Fiction merges with reality when you are a librarian here at Scholastic. Little things, like whenever someone in a meeting says “I volunteer,” I silently finish their sentence with, “as tribute.” Sometimes not so silently.
What is it about that moment in The Hunger Games?
Ten years ago, Katniss Everdeen cried out “I volunteer as tribute!” to save her little sister and I was instantly invested in her success. Only 22 pages in, this heroine already had my respect and loyalty. I myself have four little sisters, and so I could immediately relate to Katniss’s protective instinct. It was small gestures as well that made her three-dimensional, like retrieving the cat and sneaking it into District 13, muttering under her breath. Such a big sister move. Siblings know exactly how to put you at ease. My own sister, instinctually, knew to gift me two limited edition Katniss dolls.
But the actual trilogy is not all fun and… games. In fact, Suzanne Collins' dystopia is the ultimate what-would-you-do. What would you do if your little sister was being dragged away? What would you do if your life was on the line? A student asked me once what I would do if someone came in our classroom with a weapon… Now, I know that is serious; it’s “as serious as The Hunger Games," to quote a coworker. However, I will always remember that student’s question, because it was honest. Adolescence is a time when you question things, including your own place in the world, and when what-would-you-do is top of mind. Exploring this in fiction leads to great conversations with teenagers, except the what-would-you-do ‘if you were Juliet’ or ‘if you were Scout’ hypothetical seemed much more real reading The Hunger Games.
Were I still teaching, it would be an interesting exercise to ask my students to think critically about ‘what would Katniss Everdeen do’ in real life — #KatnissIRL. She consistently finds her voice and the strength to look out for others, while pulling herself through when her back is against the wall. Katniss didn't let her fear stop her from action. She made herself heard and had a direct effect on the events of her life. This was a powerful lesson for girls.
Looking back on the news since The Hunger Games was first published in 2008, there are so many real world examples of young women raising their voices — like Katniss — and performing heroic acts. And just like Katniss, many of them are reluctant heroes; put in an impossible situation, they persevere, continue to look out for others, and make a difference in the world.
I devoured The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. For a decade, I've had a Mockingjay pin on whatever denim jacket I wear. I wrote an entire blog post on “Katniss braids.” As you know, I have two Katniss dolls. There is also a District 12 training jersey in my wardrobe; so unless I come up with something different, my default Halloween costume is Katniss Everdeen. I was a superfan before I wrote this post, but as I put this all together for the 10th anniversary of The Hunger Games, I believe the trilogy demands a reread. Katniss is so relevant right now.
Deimosa Webber-Bey is a librarian at Scholastic and a former high school teacher.