NEW YORK Suzanne Collins didn’t expect everyone to approve of The Hunger Games.
“I’ve read in passing that people were concerned about the level of violence in the books,” Collins said of her dystopian trilogy that’s sold more than a million copies. “That’s not unreasonable. They are violent. It’s a war trilogy.”
In what’s become a virtual rite of passage for young adult sensations, a Collins novel has made its first appearance on the American Library Association’s annual top 10 list of books most criticized in their communities. The Hunger Games, the title work of Collins’ series about young people forced to hunt and kill each other on live television, has been cited for violence and sexual content. In recent years, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and Stephenie Meyer’s vampire novels also have been on the association’s list.
Hunger Games ranked No. 5 this year and was joined yesterday by Meyer’s Twilight (No. 10), which debuted on the list last year, and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, winner in 2007 of the National Book Award for young people’s literature. Criticisms of Alexie’s novel include language, racism and sexual content.
“It almost makes me happy to hear books still have that kind of power,” Alexie said. He laughed at the idea his work might be harmful, noting that he receives fan mail every day from readers thanking him for his story of a bright but bullied teen estranged from his fellow Indians on the Spokane Reservation and from the rich white kids at the high school he attends.
“And there’s nothing in my book that even compares to what kids can find on the Internet,” he said.
Alexie acknowledges one disappointment; his book only ranked No. 2, trailing And Tango Makes Three, a picture story by Justin Richardson’s and Peter Parnell about two male penguins who hatch a donated egg and raise the baby penguin. It’s the fourth time in five years Tango has been No. 1, with reasons for criticism including the book’s discussion of homosexuality.
The library association reported 348 challenges to books in 2010 and at least 53 outright bans, with other challenges and bans likely undocumented. The ALA defines a challenge as an effort “to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves.”
Collins said The Hunger Games was recommended for ages 12 and up but said kids sensitive to the material might want to wait longer.
The author’s daughter, meanwhile, may have been ready before age 12. She had already started reading Collins’ previous series, The Underland Chronicles, written for a slightly younger audience.
“I knew she would already have been through one war series with me and, of course, I’d be on hand if there was anything she needed to discuss,” Collins said. “Emotional readiness and previous exposure to a similar type of subject matter those seem like key elements to me in determining whether a young person can handle a book.”
Barbara M. Jones, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, says some books on the list reflect current trends and changes in technology, including Hunger Games, inspired in part by reality television; Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World, (No. 3), which anticipates antidepressants and artificial fertilization; and a work of nonfiction: Nickel and Dimed (No. 8), Barbara Ehrenreich’s despairing account of trying to get by as a waitress, maid and Walmart worker.
“The closer books come to things that are really happening in a lot of lives, the more they become a reminder of what people don’t like to think about,” Jones said, noting that Ehrenreich’s book “really hits hard what it’s like to have a low paying job.”
Nickel and Dimed has been criticized for language, drugs and for its political and religious viewpoints.
Also on the list:
No. 4: Crank, Ellen Hopkins (drugs, language, sexual content).
No. 6: Lush, Natasha Friend (language, sexual content).
No. 7: What My Mother Doesn’t Know, Sonya Sones (sexism, sexual content).
No. 9: Revolutionary Voices, a collection of gay-themed stories edited by Amy Sonnie (homosexuality, sexual content).