Chicago Tribune’s RedEye March 23, 2012
When I say “young adult literature,” what comes to mind? I bet it’s angst-ridden teenage girls and sparkly vampires who have nothing better to do with their immortality than to take high school chem over and over again.
The “Twilight” juggernaut has ruined YA lit’s reputation. It has come to stand as a symbol of everything eye-rollingly terrible about the genre. Almost all the blame can be laid on its fictional narrator, Bella Swan. Even a decent percentage of Twi-hards who swear their allegiance to Stephenie Meyer admit they can’t stand the passive (at her best), asinine (at her worst) Bella Swan.
Forget about “Twilight.” Please. A beacon of fabulous hope for revitalizing the YA genre has appeared in the form of Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy and its heroine, Katniss Everdeen. The first “Hunger Games” movie drops Friday, and it will serve as a satisfying antidote to the “Twilight” books and movies. This is especially true when comparing narrators: Bella vs. Katniss.
I haven’t had an imaginary best friend since I was in Garanimals, but I’ll make an exception for Katniss. She is my new (fictional) best friend. She’s tough and smart, and she won’t flake on your plans to hang out with her vampire boyfriend instead.
If Katniss is my new best friend, then Bella is the girl I’m forever avoiding. Bella is the girl whose calls I let go to voicemail and whose appearance on my Gchat list sends me scrambling to put up an “Unavailable” status before I’m sucked into her drama vortex.
In “Twilight,” Bella’s primary concern is being with her boyfriend. For hundreds of pages, Bella waits. She wallows. She worries. She whines. My girl Katniss worries too, but instead of waiting for her immortal boyfriend to show up, she inspires a bedraggled, oppressed nation into revolution.
Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games in the place of her little sister—a heroic and suicidal gesture. Bella, on the other hand, needs an entire family of vampires and a pack of werewolves to protect her.
Katniss fights genetically engineered creatures, survives assassination attempts and becomes a symbol of strength in the face of hopelessness. Bella spends a good deal of her novels being carried places by supernatural dudes.
Katniss is added to the fictional Twitter feed of my dreams along with Ellen Ripley, Buffy Summers, Hermione Granger and Beatrix Kiddo. These are women of action. Women who aren’t frozen by fear and prone to quiet passivity. These are women who would send a shiver down the Terminator’s spine and earn an impressed smirk from John McClane. These are the type of women I want to read about.
I want my girls to be self-confident and clever—not consumed with finding a boyfriend. I like my heroines physically and emotionally strong, interesting and smart. Pretty novel, huh? (Pun intended.)
Let’s hope the popularity of the “Hunger Games” series is indicative of the direction young adult fiction is heading. More heroines like Katniss Everdeen, less like Bella Swan. More girls embracing their wits and kicking ass, less moping and texting.