“The Hunger Games is an unstoppable force. Get a kid or adult into that novel,
and you have created a life-long reader.”
– Mary Ehrenworth, Deputy Director for Middle School,
Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University
The Power in the Games
In her February 2011 NY Times blog post, Tara Parker-Pope shares the findings of a Temple University study on teenage brains and risk-taking. In order to “test how the presence of peers’ influences on risk taking, the researchers asked 14 young teenagers (ages 14 to 18), 14 college students and 12 young adults to play a six-minute video driving game while in a brain scanner…The children and adults played four rounds of the game while undergoing the brain scan. Half the time they played alone, and half the time they were told that two same-sex friends who had accompanied them to the study were watching the play in the next room.”
Dr. Laurence Steinberg co-authored the study: “The presence of peers activated the reward circuitry in the brain of adolescents that it didn’t do in the case of adults.” The findings also revealed that “the brain system involved in reward processing is also involved in the processing of social information, explaining why peers can have such a pronounced effect on decision making” in teenagers.
It’s not surprising, then, that one of the primary ways teens choose books is to accomplish a social goal. If they read a book together, they are united by a common experience, and they form a concrete connection to their peers. They are also motivated to maintain that connection by sustaining talk (or text!) about the book in the hallway, on the phone, over Facebook, etc. Beautifully, all the latest reading research shows that reading and rereading a text and sustaining conversation around it, results in deeper comprehension for all readers – particularly those in middle and high school.
I believe that The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the most important book for young adult readers written since the halls of Hogwarts came readers’ way. In her 2010 article, “Fresh Hell: What’s Behind the Boom in Dystopian Literature for Young Adults,” Laura Miller suggests that dystopian literature enables adolescents to lean in to their particular, complicated place in human development: “the world of our hovered-over teens and preteens may be safer, but it’s also less conducive to adventure. Teens yearn for adventure. And they yearn to be different than they are.” The Hunger Games “operates like a fable or a myth…for universal experiences…” But it’s not about being “didactic.” It’s about “persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening – it’s about what’s happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader.”
The book’s themes are also undeniably current: the role of violence in a culture, the presence and purpose of reality TV, loyalty, and disparate rights among socioeconomic classes. In his March 20th Miami Herald article, Rick Bentley labels the book “a cautionary story of what happens when people start to lose touch with their humanity.” These are big ideas – the ideas that, when wrestled to the ground, help us understand what it means to be human and to live well together.
So tomorrow our 8th grade class will head out during class time to watch The Hunger Games on opening day. We will celebrate some community literacy. We will analyze our reading and understanding and compare it to the filmakers’ interpretation. And most importantly, we will wrestle with the big ideas.
– Emily Rietz
Bentley, Rick. "“Get Ready for the next big movie franchise: ‘Hunger Games’.” Miamiherald.com. N.p., 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. Miller, Laura. "“Fresh Hell: What’s Behind the Boom in Dystopian Literature for Young Readers”." The New Yorker 14 June 2010: n. pag. Print. Parker-Pope, Tara. "Teenagers, Friends and Bad Decisions." Nytimes.com. N.p., 3 Feb. 2011. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.