On the eve of the final Hunger Games movie installment a question occurs. Why does Katniss Everdeen work so well as a character in The Hunger Games? She knows hunger. She knows courage, rebellion; daily breaks the harsh rules to hunt for food to feed her family. She understands self-sacrifice and is devoted to her family. All of this is in the first chapter of the novel. Who couldn’t like her? That she is thrown into this terrifying Reality Arena with lethal weapons as she is forced to fight to the death is the thrill, of course, but so too is her magnanimity and compassion (that is also her Achilles heel).
If you think people (teens in particular) like this don't exist you haven't been watching any sport lately. To win the Heptathlon for example in the Olympics you have to be running, jumping, javelin throwing, yet more running, hurdles over water jumps and hazards. Four years of dedicated training, 15 hours a day, forcing yourself on through injuries, all kinds of setbacks, challenging yourself, submitting yourself to endless heats, never accepting defeat but renewing your efforts each time you are beaten. Multiply this by thousands and thousands of young athletes dedicated to the glory of achievement with a medal rather than financial reward and you will understand that Katniss has already done the required 10,000 hours it takes to be a champion in the ring.
Success is hard work. It has to be, it wouldn't mean anything if it wasn't.
In writing YA fiction creating young characters that will strive, survive and love with all the intensity of a small nuclear explosion (and hate in the same strength) is what it takes. All this tinged with regret for the fleeting times between 15 and 20 when everything is so important and immediate, so much about YOU. Characters emerge out of this seething cauldron.
Every relationship is 'the one' until the next one. Every break-up is devastating until the next one. Your hormones are raging and won't leave you alone. Your life goes from total focus to total distraction in a flash and all around there is betrayal, paranoia, expectation, utter boredom, restrictions, and even so you are suppose to make plans for LIFE and CAREER and aim for a huge mortgage and conform. No wonder dystopia is in fashion. Who wouldn’t want to destroy all this and start over (only with a working freezer and hot shower)?
You either know exactly what you want to be or have absolutely no idea at all and everything seems out of reach. Your parents are conspiring against you. Girls you knew at school last year are going past the school with babies for gods sake, and some have dropped out because all the stupid other temptations that trip you up on the way. You're still there - slogging away at exams you hate for subjects you have no interest in. The worlds is utterly mad - until he or she suddenly smiles at you and then a door opens to new possibilities. Too late you discover that love is not the answer - just the question. But that's another story...
Learning from fiction is what we do. Katniss is leading a revolution against an oppressive totalitarian government - it mirrors much of what is happening in our real world - it may be a gateway series to political awakening for a young reader. Perhaps they will understand the plight of the millions of migrants fleeing Islamic State or Assad in the Middle East to Europe with a glimmer of understanding and sympathy. But in the end I guess we learn in life or business, there’s no success without total dedication to what you do and self-belief and sacrifice. There are no short cuts that last.
Hawksmoor the writer was once there - and has the scars to prove it. He survived. Ferris Bueller was his hero back then.
Ferris: The question isn't "what are we going to do," the question is "what aren't we going to do?"
Cameron: Please don't say were not going to take the car home. Please don't say were not going to take the car home. Please don't say were not going to take the car home.
Ferris: [to the camera] If you had access to a car like this, would you take it back right away?
Ferris: Neither would I.
© Sam Hawksmoor 2021
author of The Repossession of Genie Magee and The Hunting of Genie Magee and The Heaviness
Sam shares editorial responsibilities with the long running web magazine www.hackwriters.com