Slate Magazine has named Suzanne Collins one of 25 Americans who “combine inventive genius and practicality,” claiming that:

her dark, bloodthirsty books upended our notions of what young adult fiction should be – and converted waves of skeptical adults in the process.

It’s true that she drew in many previously unconvinced adults to pick up a book that-gasp!-was found in the Young Adult section of their local B&N, but what did Slate mean by “our notion of what young adult fiction should be?”

It is an absence of conflict that appears to be most sought after in YA literature. It seems that as soon as a parent or critic reaches any sort of problem in a YA book, it is immediately deemed “dark” and can no longer be presented as a viable option for minors. But a conflict-less book doesn’t seem like it would be any sort of fun to read, let alone able to help teenagers in their struggle with their own faults and grey areas, leading them to stronger convictions and more articulate beliefs.

Books help readers sort through all of their internal reactions to what’s going on in the real world. Every challenge a main character encounters can transform into a metaphor for the individual readers’ true experience. If teenagers are denied the practice of reading books that can reflect their own life choices back at them, then when are they supposed to learn this unconscious but pervasive skill?

Even more so, books often voice the very thing a teenager wouldn’t dare bring up to their parents or even their best friend. Open a book, and they don’t have to voice their innermost secret aloud to find another person who is going through a similar trial. Suddenly, they can commiserate without ever having to risk ridicule or ostracism, whether their secret involve some awkward back acne, a growing conviction that the religion they were raised in is no longer their path, or the feeling that they might belong to the LGBTQ community.

So perhaps there are things a YA book should be. It should challenge whoever reads it, and it should remind them that throughout this process of being challenged, they are unequivocally not alone.

And how does this relate to The Hunger Games? Katniss faces insurmountable odds, battling both her peers and a seemingly insurmountable foe, while slowly learning to lean on her family and friends in times of strife instead of shrink into herself, away from all the people who love her. Challenge, check. Not alone, check.

Sure sounds like high school to me.

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