The Boy I Want to Be

When the first Hunger Games movie came out, parents took their children, schools arranged field trips, and in general it was deemed important to take kids to go watch other kids kill each other. I’m sure there was some rational point, but I also heard reports of children being severely traumatized. Okay, where am I going with this? Please, not another rant. Not so much. More a question. See, not all kids were traumatized; most were thrilled, entertained, excited, and one young girl was heard coming out of the theater exclaiming, “I wish I could live in the Hunger Games!” Seriously? Why? What was it about that world that made her want to be a part of it?

She was not alone, and since then, Hunger Games themed summer camps have sprung up, giving kids a chance to hunt each other to (presumably simulated) death. What fun! What fun? What? Fun? It’s a given that I don’t get it. Maybe that’s why I continue to be a failed author, while the writers of dark, violent torture-festivals for kids see runaway success.

Okay, presumably the appeal of these books is the characters. Readers can “relate” to these plucky heroines standing up in the face of unrelenting horror and despair. I can see how that’s admirable. But who would want to actually be the characters? To actually go through their experiences?

The appeal of the Harry Potter books, especially the early ones, was obvious. What kid didn’t want to be whisked away to a magical school and discover his true greatness? Even if it meant standing up to ultimate evil, the journey was exciting. And, dare I say, fun. At least, it was in the early books. As the series progressed and the leads got older, the books got darker. This, I suppose, was to reflect that, as you mature, things become more serious, and the stakes rise. The Potter series was remarkable as being possibly the best example of the character growing up with the readers. The early books were very definitely middle grade, while the last ones were squarely “young adult.”

But that’s troubling to me. The implication there is that books for younger readers can be fun, whereas books for older teens should be serious, dark and traumatic. This may be a contributor to my continued failure to find representation for my book. More than one person has told me my book sounds middle grade. Seriously? There’s sex in it. And heady science. Well, I’ve been told, I should probably tone that down.

Great. To succeed as a “young adult” book, it can’t be fun. That’s frankly, bullshit. Why can’t there be fun books for older teens, and even genuine young adults? I’d much rather read that than a book where people are being barbarically killed on every page, and I have to keep stopping because my shuddering makes it hard to hold the book still. Am I alone in that?

What I really don’t understand is the writers of these dark books. What draws them to write? I know what draws me with my book. I love my characters. I’m sure these writers love theirs too, sometimes inordinately so. But my love for my characters drives me to write situations that they will like. I couldn’t wait for my romantic couple to get together. Every time something good happens, it’s a thrill for me, and I’m so proud that I created it. Compare that to Suzanne Collins’ experience. She said it was a very emotionally painful experience to write about children being killed. So then, why did she? Maybe that was her conscience trying to tell her to write something else.

I’m not saying my story is sweetness and light, but the upbeat easily outweighs the down. The light vanquishes the dark. I can’t say this is true of a lot of the popular works of today. Which makes it hard for me to see the appeal.

See, I don’t just love my characters. I want to be them. I want to be my male lead. I want to feel the unconditional love he has from his sisters, and the love he returns to them. A want to hold his little sister in my arms. I want to feel the thrill of his growing relationship with the strong girl who’s been drawn into his family. I want all of that. Did Collins want to experience Katniss’ horrific loss of her sister, or the crushing betrayal by her presumed allies? Did Veronica Roth want to experience the horrible mental torture inflicted on the characters in Divergent? Seriously, who would? The characters come out of these experiences scarred and broken. Is that what readers relate to?

My book isn’t scarring. My characters have adventure. They face dangers, true. Serious risk that forces them to grow and learn and find inner strength they didn’t know they have. But mostly the adventure is fun, full of the thrill of discovery. I’m writing that, because that’s what I want. I want a mysterious stranger to whisk me away to an exotic world, along with my beloved family. I want to join with them in finding my place in a larger universe. I want to be forever amazed by new discoveries. So that’s what’s in my book. And at the end, I make two things clear: even more amazing adventures await them, and they will face them together. As Nick tells his sisters: “We’re family. If we stay together, we can do anything.” I want to feel like that. Which is why I want so badly for my book to be published.

I don’t want to come out of a book feeling depressed and bitter. I want to feel exhilarated. I bet others want to feel that way too, the same way people wanted to feel like Harry Potter. But I haven’t found anything written lately that accomplishes that, which is why I’ve pretty much given up reading in the “young adult” genre.” Really, who wants to feel like Katniss or Tris? The authors? They created these worlds, these soul-crushing situations. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Boy I Want to Be

  1. A thought-provoking perspective, thank you. I’ve never actually read The Hunger Games or Divergent, as they’ve never really appealed to me that much. There’s a place for dark dystopian fiction but it does seem to have been done to death. Perhaps lighter, more escapist fiction for teens/YA might be the next big thing, you never know …

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