I have been reading the first two books of Suzanne Collins' wildly popular YA science fiction trilogy, THE HUNGER GAMES, and I am seriously disturbed.
Not by the extreme violence of the books. I think it's now a given that young readers can accept violence. Nor do I think this is due only to video games, current movies, etc. My own teen-age reveries, which consisted of stories I constantly made up for myself , were also pretty violent, and then was back in the early Triassic. Imaginative kids know how violent the real world can be.
And Collins' books have a lot to recommend them: fast pace, some nice writing, a lot of excitement, an appealing heroine, Katniss. Collins is even able to reconcile Katniss' likability with the fact that she kills people, mostly by showing both the dire necessity to do so and Katniss' deep regret and remorse.
What disturbs me about these books is their total implausibility, and the fact that this apparently bothers no one, neither young readers nor the journals that give the novels glowing reviews (BOOKLIST, LIBRARY JOURNAL, PUBLISHERS' WEEKLY). Here is the set-up: a future United States is conquered by a brutal "Capitol" that suggests a high-tech ancient Rome. Each year, each conquered District must send two children to compete in televised gladiatorial games to the death, to which the Gamemakers also contribute various devices and procedures of agonizing torture. This has been going on for 75 years without uprisings from the Districts. We're expected to believe that torturing their children keeps parents passive, rather than as enraged as a she-bear with cubs.
I don't believe it. Parents would not passively send twelve-year-olds, year after year, to torture. An entire population would not watch these televised Games without a resistance movement arising sooner than 75 years. Not even Rome featured child gladiators. And since District 12, unlike the others, is guarded by fairly benign soldiers who participate in its black market and don't guard the fence around the District very well, at least some adults would slip through to hunt the plentiful game in the woods outside. But, no, only two teenagers, Katniss and her friend Gale, do so. It is, of course, a tradition in YA that adults fade into the background, but here all adults are either passive, incompetent, or brutal.
And this is not fantasy, but SF. Katniss, unlike Harry Potter re Dumbledore, has no particular magical talent or inherited status to justify being relied on by adults. It's just that all the adults are inept, cowardly, or both. What really bothers me about all this is that apparently SF does not have to be psychologically believable. Suzanne Collins is selling hundreds of thousands of these books, and I find that discouraging.