taught us about tyranny and the consequences of a society oppressed and abused. This isn't made up, it happens. It takes a real life problem and places it in a context that kids can understand. Most American young adults will never have to face that kind of oppression, but it doesn't mean they shouldn't understand its existence or what it means when they read about it in the news. It's an amazing way to open up discourse about these topics. The same can be said of Sunrise Over Fallujah about war, or To Kill A Mockingbird about racial violence, or The Outsiders about social and gang violence just to name some examples.

The other issue here actually borders on censorship- If we say there is too much violence in YA lit, it suggests that authors need to censor their writings and messages into a more socially approved manner or that parents, schools, and libraries should withhold these titles from young adults. All young adults are different at different experience levels and different maturities and age doesn't even necessarily tell you whether a young adult is mature enough to be reading a book with violence in it. This goes back to individual young adults and their parents to decide, not one person who thinks an author overstepped the line.

It's a complicated subject to talk about. A good subject, definitely, but a complicated one.

On a final note, I do not believe YA lit isn't getting any more or less violent than it has ever been. There will never be comfortable blanket determinations to throw over all of YA lit to control it: “Violence is bad, take it out.” “Sex is bad, take it out.” “Swearing is bad, take it out.” “Drugs and alcohol are bad, take it out.” “Abusive parents are bad, take them out.”

I also want to apologize for how long that went! I clearly don't have much to say on the subject do I?
May the word counts be ever in your favor.
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Re: Violence in Mockingjay too much?

Post by TigerGray » September 2nd, 2010, 10:13 pm

Well said, Sommer. I agree.
"Who knows themselves better than the blind?' - for every thought becomes a tool." --Luis Borges

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Re: Violence in Mockingjay too much?

Post by sally_apokedak » September 7th, 2010, 5:03 pm

When I started Hunger Games, one of the things that forced me to read was the conflict that had no good answer. Katniss was going to have to kill innocents if she was to survive. I saw no way for Collins to keep Katniss alive and keep me liking her. But Collins brilliantly pulled it off. Katniss retained her compassion and she survived the games without killing herself or any innocent.

I was bothered by the violence in all of the books, but the evil was balanced by Katniss' integrity.

The third book was different. We see Katniss holding hands with the people in the hospital--compassionately exposing herself to their germs--and then we see her blow away a civilian. There's no more integrity. And she gets meaner as the book progresses. We see her treat Peeta badly after he's been brutalized, and she, of all people, understands the brutality of the Capitol's psychological torture. And instead of having pity, she gets mad at Peeta, as if he's just being mean to her for fun. And then Finnick dies and Katniss, who can't grieve at the moment because she's running for her life, doesn't find a moment later to reflect and grieve over his death.

I didn't think the third book was more violent than the first two and I didn't think any of them were so violent that children shouldn't read them (the psychological torture is far worse, I think, than physical violence) but I didn't like the third book because there was no hero for me to root for.

One of the most violent movies I've ever seen is Con Air and it bothers me that I like it. But the reason I like it is that the hero is all hero. His motives are pure. He's a man of integrity. He's not out for revenge. He's not trying to hurt people. He's not greedy. He's not power hungry. He's just trying to protect the oppressed. I can take the violence as long as there is one person fighting the evil and giving me hope for the future. But if everyone is evil, and Katniss becomes evil when she blows away the citizen and later when she becomes a vigilante and executes Coin, then there is no hope. And that, I think, is a terrible thing to feed children. I suppose in Peeta there was hope. He was good all the way through. Since he wasn't the POV character, and since his part was so small, his goodness didn't have much of an impact, though.

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