- Katniss's Oppositional Romance:Survival Queer and Sororal Desire in Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games Trilogy
As Carrie Hintz and Elaine Ostry note in their seminal essay collection Utopian and Dystopian Writing for Children and Young Adults, "sometimes the 'growing pains' of a society moving toward utopia or away from dystopia are framed as synonymous with adolescent growth itself" (10). This metaphor of "growing pains" underscores the emphasis that dystopian young adult literature often places on "growing up" and raises, as Kathryn Bond Stockton argues in her work on queer children, some "rich problems," namely, that "children's … supposed gradual growth … has been relentlessly figured as vertical movement upward (hence, 'growing up') toward full stature, marriage, work, reproduction, and the loss of childishness" (Queer Child 4). While this heteronormative "upward growth" is often assumed in real life and in many texts, it is not the only possible future for adolescents. The potential for "delay" that Stockton associates with youth offers space for change—room to do something other than "grow up." Teenagers can instead "grow sideways" (6) as one way to deal with the intense pressures surrounding sexuality that they experience as they approach adulthood.
In many dystopian young adult novels, especially those with a female protagonist, the pressures of sexuality are addressed through the theme of romance, "capitalizing] on teenagers' preoccupations with courtship" (Basu, Broad, and Hintz, Introduction 8). However, as Balaka Basu, Katherine Broad, and Hintz note, while "Romance may advance the political aims of the narrative," the romantic plot often reinforces the heteronormative "upward growth" expected for teenage girls, and "Very few YA dystopias include queer relationships as a central focus, suggesting a reluctance to subvert dominant mores" (8). In the [End Page 285] majority of dystopian young adult novels, the female protagonists challenge the status quo by fighting dominant political institutions and expectations of gender, but they tend to adhere to mainstream romantic conventions. Sara Day, Miranda Green-Barteet, and Amy Montz likewise comment on this seeming contradiction: "Even as these young women [female heroines in the dystopian novel] actively resist and rebel … they also tend to accept that they cannot change every aspect of their societies' controlling frameworks, particularly as these relate to romance and sexuality" ("Introduction" 4). If "dystopian fiction has excellent tools for social commentary," as Paolo Bacigalupi observes in his article "Straight-Laced Dystopias," then why does romance remain off the table as part of the social critique?
Critics and readers alike have asked this very question of Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy: Does Katniss Everdeen, as a heroine of a dystopian text for adolescents, provide a positive enough role model for female (and male) readers? Many read Katniss as a powerful feminist protagonist, ranging from the lofty estimation of Meghan Lewit of The Atlantic, who sees her as "a heroine for the ages," to Sandie Angulo-Chen's street-friendly formulation of Katniss as "a Kick-Ass Role Model" on MTV.com. Ellyn Lem and Holly Hassel concur, pointing to Collins's choice to make Katniss a physically fit, bold, and subversive hunter as one way in which she "challenges our traditional understanding of the heroic modernist narrative" (123). In a similar vein, Jennifer Mitchell sees Katniss's "ability to perform—both consciously and unconsciously—various genders" as the "most useful form of power at her disposal" (129).
Other critics counter this feminist reading of Katniss by arguing that the romance elements of the novels undermine her independence and agency. Broad asserts, "For all its attention to Katniss's rebellion, The Hunger Games trilogy is, significantly, a love story, tracing Katniss's fluctuating desires for two boys who fight alongside her" (118). She goes on to argue that "the resolution to the triangle built up through all three volumes is entirely passive" (124). Alison Bewley builds on Broad's interpretation: "Despite [Katniss's] masculine and androgynous traits, her relationships with other characters in the trilogy show that she is an object acted on or against more than she is an actor in her own right" (375). Amanda Firestone's comparison of Katniss to Bella Swan, protagonist of the Twilight series, likewise questions...