- Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games: Critical Essays on the Suzanne Collins Trilogy ed. by Mary F. Pharr and Leisa A. Clark
Merely two years after its conclusion in book form, The Hunger Games trilogy sparked a hit film adaptation, a new wave of YA dystopian literature, [End Page 102] and a huge following among adults and teens alike. Mary F. Pharr and Leisa A. Clark's Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games: Critical Essays on the Suzanne Collins Trilogy sets out to explore the many facets of this phenomenon—and stands as an object lesson of scholarly interest. A shift in academic attitudes toward popular literature has given rise to its own phenomenon: academic collections that respond, almost immediately, to advents in popular culture. This is, in many ways, a heartening development for those of us who work with contemporary YA texts, for it provides much-needed resources and dialogue. In this haste, however, concerning issues emerge. When entire collections are devoted to one recent text, questions of distance and proper development come to the fore.
I frame my consideration of Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games with this reflection because to ignore these wider issues, which do influence this anthology, does a disservice to the generally excellent essays that comprise its whole. As one of the first academic books on The Hunger Games, this anthology seeks to lay the foundations for further study through a series of diverse and disparate essays. Editors Pharr and Clark argue for Collins's trilogy "as a paradigm of Millennial anxieties and human complexity set within a cross-genre, cross-generational narrative," whose cultural centrality demands multilayered investigations (17).
The result is a wide-ranging and substantial volume. Divided under four section-headings—"History, Politics, Economics and Culture," "Ethics, Aesthetics and Identity," "Resistance, Surveillance and Simulacra," and "Thematic Parallels and Literary Traditions"—Of Bread, Blood and The Hunger Games contains a variety of approaches and perspectives that not only reinforce but often contradict one another. Following Pharr and Clark's outline, however, this can be a strength, for it offers opportunities to expand and further scholarly discussion.
The interdisciplinary nature of the anthology allows for considerable intellectual creativity, and many scholars find advantage in this open forum. Max Despain's elucidating "The 'Fine Reality of Hunger Satisfied': Food as Cultural Metaphor" examines how the universal language of food and metaphors of literal and political hunger connect modern-day America and Collins's dystopian nation of Panem. Kelley Wezner's "'Perhaps I Am Watching You Now': Panem's Panopticons" applies Thomas Bentham and Michel Foucault's theories to the trilogy. Guy Andre Risko's "Katniss Everdeen's Liminal Choices and the Foundations of Revolutionary Ethics" stands out as a provocative exploration of ethics and legality in the texts. Ellyn Lem and Holly Hassel's "'Killer' Katniss and 'Lover Boy' Peeta: Suzanne Collins's Defiance of Gender-Genred Reading," which explores Collins' hybridization of traditional boys' and girls' genres, ascribes Katniss's appeal to her rejection [End Page 103] of generic and gendered types. Similarly, Amanda Firestone's comparison of Katniss and Twilight's Bella, in relation to Collins's and Stephenie Meyer's literary genres, flies in the face of popular visions of Katniss as "empowered" and Bella as routinely "antifeminist." And, in the final essay of the anthology, editor Pharr considers fascinating issues of cultural transmission, arguing for The Hunger Games as "the next step in the postmodern reinvestment of the epic" (219).
Pharr's elegant representation of the trilogy as an epic hearkens to the strong opening case she and Clark make for The Hunger Games. The editors' bookends to their anthology argue passionately for YA literature and its validity in academic circles, and some exemplary essays lead the field in promising directions. Notably, Shannon R. Mortimore-Smith's "Audience as 'Gamemaker'" and Katheryn Wright's "Revolutionary Art in the Age of Reality TV" successfully illustrate the complicated relationship between the viewer and the subject of reality television...